Searching for Italy: Food Tour of Bologna

By Dana Perkiss

In the third episode of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, Tucci takes us on a food tour of Bologna, the medieval university town that’s famous for its food. Found in northern Italy, Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and has more protected food products than anywhere else in Italy. This means there are tons of local, fresh products that are specifically best grown in Bologna's colder climate, such as cured salumi, meat, and cheeses.

To begin, Tucci takes us to the town of Zocca, right outside of Bologna. He is accompanied by one of the best chefs in the world: Massimo Bottura, who has famously won three Michelin stars. Bottura shows us Caseificio Rosola where he gets the best parmesan made from the local white cows that are indigenous to the region. You can see Tucci’s eyes fill with wonder as he bites into the creamy aged parmesan, what he calls “a love letter to the cheese.”

Back in Bologna, Tucci meets with one of the leaders of the Sardine’s political movement, Mattia Santori. Being one of the most liberal cities in Italy, it’s no surprise that Bologna would be home to this progressive, vital movement. The Sardines launched in 2019 when right-wing politicians campaigned there and promoted anti-immigration policies, and in response, the Sardines created a movement. The politician has since lost the election.

As Santori shares about the Sardines movement, he leads Tucci to what’s known to be the best deli for lunch — Salumeria Simon. The moment Tucci walks in, he gasps and says, “If one goes to heaven, this is probably it.” The brightly lit deli shows off a glass case with dozens of delectable meats and cheeses, and one can only imagine the savory scents wafting from them.

They enjoy a rich mortadella, which is a smooth port sausage spiked with peppercorns and pistachios with added sweet fat. This Italian favorite became one of the earliest protected products in the 17th century and is what gave birth to the American bologna sausage. In regards to the difference, Tucci says, “give me the original any day.”

Once Tucci is filled up one the iconic mortadella sausage, he then takes us further north to the town of Modena. This is where the superstar Black Gold vinegar is made, and where the Giusti family has been making balsamic vinegar since 1605. The environment of the region has grown both red and white grapes that create a perfect blend of balsamic vinegar, and is another protected food product of the region. Giusti shows us the attic where the vinegar is made and explains how a family never throws away their old castes — meaning these barrels contain liquid from over 250 years ago. There’s nothing like aged wine, right?

To learn more about exactly why the Emilia-Romagna region has the most protected food products (and why the food is just so dang good), Tucci meets back up with Massimo Bottura and his wife, who explain the region’s climate effect on food — all over a plate of the best prosciutto.

The hills outside of Modena are known as “Food Valley” for its proximity to the Po River and Adriatic seas; the crosswinds between the two has made this region an “agricultural powerhouse” and “creates the perfect microclimate” for foods like pasta and ham.

For the best ham in Italy, Tucci takes us to the city of Parma, otherwise known as “the land of pigs”. Prosciutto is world famous here, and to ensure its high quality, inspectors DNA test to ensure the organic authenticity of the pig. The inspectors discuss how these tests are mandatory because a criminal ring was found to have sold corrupted products in 2017, leading to over a million fake hams being confiscated. There are now strict rules enforced to protect the products, and the pork must be made by pure Italian pigs.

To test if he could taste the difference, Tucci blindly tries both the authentic Parma pig and the fake. It’s almost laughable how visually different and more enticing the authentic is, proving that there is nothing like true Parma pig.

Now that he’s had his favorite prosciutto, Tucci is ready to finally try what the city of Bologna is most famous for: Bolognese pasta. He heads east to the city of Forlimpopoli for the Casa Artusi Museum, which is dedicated to “Italy’s culinary godfather”. Pellegrino Artusi wrote the first comprehensive cookbook of Italian specialties in the 19th century, and the museum holds regular cooking classes in his honor. Tucci joins chef Barbara Asioli to learn how to make Artusi’s famous Bolognese ragu, which is the first recorded recipe of the meat sauce.

Asioli explains how it’s made with butter instead of oil, because oil used to be way more expensive. She cooks the veal, salty bacon, and chopped vegetables together, adding some broth, flour, and just a sprinkle of nutmeg. Finally, she brings out the base, what we’ve all been waiting for — the pasta, which must be tagliatelle. Watching Tucci slurp up the fresh Italian dish, it’s hard to look at regular Bolognese ever again.

To end his Emilia-Romagna food adventures, Tucci takes us to the coastal town of Rimini, where “ordinary Italians come to play, flirt, and tan by the sea”. It’s known as an unpretentious town, whose beaches were created by the aftermath of WWII bombs. Despite its tragic past, the town is filled with beauty and art. The streets are covered with murals of characters from the famed Italian director, Federico Fellini. His films made Italy a romance icon, and Tucci meets with his niece to feast.

Francesca Fellini explained how her uncle craved the local dishes of his hometown, saying that “life is a combination of magic and pasta”. They enjoy bowls of cappelletti — made with fresh cow’s cheese, sheep’s ricotta, nutmeg, and parmesan — as well as strozzapreti — simply flour with water and salt.

While they eat, Francesca explains the meaning behind these dishes, and it’s not quite what one would expect. Cappelletti was named after a priest’s hat, while strozzapreti means “priest choker” because rural Romania was under control of the Papacy for centuries. The state would seize eggs from housewives, so people would have to make pasta with only water and flour. When making the pasta, the women would curse the local priests by hoping he’d choke, thus the dish was named “priest choker”.

For a dish with such an aggressive name and tragic history, it’s proof of the endurance of the Emilia-Romagna locals. As Tucci said, it’s “revolution, anger, religion, and death in a little pasta.”

The entirety of the Emilia-Romagna is a food-lover’s dream. From the purest prosciutto to the oldest vinegar, you’ll enjoy every spoonful the region has to offer.

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