In 2013, Forbes magazine declared Emilia-Romagna as the top region in the world for food. Although this did not come as a surprise to all those who habitually eat dishes from Emilia-Romagna, the people from this region were nonetheless very proud to hear such news. It stimulated their desire to share their history and culture, which is based on love for quality and joy of spending time around the dinner table.
This itinerary brings you to the heart of the Food Valley, in an area where there is a high concentration of the same products that have received acknowledgement of excellence all around the world.
It is no coincidence that the itinerary starts in Reggio Emilia. In fact, this is the city where the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium set up its main office. And thanks to this consortium, it is possible to visit a cheese factory and see the making of a wheel of cheese with your own eyes. During the tour in the factories, the dairy experts will catch your attention by showing you how their ancient hand movements transform milk into cheese. They will take you through all the steps needed to produce one of the most favourite cheeses made in Italy and known all over the world. Prepare yourselves for the finale: the tasting of Parmigiano Reggiano in its different aging phases, from the fresher and delicate variant to the more aged variant, with a distinct and sharp flavour. Who knows, maybe this tour will inspire someone to become an official taster of Parmigiano Reggiano!
Many dairies also have cozy shops where you can buy the precious cheese from the different ages.
In the lands of Reggio Emilia we can also find the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia, narrated as a "Medicinal Balm" and considered a story for the superfine organoleptic, nutritional and qualitative qualities as well as for the strong symbolic load that only an extraordinary lived aging can give. Of ancient origins it begins to be mentioned already at the time of Matilde di Canossa.
Speaking of world-famous products, the next step is a tour of a ham factory, and there’s no better place to go than to the one nearby in Parma. Prosciutto di Parma [Parma Ham] has been awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) which is strictly linked to a very limited territory, delimited by the river Enza on the east and the stream Stirone on the west. The ham factories located in the hills of Langhirano check each and every phase of the production of Prosciutto di Parma with great caution so as to preserve the authenticity of the meat. In fact, this is the only area where climatic conditions are ideal for it to age naturally, which guarantees the sweet and true taste of the Prosciutto di Parma. How can you recognize this ham from an imitation ham? Here’s a little hint of one of the secrets you will be let in on during your guided tour: the original brand is distinguished by its five-point crown.
At the end of this first day, you will easily understand why Parma was declared UNESCO Creative City in Italy for gastronomy, making it the ambassador of the entire Food Valley. It is worth spending a day at the Food Museums where you can learn more about this creativity.
There is a total of eight museums located in seven towns in the province of Parma. Each museum is laid out in such a way that the food is described and observed from different points of view. You can walk around all the different ancient tools used to produce it and appreciate the great artisanal abilities that were handed down throughout the centuries. You will see the relationship between the community and its territory through art and literature.
The perfect museum to start your day is the one regarding the Prosciutto di Parma since you will already be in Langhirano. Next, you can proceed to those dedicated to Felino Salami, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pasta and Tomato.
The Felino Salami Museum is, obviously, in Felino. No, it didn’t get its name from the feline animal category, but rather from the small town just a few minutes away from Langhirano.
The next stop on this itinerary is Sala Baganza, where you’ll find the Wine Museum, followed by the Tomato and Pasta Museums in the Giarola Courtyard in Collecchio. If you want to visit the Parmigiano-Reggiano Museum, you will have to leave the hills and go to Soragna, in the lowlands. On the banks of the Po, in Polesine Parmense, the Museum of Culatello and Masalèn can be visited.
Before concluding this tour with a nice dinner under the Angiol d'Or, a golden statue situated on the top of the Parma cathedral bell tower, the tour in Bassa obviously foresees another food stop. More precisely, this stop will wrap up all the beauties seen during the day and add a touch of melomaniac. In fact, in Busseto there is a world-renowned Salsamenteria [traditional food shop], something like a shop of wonders and an antique store, where you’re catapulted into this extraordinary atmosphere thanks to the background music of Verdi’s arias and a good, or rather great, aroma. There is no menu, you can eat platters of cold cuts, cheeses and artisanal sauces sprinkled with local wines and, to finish off, homemade cakes.
Also, take a stroll in the historic centre of Busseto where each step you take will remind you of the glory that the great Maestro Giuseppe Verdi brought to this town. Visit the theatre dedicated to him and the house of his father-in-law, Antonio Barezzi, who was instrumental in Verdi’s musical studies.
It is now time to make your way to Parma for the final stop of this itinerary dedicated to the Food Valley. If you walk down the streets and cobbled roads of the town centre you will find plenty of restaurants, taverns and bistros where you can finally taste the much-praised cuisine from Parma. These places all have one thing in common: their culture for food is so deeply rooted that handing it down is a duty first, and then a pleasure.