The Via Aemilia, or Via Emilia, is a historic Roman trunk road that runs through the Emilia Romagna region, traversing from the Adriatic city of Rimini on the east, up to the western city of Piacenza along the Po River. Construction on the road began in 187 BC, and the Via Emilia is not only architecturally and historically important, it is also where much of the country’s notable cuisine originated. The towns and cities that developed along this historic route are known for a variety of specialties, many of which have become some of Italy’s most famous foods.
Today, travelers use the SS9, or updated Via Emilia, which is more akin to a normal motorway, however the modern roadway still takes you through the most significant towns and cities. Want to take a road trip along the original Via Emilia? You can still do that as well — some of is does turn into highway at points, but it’s a stunning drive if you have extra time.
So what are some of the culturally important foods you’ll find along the Via Emilia? Here’s a look at a couple of the most important stopovers you should make, and what you’ll taste in each spot.
Start at the beginning of the road and enjoy one of the city’s best foods — the piadina. Also called the piada, this very simple dish is rather addicting. It’s a flatbread that is stuffed with a variety of ingredients and eaten like a sandwich. If you’re watching your weight, you’ll want to skip hearing what many claim is the secret behind the taste of the piadina. Ingredients are flour, salted water…and strutto, or pig lard.
Interesting note: Piadina connoisseurs will tell you they can tell what part of Romagna a piadina is from, even blindfolded! The piadina you’ll find in Rimini tends to be bigger and thinner and, as you move north, they tend to get thicker and shorter.
The small town of Folimpopoli is home to Casa Artusi, one of the most important centers for Italian cuisine. Pellegrino Artusi wrote La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). The book contains nearly 800 recipes from home cooks in every corner of Italy, showcasing the historic and cultural roots of Italian cuisine. Casa Artusi is considering the first living cookery museum — you’ll find a library, restaurant, cookery school, wine cellar, museum, and event location.
Travel Tip: Try to visit during the weeklong Festa Artusiana in late June/early July.
The town of Cervia is renowned for its artisanal salt flats. The prized “white gold” as some call it is used to salt two of the region’s most famous foods — Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma. The salt has a slightly sweet flavor and was considered so special that Popes in Rome received the first and best salt hauled in, earning it the name Il Sale dei Papi. When you stop in Cervia, you can visit the salt flats and buy salt and a variety of other interesting culinary products made with Cervia’s renowned salts.
Without a doubt, one of the most important stops along the Via Emilia is the city of Bologna. Plan to spend at least a few days here, eating your way through the city. Take a pasta making class, enjoy some amazing coffee shops and gelaterias, and then get ready to dig in to the region’s best specialties; Tagliatelle al Ragu, mortadella, tortelloni, and tortellini en brodo. Pair any of these incredible foods with a glass of the region’s prize-winning Lambrusco wines.
Foodie Tips: Stick to the trattorias and traditional restaurants to seek out some of the best food in Emilia Romagna. Some restaurants get very busy, especially in the evenings, so reservations are highly recommended for any places that accept them. You can also find nearly every specialty food from any part of Emilia Romagna in Bologna.
The home of Ferrari and other famous Italian sports car makers, Modena is also the birthplace of the “liquid gold” of Emilia Romagna — balsamic vinegar. This is not just the ordinary balsamic vinegar you buy on your grocery store shelf, but a very special culinary product that has protected status. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) is made from a reduction of cooked Trebbiano grapes and sometimes Lambrusco grapes. The resulting thick syrup is then aged in multiple barrels that get successively smaller. There are different flavors that get imparted from the wood casks, made from juniper, ash, oak, cherry, and chestnut to name a few. The minimum time it can be aged is 12 years with the most prized varieties aged over 25 years.
Buying Tip: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is pricey, so if you’re looking at a small bottle in a shop for 5 or 10 euros, it’s not the real stuff. Bottles are specifically labeled and color coded and can exceed 100 euros a bottle for some of the best 25-year-aged examples.
Reggio Emilia is a great spot to sample a variety of Emilia Romagna’s culinary products. It has its own Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia that does taste different from what I’ve tried from Modena. Reggio Emilia is also home to lots of Lambrusco wineries and Parmigiano Reggiano factories. The cuisine in Reggio Emilia tends to be heartier, with specialties like cappelletti stuffed with meat and herb and pumpkin tortelli. Look for second course meats like turkey, rabbit, and roast park. One item not to miss is the erbazzone — a pastry made with spinach and chard.
Beer Lovers: Reggio Emilia has quite a craft beer scene!
No trip through Emilia Romagna is complete without a stop in Parma. Famous for both Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma is yet another important gastronomy center in Italy. If you’re in Parma, be sure to also sample Culatello. This very pricy meat is highly sought after and fetches a pretty penny. You’ll see celebrities and chefs who have their own reserved culatello in many instances. It is made from the major muscles used in prosciutto, but it’s seasoned, lightly salted, and stuffed into a pork bladder. It’s hung for 8-12 months in a dark, moldy building that helps it achieve its signature taste.
Rounding out your road trip on the Via Emilia is Piacenza. If you’re driving south through northern Italy, Piacenza is the first spot you’ll arrive at in Emilia Romagna. In Piacenza, salumi reigns supreme. There are so many different types to sample — including coppa, pancetta, culatello, and salame. Don’t skip the local wines from Colli Piacentini or the “Hills of Piacenza.”
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What’s your favorite food and gastronomy product from Emilia Romagna?
This post was in partnership with Alamo Rent-A-Car. Our travels through Emilia Romagna were part of the #Blogville project in partnership with Emilia Romagna Tourism and iAmbassador.