Food of Emilia-Romagna - The Emilia-Romagna Food Guide
The cuisine of Emilia-Romagna relies heavily on generous seasonings, olives, meats, fish, salumi, and cheeses. The region contains famous foods and ingredients such as Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and well-known pasta like lasagne, tagliatelle, cappelletti, tortellini and stuffed tortellini. The gastronomic customs and ingenuities of the region stand removed from the habits of chefs across Italy and the region of Emilia-Romagna continues to influence commercial and private kitchens across the country.
Emilia-Romagna is the epicenter of Italian cuisine with deltas rich with fish, vast farmland perfect for maintaining animals in the pasture, and the Apennine Mountains dividing the borders from Tuscany and Le Marche above the fertile plains. The cities of Bologna, Parma, and Modena have become unique culinary destinations along Via Emilia, the ancient Roman road connecting the region’s gastronomic ideals with the threads of the Roman Empire, Byzantine customs, and Lombard traditions forming the region’s distinctive food heritage.
Farms in the Romagna provinces continue the established practice of growing olives, however, dietary staples in Emilia remain cheese and salumi due to their long-lasting nature considered desirable by former nomadic populations, along with wild fruits and vegetables. The products of the region embody the eight centuries during which the region fell under reign of disparate noble families, Papal States, and distinct kingdoms resulting in the unique make-up of the different cities’ gastronomic traditions while sharing common characteristics. Pasta remains king in the region with the ample cultivation of wheat along the floodplains of the Po River. Different types of bread also grace the tables of Emilia-Romagna, from typical soft, flat bread to fried dough known as gnocco fritto.
Chefs, home cooks, and food connoisseurs from all around the globe can plan the perfect Italy tour to truly indulge in the wonderful flavors of Emilia-Romagna. For more information about the food of Northern Italy, view our Northern Italy Food Guide.
Popular Flavors and Ingredients of Emilia-Romagna
The common flavors and ingredients of Emilia-Romagna encompass many of the foods we think of as quintessentially Italian, such as balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, cured pork products like prosciutto crudo, and the sparkling wine Lambrusco. Regional ingredients of Emilia-Romagna include Cocomerina pears, potatoes, Borgotaro mushrooms, green asparagus, peaches and nectarines of Romagna, white garlic, chestnuts, onions, and extra virgin olive oil from Brisighella and Colline di Romagna. Residents of the region use ingredients from locally sourced farms to create the most popular dishes of Emilia-Romagna, which include tagliatelle with ricotta and walnuts, chestnut flour tortelli, lasagna made with spinach, and tortellini in broth as well as beef stew, pumpkin ravioli, and beef fillet dressed in balsamic vinegar.
The typical ingredients of Emilia-Romagna symbolize culinary pearls of Italy’s food valley by highlighting the variety of cheeses, meats, fruits, and vegetables residents utilize to shape the cuisine of the region. Tradition has dictated the ways in which the ingredients are grown resulting in the preserved and celebrated flavors of internationally recognized ingredients.
The most popular flavors and ingredients of Emilia-Romagna consist of:
1. Balsamic Vinegar (DOP) of Emilia-Romagna
Aceto Balsamico DOP – Balsamic vinegar is characterized by a rich, dark brown hue and dense, syrupy texture produced in Modena and the province of Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna and contains the Protected Denomination of Origin (DOP) label. Producers use the must, skin, seeds, stems, and juice of freshly pressed grapes from Lambrusco, Trebbiano, and other grape varietals grown around Modena. They cook the mixture over low heat until it thickens and changes to a dark brown color. The sugar transforms to alcohol but is not ready for consumption for at least 12 years, with the best balsamic aged between 30 and 50 years with a sweet, almost caramel aroma giving way to a balanced acidic flavor containing a light tartness. Producers often add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, coriander, or licorice to the mixture in a reflection of the Renaissance palate and season of production.
2. Fruits and Vegetables of Emilia-Romagna
The broad lowlands and fresh waters from rainfall and irrigation around the Po Valley and the lowlands and slopes of the Apennine Mountains provide Emilia-Romagna with fantastic soils to grow delicious fruits and vegetables. Emilia-Romagna features the fertile landscape in its gastronomic culture by utilizing the specific flavors of the seasonal fruits and vegetables in the famous cuisine of the region. The diverse characteristics of the soils, as well as the specific tastes of the fruits and vegetables, speak to the legendary flavors of regional gastronomy and the culinary traditions of the region dating back a millennium with the cultivation of fruit trees.
Five Common Fruits and Vegetables used in Emilia-Romagna Cuisine include:
1. Amarene Brusche cherries
2. Sugar beets
3. Cheese of Emilia-Romagna
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP – Parmesan cheese derives from the region of Emilia-Romagna and the province of Parma. A distinguishing characteristic of the cheese is a dark or light gold rind protecting the soft, velvety, or slightly grainy texture of the cheese. The taste should be savory and delicate. Parmesan’s texture is fully dependent upon the aging period. Dairy farmers use pure cow’s milk taken from two milkings on the same day, one of which is partially skimmed. A traditional wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano reaches 18 inches (45.72 centimeters) in width, nine inches (22.86 centimeters) in height, and nearly 90 pounds (40.82 kilograms) in weight. The cheese ages for up to three years, producing a very compact, grainy texture falling under the category of hard Italian cheeses, recognized by the European Union with the stamp of the DOP, a Protected Denomination of Origin.
Grana Padano DOP – Grana Padano is a hard, slow-ripened cheese with a semi-fat content made from cow’s milk in the province of Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. The cheese is similar to Parmigiano Reggiano in flavor and processing techniques. Cows are milked twice a day, then the milk is left to stand before being partially skimmed by removing the surface layer of cream. The granules forming inside the cheese provide Grana Padano with its unique texture.
Younger cheeses aged between nine to 16 months have a less crumbly texture and gentler flavor while Grana Padano aged over 16 months provides a more pronounced, bold flavor and crumbly texture. The specialty cheese of “Grana Padano Riserva” is aged for over 20 months resulting in a grainy, flaky consistency with full flavor deriving from the prevalent cheese crystals. A wheel of Grana Padano cheese can weigh up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms) with a diameter of 18 inches (45 centimeters).
4. Meats of Emilia-Romagna
Prosciutto di Parma DOP – Prosciutto in Italy is made in Emilia-Romagna and the province of Parma by rubbing salt into the hind legs of the pork, washing away the salty exterior, and letting the meat age 10 to 12 months. The European Union has recognized the importance of the development and promotion of the production of Italian prosciutto in Emilia-Romagna, labeling the famous product with the coveted symbol of the Protected Denomination of Origin (DOP). Makers of the prosciutto can only use pigs raised in specific regions of Italy but the meat is produced in a precise area of Emilia-Romagna. The province is known for its microclimate caused by the air rushing in from Versilia along the Tuscan coast. The wind carries nutrients and aromas from olive and pine groves before reaching the Apennines, enriched with the scents of chestnut en route to Parma.
Pancetta Piacentina DOP – Pancetta is cured meat limited to the production in Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna and derives from pork belly. The pancetta is made from a measured process of trimming, salt drying, and maturing the meat for a minimum two months, and averages three months of maturation. The drying mixture contains salt, spices, and aromatics resulting in a delicate aroma containing hints of spice. The mixture of lean and fatty elements creates rosy and white layers with a semi-sweet and savory flavor. The completed product weighs over 17 pounds (8 kilograms) with a cylindrical shape. The specialty pigs used for making Pancetta Piacentina must be born and raised in Emilia-Romagna while the climate in Piacenza provides the particular elements needed in crafting the salumi’s distinct flavor.
5. Grains and Pasta of Emilia-Romagna
Tortellini – Tortellini is delicate fresh pasta made from egg and flour commonly stuffed with meats, cheeses, or vegetables. Tortellini pasta was created in Bologna and has become ubiquitous in regional cuisine across Italy prepared in a variety of ways, from light tomato sauce to heartier sauces using cream, or vegetables as the base. One of the most popular dishes in Emilia-Romagna is Tortellini en Brodo, a comfort food consisting of fresh tortellini in chicken broth.
Gnocchi - Gnocchi in Emilia-Romagna refers to the shape and formation of small dumplings made from ingredients like potato, flour, or cheese.
Emilia-Romagna has two specific types of gnocchi:
- Pisarei e faśö
- Borgotaro malfatti
Gnocchi known as pisarei e faśö originated in the Middle Ages in the province of Piacenza and are made from flour and breadcrumbs. They do not contain potato as an ingredient typical of internationally renowned Italian gnocchi. The dish utilizes elements found in abundance in Emilia-Romagna including the traditional use of beans before the introduction of tomatoes to Italy in the 16th century.
Gnocchi known, as Borgotaro malfatti is a popular dish in the city of Parma made from ricotta, herbs, and occasionally spinach. The mixture also contains eggs and breadcrumbs to bind the ingredients, and many chefs added grated cheese. The dish originated in the Bolognese countryside, often served with rabbit and baked potatoes.
6. Sauces of Emilia-Romagna
Bolognese Ragú – Bolognese sauce or ragú is the rich, hearty sauce from Bologna consisting of beef, pork, dry white wine, meat broth, tomato paste, and vegetables. The sauce traditionally accompanies tagliatelle pasta but is also used to dress lasagna or polenta. In Emilia-Romagna and greater Italy, Bolognese is not served with spaghetti, residents of Emilia-Romagna prefer pasta made from fresh egg-based dough. The traditional Bolognese sauce uses particular cuts of meat with very little tomato or milk added to the pot. A traditional mixture of celery, carrot, and onions layers the earthy flavors and aromas with the heartier tastes of the browning meat.
Béchamel – Béchamel is a thick white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk. The sauce often serves as a base for other rich and hearty cream sauces used in Emilia-Romagna dishes like lasagna, garganelli, and cannelloni. The sauce is also used dress vegetables like cabbage and broccoli before being baked. The classic béchamel sauce consisting of slow-cooked milk, meat broth, and spices combined with cream and originated in Tuscany but has since become a staple in the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna.
7. Truffles and Mushrooms of Emilia-Romagna
White Truffles – The white truffle is a golden, spongy tuber with pungent aromas and earthy flavors growing close to the tree roots of certain types of trees like oak, poplar, and linden. The celebrated ingredient has a more fragrant and robust flavor than other truffles and the most common method of serving white truffle consists of shavings accompanying butter, cheese, and pasta. The white truffle season spans September to December.
Borgotaro Mushroom – The Borgotaro is a porcini style mushroom that grows in the forests and mountainous areas of the province of Parma. The mushroom’s strong flavor made it a popular ingredient in noble kitchens. It is ideally used for sauces, salads, stuffed in pasta, or topping fresh egg pasta like tagliatelle. The mushroom grows in autumn with texts referencing the culinary recipes dating back to the 18th century. The aroma of the Borgotaro mushroom contains hints of hazelnut, licorice, and cut wood. The shifting cool, warmth, and humidity of the regional climate, as well as the characteristics of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Apennine mountains, shape the distinct flavors and aromas of the mushroom.
Best Meals and Dishes of Emilia-Romagna
The classic savory pie of Emilia-Romagna has become a gastronomic legacy highlighting the savory flavors of spinach, chard, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and pancetta cooked with butter and lard as a rustic country-style tart. The dish is baked and traditionally served hot or warm to enjoy the golden, flaky pastry. The original recipe was fried in pork lard until dark, but many recipes vary from customs based on the heritage of family recipes. The dish is more common in the Reggio Emilia province in Emilia-Romagna and the provincial capital referred to locally as Reggio.
2. Tortellini en Brodo
The popular first-course dish of tortellini consists of hand-crafted ring-shaped pasta made with egg and stuffed with cheese, pork, or greens. The dish is served in a clear chicken or beef broth topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano representing traditional comfort food of Emilia-Romagna. Making the pasta is a labor of love and dedication resulting in a special flavor normally served in the home around Christmas but available in restaurants year-round. Modena and Bologna are the most popular destinations for the traditional dish of Emilia-Romagna.
3. Pumpkin Ravioli
The hand-made and stuffed pumpkin ravioli of Emilia-Romagna is known in Italian as cappellacci. The pasta forms a dome over the pumpkin combining the savory flavors of butter, salt, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a semi-sweet flavor of the pumpkin, as well as a touch of spice from nutmeg. The traditional dish of Northern Italy dates back to a recipe from the 16th century and the culinary tradition of Ferrara.
The deep-fried bread is made with warm milk, fresh yeast, and flour. The dough is fried in lard or oil and often accompanied with cured meats like Prosciutto di Parma, types of salumi, and hard or soft cheese. The bread is traditionally served as an appetizer encouraging your appetite and inviting you to eat more. The traditional dish can also be flavored with garlic and rosemary. Customary crescentina is made in Modena.
Best Cities for Emilia-Romagna Cuisine
The distinctive flavors of Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine derive from the unique terrain ranging from the Alps to the Apennines, the Po River delta to the waters of the Adriatic Sea. As the agricultural heart of Italy, Emilia-Romagna’s fertile soils yield extensive crops while providing an ideal landscape for rearing cattle and sheep. The greater region of Emilia-Romagna separates into two sub-regions: Emilia and Romagna. Emilia is located on the ancient Roman trading route and hosts cities like Bologna, Modena, and Parma. Culinary customs of Emilia focus heavily on animal fats and pork products. The sub-region of Romagna has stronger ties to Byzantine heritage and hosts cities such as Ravenna. Culinary traditions of Romagna are influenced by the sea and classic styles connected to the land.
Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and the birthplace of tortellini pasta and the popular salumi mortadella. The city is also home to the popular egg-based pasta of tagliatelle and tortellini, as well as the hearty meat sauce of Bolognese ragú. The rich culinary traditions of Bologna express the greater art form of gastronomy highlighting local customs. Bologna exemplifies the excellence of Italian cuisine perfected over the centuries by combining recipes of chefs from noble kitchens and comfort foods from peasant dishes known for their robust seasonings and inexpensive ingredients. Classic food of Bologna is diverse with opulent flavors typical of meat-based dishes with pork and egg pasta inspiring the general cuisine of the Emilia province.
Famous dishes from Bologna include:
- Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce
- Imperial soup
- Maccheroni alla Bolognese with a white ragú
- Mortadella salumi
- Squaquerone cheese
For more information on the food of Bologna, visit our Bolognese Food Guide.
Modena cuisine respects the traditions and preservation of flavors with dishes utilizing pork in sausages or mince, egg-based pasta, sparking Lambrusco and the important heritage of flavorful balsamic vinegar. The quality of Modenese cuisine derives from the vast landscape resulting in ingredients protected by the European Union. Balsamic Vinegar DOP is the most famous ingredient crafted in Modena province. Specialty cuisine of Modena shares similarities with other cities in the sub-region of Emilia in Emilia-Romagna with evidence of written recipes dating back to the 14th century, one of which mentions tortellini. However, the province of Modena stands out with spectacular cuisine and ingredients producing exceptional specialty bread like tigelle and crescentine, exquisite desserts made from black cherries, garlic salami, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, as well as prosciutto di Modena.
Modena is known for producing stunning dishes like:
- Passatelli in broth
- Scalloped macaroni
- Tortellini in chicken broth
- Fried dumplings
- Modena pesto
Parma’s gastronomy is known for its creativity while maintaining a link to its culinary heritage balancing innovation and traditional flavors representing the community through local, sustainable ingredients recognizable around the world. Parma is best-known for producing Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the salumi Prosciutto di Parma. The cuisine of Parma consists of cheese and cured meats made from handcrafted techniques molded by the elements of the Po River delta and the Apennine Mountains. The history of elegant social life and vibrant entrepreneurial spirit has shaped the diverse flavors of the cuisine since the 13th century with many dishes utilizing butter and cheese for rich flavors and vibrant aromas. Borgotaro mushrooms grow in Parma province, and other ingredients protected by geographical designation include Coppa di Parma and Culatello di Zibello.
Parma is known for making delicious dishes like:
- Anolini pasta stuffed with broth
- Tortellini with a sweet and sour filling
- Pumpkin tortelli
- Potato tortelli served with a porcini mushroom sauce
- Rice soup with egg, nutmeg, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Brodetto alla marinara
Ravenna’s cuisine remains steeped in a tradition of rich recipes characterized by “peasant food” or ingredients around the Romagna sub-region consisting of dishes like garganelli, gnocchi, white flour pasta with beans, and pork sausage known for its dark red color. Regional cooking habits have blended with French influences over the centuries resulting in a culinary identity revolving around a knowledge of edible vegetables, plants, and herbs like bulbs, roots, spices, legumes, cereals, and mushrooms. Residents have also perfected techniques producing dough for pastas, pastries, and breads, in addition to a refined knowledge of utilizing the seafood from the Adriatic coast.
Ravenna is known for dishes likes like:
- Tortelloni stuffed with ricotta, greens, cheese, or vegetables
- Croquettes of fish fillet or lobster
- Frog soup
- Cappelletti di Romagna
- Piadina flatbread stuffed with cheese, vegetables, or salumi