A FOOD PLAYGROUND IN BOLOGNA DEVOTED TO SHOWING OFF THE MARVELS OF ITALIAN PRODUCE AND COOKING, BRINGING THE FAMOUSLY PAROCHIAL REGIONS UNDER ONE BIG ROOF, HAS AMBITIONS TO ATTRACT SIX MILLION VISITORS A YEAR.
Rome might be the famed Eternal City, and Venice upon her lagoon La Serenissima, but the central Italian town of Bologna enjoys three equally apt monikers. It is La Grassa (the fat), on account of its calorific cuisine; La Rossa (the red), in honour of its roseate brick and stucco medieval streetscapes; and for the depth of its erudition, Europe’s oldest university town is laureled La Dotta (the learned). It is also, on the mid-December night I arrive, with the temperature nudging zero and an icy upland wind barrelling in from the Apennines, La Fredda (the cold).
On my first visit, more than half a lifetime ago, I wandered beneath the city’s covered walkways – catching only a slice of Bologna’s unparalleled 40km network of porticoes – in a state of wide-eyed wonderment. I’d never seen a culinary display of such splendour. It wasn’t just the sumptuous pasta and risotto dishes beckoning me from the windows of the gastronomie. On display were platters of verdant leaf, alarm bell-red tomatoes, slightly doughy spheres of white burrata, plump grey-green olives, slices of vibrant orange, translucent shards of sliced fennel seasoned only with cracked pepper and olive oil. The produce was in a state of ripe and preened perfection.
But that was a summer long ago. In winter, as I discover when I stroll into the old quarter for a morning coffee and cornetto at a local bar, the display windows of the Quadrilatero market are brimming with heavier fare. There are shanks of crusted prosciutto and bollardsized balls of mortadella – a local specialty, all pink and white and studded with peppercorns. Vast tureens are filled to overflowing with homemade tortellini and capelletti, fettuccine for ragù (the origin of our spaghetti Bolognese). Sausages sprout like tubers from window displays decorated with Christmas touches: pine cones, fake red cherries. The centrepiece is invariably a wheel of aged of Parmigiano-Reggiano cloven by a mighty blow to reveal its fine granular texture. I’m putting on kilos just looking at this stuff.
Bologna’s indisputable reputation as Italy’s food, or at least produce, capital made it impossible for Oscar Farinetti, founder and head of the global Eataly chain, to look past the fat city when scheming up his latest, and most ambitious, culinary emporium. The result is FICO: Eataly World. Twenty minutes from the historic quarter on the FICO shuttle, this sprawling 100,000sqm Foodland is a kind of permanent Easter show with class. FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina, and it