Join the har­vest in Emilia-Ro­magna in north­ern Italy, and fol­low a Ro­man road to gorge on some of the world’s best hams, cheeses and pasta

Lonely Planet (UK) - - In this Issue... - WORDS GABRIELLE JAFFE @g jaffe O PHO­TOGRAPHS LAURA ED­WARDS @lau­ra­jayneed­wards

Emilia-Ro­magna has been known for its im­mense agri­cul­tural abun­dance since an­cient times. The Ro­man Em­pire might have been forged through the sword, but its armies were fed off the fields in this re­gion of north­ern Italy. The road the Ro­mans built through here, the Via Emilia, still con­nects a string of places to­day – Parma, Mo­dena, Bologna – whose very names have come to rep­re­sent some of the world’s most sought-af­ter foods

MILE 0 Parma

Spend five min­utes in Parma and it becomes clear this is a city of the well-heeled. Lam­borgh­i­nis and Maser­atis zip round its out­skirts. In the pedes­tri­anised his­toric cen­tre, men in sharply tai­lored suits and women in pearls and stilet­tos cy­cle past ducal palaces, Baroque opera houses and the me­dieval cathe­dral. Bou­tiques are plen­ti­ful, but some of the most el­e­gant shop win­dows be­long to the delis, where hams and cheeses are dis­played as metic­u­lously and stylishly as the con­tents of an Ar­mani store. To the south lies the source of much of the city’s wealth: fields packed with pigs and the fac­to­ries where their hinds are salted, cured and transformed into Parma ham. Among the smaller-scale pro­duc­ers here is Rosa dell’An­gelo, which of­fers guided vis­its of its farm. Man­ager Luca Pon­zoni shows guests around the pens where his hogs play in the dust un­der old oak trees, treat­ing them­selves to fallen acorns. ‘When you eat our ham, you’re tast­ing Parma’s coun­try­side,’ says Luca. ‘It’s not just what the pigs eat – it’s how it’s aged. We leave the win­dows open to dry the meat. The wind brings in the aroma of beech, oak, chestnut and pine.’ Luca ush­ers the visi­tors into his 4WD and fer­ries them to the Rosa dell’An­gelo Pro­sciutto Bar around the cor­ner, so they can test his claims. Wait­ers shave pa­per thin, rose-coloured slices, laced with white rib­bons of fat. Af­ter the tast­ing, Luca re­veals the cel­lars where enor­mous haunches dan­gle from wooden frames. The air in th­ese smells sweet, be­cause of the sug­ars in the meat, with a slight, nose-tin­gling hint of the white pep­per used to coat it. Each ham bears the fire-branded out­line of a crown, the sign it has passed of­fi­cial in­spec­tion and can be sold as Pro­sciutto di Parma. As well as rear­ing white pigs for Parma ham, Rosa dell’An­gelo has started sell­ing pro­sciutto made from an an­cient lo­cal black breed. Th­ese black pigs are a key in­gre­di­ent of an­other re­gional spe­cial­ity, cu­latello. Even more highly prized than Parma ham, this cured meat is sold at £110 a kilo. In the coun­try­side north­west of Parma, at An­tica Corte Pallavic­ina, a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant in a Re­nais­sance man­sion, the impeccably mous­ta­chioed man­ager, Gio­vanni Luc­chi, shows off one of the few cel­lars in the world where cu­latello is pro­duced. Hunks of meat the size of box­ing gloves hang low from the ceil­ing and from walls of metal chains. In the half-light, the cu­latello ap­pears fuzzy. ‘That’s the mould – we’re closer to the River Po here than the hills where Parma ham is made, so we get more mois­ture,’ says Gio­vanni, as he ducks to avoid knock­ing into the sus­pended meat. He ex­plains that this is all part of the nor­mal age­ing process that gives cu­latello its unique flavour, a bit like some cheeses. Back out in the day­light, the tour con­tin­ues to the pig­pens. ‘This black breed grows very slowly. Then the meat is aged for at least 18 months,’ says Gio­vanni. ‘You could say the se­cret to good Ital­ian food is tak­ing your time.’

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