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Como | Firenze | Roma | Napoli
Reggio Emilia |
Venezia | Verona | Magenta

Reggio Emilia

After leaving Napoli we spent two days in Roma and left for Reggio Emilia on Valentines Day. The EuroStar 1st class service provided excellent goodies and service on the 1st leg to Bologna, where the train to Reggio Emilia was waiting. Reggio Emilia is both a province and a city. The province is in the shape of an elongated rectangle, with the city more or less in the center. To the west is the city of Parma and to the east Modena. We had been to both many years ago and somehow had missed Reggio. Shame on us, it is not to be missed.

This Roman town is enclosed by a hexagonal ring road, which approximately follows the line of the old city walls. The railway station is at the east end of town. We passed thru the medieval eastern gate, Porta San Pietro, and proceeded west on via Emilia, which corresponds to the ancient Roman road. Via Emilia continues thru town to the western gate, Porta Santo Stefano. Via Emilia links Parma in the west to Modena in the east. The northern gate, Porta Santa Croce is at the end of Via Roma which bisects via Emilia. The southern gate is Porta Castello, the gateway to the mountains of Reggio Emilia. As we walked along via Emilia, we found a glass-covered excavation of the original Roman road beneath the street.

Carnevale Parade in Reggio EmiliaSuddenly we heard bands playing, people singing and shouting, and a parade was coming toward us. Talk about timing! It was Carnevale - homemade floats, many of which reflected the agricultural richness of the area, lovely costumes, outrageous makeup, friends frolicking, confetti flying, and wholesome, joyous family fun.

I guarded the luggage while Linda dug out her digital camera and joined the crowd. As Linda mingled among them we quickly learned that the people of Reggio are outgoing and welcoming. Proud parents were pleased that Linda wanted to photograph their children and eager to learn where we were from and to share information about the celebration.

We determined the action would continue for quite awhile so we headed down the street to our hotel. Piazza Del Monte (known also as Piazza Cesare Battisti) is situated right in the middle of via Emilia. It takes its name from the Palazzo Del Monte di Pieta, which is now a bank. Nearby is the Palazzo Bussetti attributed to Bernini and just opposite is the medieval Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, (Palace of the Peoples Captain) which today houses the Hotel Posta. This enchanting hotel is a member of Abitare la Storia.

The Palazzo, which dates to 1281, was converted to a hotel called Locanda del Capello Rosso (Inn of the Red Hood) in 1515. The charming and comfortable reception area and adjoining parlors are from the various restorations during the hotel's long history. An enormously appealing and pleasant ambiance results from the combination of high, curved ceilings, marble pillars, floral patterned carpeting, elegant furniture, and eclectic furnishings. The gorgeous bar in the lounge invites conversation over cocktails. During our three day stay I enjoyed relaxing in the parlor, in one of the smartly-designed, comfortable upholstered wicker chairs, catching up on my notes, while Linda used the complimentary internet point.

We exited the elevator at the second floor and proceeded down a corridor to our accommodations adjacent to an open, airy atrium. The balcony of our room at the rear of the Palazzo opened to the traffic-free main city square, Piazza Prampolini. Our suite was an oasis of comfort, a beautifully furnished sitting room and king bedroom, with walls graced by lovely framed photos, and gorgeous wooden floors. It was nice to have extra pillows, cozy slippers and even fabric-covered hangers in the large armoire. There was a beautifully-appointed marble bathroom with all the goodies including a heated towel rack to ensure overnight drying of our hand laundry.
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Back on via Emilia we tracked the parade north onto via Roma where folks had gathered to frolic to the traditional tunes of a costumed band. Via Emilia and via Roma formed the axis of the ancient Roman town. Via Emilia is actually divided at via Roma, to the east it is named via Emilia San Pietro and west, it’s called via Emilia S. Stefano. From east to west Emilia is the shopping and social artery of the town.

This seems to be a prosperous and proud place. Reggio Emilia has a reputation for having an excellent quality of life brought about by hard work and common purpose. Interspersed with the fashion, food and miscellaneous shops are well-maintained palazzos and churches. The narrow side streets of residences and businesses are beautifully kept and attractive.

Four of these streets formed a part of the old Jewish Ghetto, which was established in 1669. The synagogue, which is being renovated by the government, is on via dell'Aquilla. It was built on the site of a 1672 temple and opened to the public in 1858. The other three streets are Monzermone, Della Volta, and Caggiati.

Piazza Grande - Hotel Posta top rightA narrow street beside the Hotel Posta led us into Piazza Camillo Prampolini, commonly known as the Piazza Grande. Rectangular in shape it is completely surrounded by stunning, historical buildings. The Palazzo del Monte (including our bedroom balcony) dominates a north corner, while the Palazzo del Commune (town hall) sits at the south end. Inside it is the Tricolore Hall, a magnificent room with three rows of balconies, where the representatives of Reggio, Modena, Ferrara and Bologna adopted the tricolore flag as the symbol of the Cispadane Republic on January 7, 1797. To the east are the Baptistery, the impressive Duomo and Bishops Palace. On the west side is the Palazzo del Podesta and the Palazzo delle Notarie, which is now a bank. A statue of Crostolo originally from Palazzo Ducale of Rivalta is the only object within the square, except for a few kiosks where we ultimately bought bus tickets for our trip to the train station.

Between the Cathedral and the Bishops Palace is via Broletto. The pretty street runs under the arcades of the Municipal Hall into the cozy Piazza S. Prospero, the old Piazza delle Erbe, commonly known today as Piazza Piccola (small square) because it is next to Piazza Grande (big square). Straight ahead is the impressive Basilica of Saint Prospero, dedicated to the patron saint of the city, with its octagonal bell tower. On either side of the square are attractive porticoes with many shops. The rear of the Cathedral was behind us as we entered the square. The market stalls in the center were beginning to close as dusk was closing in.
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We finished our first day walking north from Piazza del Monte on via Crispi, a short street of designer boutiques, to Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio and its neighbor Piazza Della Vittoria, the cultural, art and entertainment heart of the city. Straight ahead, the imposing neo-classical Municipal Theatre stands tall in the green of the public gardens. Nearby are the Anna e Luigi Parmeggiani Civic Center, the Civic Museums, and the Ariosto Theatre.

This is a city of great civility, a proud history and rich culture. There is so much more to explore. Tomorrow we will begin to learn about the world-renown gastronomic specialties; Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Lambrusco Reggiano wine.

The concierge at the hotel had recommended Ristorante La Tavernetia, via Don Andreoli, right around the corner from the hotel, off via Emilia San Pietro. It is located in a building that dates back to 1400. The seating is in the cellar with a typical arched brick ceiling. The environment is very casual and conducive to enjoying a good meal. It turned out to be much better than just good. The patrons were all locals and our waitress was curious to know what planet we were from. Canada made a big hit with her. She, in fact, had just moved here from Sicily.

We started with a house offering of marvelous local salami and olives. The Fattoria Delcerro red wine from Montepulciano our waitress recommended was a winner. Many of the folks around us were eating wonderful-looking pizza but we decided on real food. A tortelli verdi, spinach-filled in butter and sage sauce was a delicious first course. The tagliata di manzo alle verdure was a dream. The tender and tasty meat and the accompanying grilled vegetables were perfection. I like eating in a cave! Both the zuppa inglese (white cake, boiled cream, fruit with a touch of rum), and profiteroles were worth the calories and cholesterol. The service was attentive and cheerful and the prices quite reasonable.
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The breakfast room was a refreshing experience from the soft, golden glow of the walls to the elegant linens. The vaulted ceiling is accentuated by a magnificent chandelier with stucco columns and large mirrors along the walls adding to the drama of the design. The elegant furnishings and table settings showed attention to detail. It took us a while to take in all the beauty but the delectable array of breakfast offerings finally got our attention. Particularly outstanding were the local meats, croissants and rolls and a lemon cake that my grandmother might have made.

Nearby is a stunning meeting or party suite with beamed ceilings, frescoed walls and antique windows that speak of the long history of the Palazzo.

In case you haven't noticed, we love good food. We had come across a website of an organization in Reggio Emilia that really got us excited about our trip. Colli di Scandiano e Canossa, has a mission to promote the wine, gastronomic products and culture of Reggiano. They define the area as being south of the city between fiume Enza and fiume Secchia. It's a region of hills and mountains with erosion furrows, wooded landscape and wide valleys.

We headed for the town of Scandiano to visit the nearby Traditional Balsamic Vinegar producer, Cavalli. Scandiano is famous for its massive Rocca dei Boiardo, an unfinished renaissance castle. It was adapted in baroque times as a noble residence with the addition of a south facade and a huge west tower called the Torrazzo.

The old center of town (Piazza Fiume) is still partially defined by the old walls. The buildings around the perimeter are undergoing renovation. This was the site of the old Jewish Ghetto. Lazzaro Spallanzani was an eminent scientist whose restored home is now used as a cultural and study center, and exhibition place for the instruments he used to measure air quality.
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We have been using Balsamic Vinegar for as long as I can remember. We wondered what the addition of the word "Traditional" was all about. Our noses told us the moment we entered the premises of Cavalli. The smell was a delicious sensual delight. When the first droplet entered my mouth there was an explosion of a sweet and sour flavor the likes of which I’ve never experienced. This is the product of both art and science originally created as a medicinal balsam for the exclusive use of kings and emperors.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar aging in barrelsTraditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia is the result of an aging process that takes place in a series of small wooden barrels (a minimum of three, usually no more than five or six, over a period of at least twelve years under the direction of a master vinegar maker. The grapes for the "must" must be of well-defined quality and grown in Reggio Emilia. The grapes are Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola, Berzemino and the others that are used to produce Lambrusco Reggiano D.O.C.

After twelve years the vinegar is eligible for strict evaluation by a commission of tasters made up of five randomly-selected experts from the register deposited at the Chamber of Commerce of Reggio Emilia. A detailed determination is made as to whether the product is suitable for market or has to be returned to the barrels for improvement. The characteristics considered are color, density, perfume and flavor. As part of the testing process, the specific quality of the product is assigned by seals bearing the consortium mark, awarded in three different qualities, red, silver, and gold. These categories are useful to the consumer in evaluating use vis-a-vis price factors.

In order to guarantee the quality, a controlled denomination of origin was bestowed on Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia in the 1980’s. The Producers' Consortium is responsible for the protection and control of the product. It is a non-profit organization with headquarters at the Chamber of Commerce of Reggio Emilia.

Fellow foodies take note that a few droplets of this nectar on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, meats, shellfish, strawberries, ice cream, hams or just about anything, unlocks flavor sensations that will make you cry in ecstasy.

A wide variety of wines is produced in this area, the most important being Lambrusco Reggiano. It received D.O.C. status in l996. The Medici family had been making wine for over 100 years. The nearby Medici Ermete winery has a small museum of farm implements tracing the history of local wine making and a lovely tasting room not only for the Lambrusco but for all the other wines they produce. A tour of the modern wine making facilities was enlightening. Red, silver and gold label Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

There is also the Medici Acetaia where they produce a limited number of bottles of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
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This experience left us with a pretty good appetite and we found just the place to satisfy our needs. Ristorante da Pelati, via M. di Cervarolo, 46c is well known for traditional fare using only local products. The ambiance is modest, the cucina is sparkling clean and the ladies in white smocks in the cucina were seasoned pros. The kitchen was open and we could see them preparing the home made pasta of the day. The owner is very involved helping every customer and making suggestions. It is mandatory to start with Lambrusco wine and the Concerto Reggiano from Medici Ermete was at its frizzy best. It smelled like banana and had a delicate, light fruity flavor.

An appetizer of lightly-breaded fried cheese, mushrooms and olives was served on small sticks, followed by Chizza. The simple, crispy pastry of flour and water was filled two ways, with spinach and cheese and with beet greens and cheese and also served plain, without filling. Keep these regional specialties coming, please, they are great!

Next, a divine, hearty meat broth chock full of cappelletti filled with meat and cheese. Sip some Lambrusco and rest a bit before enjoying freshly made tortelli stuffed with ham, cheese and tomato in pumpkin sauce and with spinach and cheese in butter sauce. I must point out that whenever I wrote cheese here it is Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, of course. Time for some meat - a nice assortment of the local-favorite boiled variety including beef, beef tongue, sausage, and chicken. A dolci tasting plate of zuppa inglese, chocolate cake with cherries, and meringue with cream topping was the finishing touch.

We were no strangers to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It has long been our cheese of choice; the aroma, texture and flavor are just unbeatable. And so it was that we arrived at the Villa Curta cooperative, via Montagnani 19, tel. 0522-551819, at 0800 to observe the way that this cheese is produced just as it was nine centuries ago.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cheese with Designation of Protected Origin (DPO), owing to its distinctive features and its link to the territory of origin. The production is governed by strict regulation, registered with the European Union. It is a product subject to a safeguarded regime agreed upon by the EU for the protection of consumers and producers.

In order to receive the Parmigiano-Reggiano designation the cheese must be produced in the area of origin (provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua on the right bank of the river Po and Bologna on the left side of the river Po) using artisanal methods as specified in the Production Regulation, including special diet of dairy cows and rules for the use of marks.

The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, headquartered in Reggio Emilia, was established in 1934 to (1) safeguard and protect production, promotion and advertising of the product, (2) safeguard product typicality and features, (3) implement initiatives for perfecting and improving quality with continuous technical support to Consortium members, and (4) distinguish and guarantee the product by applying marks and stamps.
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The process starts with feeding the cows nothing but local forage and vegetable pellets, purchased only from companies registered with the Consortium. The use of fermented forage is strictly prohibited. Only raw milk is used, which is rich in natural lactic flora. Now we know the source of the unique flavors, from the earth and environment of this blessed area. Only natural rennet and salt are used in the production.

We were there first thing in the morning to see the start of production as the early morning milk arriving from the local dairy farms was blended with the previous evening's deliveries that had been sitting in the inverted bell-shaped vats allowing the cream to rise to the top. This cream would be used for butter production.

Breaking up the curds in Parmigiano Reggiano productionWe watched as the cheese masters now transformed the milk into cheese. They added the whey (left over from the previous batch) and the quantity of rennet needed for coagulation. As the curds formed, cheese makers used giant whisks to break them into just the right size grains, testing them by hand, to attain the distinctive and familiar crunch we have learned to expect and love.

The master also handles the delicate cooking phase gradually bringing the temperature from 33c to 55c. The grainy curds drop to the bottom of the bell to form a compact mass and at the optimum moment two men insert a large piece of cheese cloth underneath and lift it out. It is cut into 2 rounds and placed in round moulds to begin the two to three day molding process. The cheese is then put into a bath of salt solution for 20-25 days at 16-18 degrees Celcius.

The minimum maturation period is 12 months, but it is only after 24 months that it is fully ripe. Each wheel receives a mark of origin and dated. Every wheel is checked after 10-12 months and if it passes the test the hot iron mark with the grade selection oval mark is applied to the rind. The certification is carried out by the Parmigiano-Reggiano Quality Assurance Department.

The Magazzini Generali (general warehouse) delle Tagliate belongs to the Credito Emiliano Banking Group - Credem. They operate two enormous warehouses for the purpose of storing the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana (similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but produced with fewer restrictions and therefore not the same quality), and financing as is necessary. We visited the larger of the two units in Montecavolo di Quattro Castella, Province of Reggio Emilia. The other one is in Castelfranco Emilia, Province of Modena.

This facility is set in a 36,000 square meter site of which 17,000 square meters cover five blocks connected by a corridor 140 meters long that can store 285,000 rounds of cheese. The Castlefranco unit can handle 155,000 rounds. We entered the largest block and were momentarily stunned to see row after endless row of cheese wheels piled 24 high. Modern climatization installations assure consistent atmospheric conditions. This aids in the achievement of top quality cheese (less weight loss, lower rejection rate, and a finer crust).

Parmigiano Reggiano, the King of cheeseThe rounds are constantly brushed to keep them clean by automatic rotating cleaners. It was amazing to watch the robotic equipment move up and down row-by-row turning and brushing each wheel. Periodic manual brushing is done checking for age defects. Specialists, entered in the Register of master Cheese testers (called "tappers" in Italy) certify the condition of the products and issue official appraisals to be attached to deposit certificates and pledge notes. The "tappers" use small specialized hammers and tap the round on both ends and all around. The tapping must produce a certain uniform sound to be perfect. In addition, a thin corkscrew-type instrument is inserted to test the smell. It’s no wonder that Parmigiano-Reggiano is called the King of cheese with all this royal treatment.
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We stopped for a late lunch at Ristorante a Mangiare, viale Monte Grappa, 3/A, tel. 0522-433600, where a bright, clean cucina greeted us as we entered. Passing by a coffee bar and wine racks, we entered the eclectic but comfortable dining room. The menu featured regional specialties that turned out to be quite marvelous.

A Lambrusco Brut, Rinaldini went delightfully well with an appetizer of "culatello" ham from Parma. Next, zuppa di cipolle e orzo for me and cappelletti in brodo di gallina for Linda. Mine was as I like it, thick with onions and a touch of barley. The hearty chicken broth and pasta was pure comfort for Linda. Our mains, grilled cod fish with leeks and mushrooms and rack of lamb were outstanding. And now the dessert that surpasses all others, vanilla gelato with traditional balsamic vinegar!

The Sanctuary of the Basilica Della Ghiara on Corso G. Garibaldi, designed by architect Alessandro Balbi from Ferrara, is a significant architectural structure. It's a powerful work of Emilia baroque culture, which has been restored recently. The sparkling interior, in the shape of a Greek cross, is filled with frescoes, paintings and altarpieces of seventeenth century Emilian artists.

After that amazing lunch, we were in the mood for a simple pizza dinner and found our way to Ristorante Pizzeria Sotto Broletto on via Broletto. It was jumping, mostly with young people. Everyone was eating large round pies. We placed our order and waited with great anticipation. It was not the worst pizza we ever had but came close.

Not having eaten too much of the pizza the night before, we doubly enjoyed breakfast in the morning. It was a few minutes walk to Piazza Vittoria where we caught bus #4 to the train station. Reggio Emilia is a great town with friendly people and delicious food, a winning combination for a return visit someday.
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