Exploring Italian Food Culture on the Via Emilia

Located a short two-hour train ride from Rome and not even an hour from Florence, Bologna is an ideal destination from which to explore the history and culture of Italian food. In July, Professor Randy Bublitz from Santa Barbara City College led a group of students on a study tour to Bologna and several nearby sites around the Emilia Romagna region, the proud origin of many of Italy’s most emblematic plates and products.

Shortly after arriving from Rome, the group stepped out on a walking tour with a local guide exploring centuries of bolognese history, including the city’s symbolic importance as home to the country’s oldest and most revered university and its role as a bastion of far-left politics. Amidst historical anecdotes and monuments, the group began to learn about the region’s traditional gastronomic production as well.

Students stepped into Tamburini, a family shop in operation since 1932 that sells some of the region’s best cheeses and cured meats. After tasting mortadella and a selection of artisanal salami at Tamburini, the group met Rina Scandellari, who has been hand making traditional pastas since 1963. Scandellari originally opened Sfoglia Rina in the small town of Casalecchio di Reno just outside Bologna and expanded to the city location in 2013 in partnership with her grandson. Emilia Romagna’s unique geographic factors, principal of which is the winding Po River, create an ideal microclimate for the cultivation of wheat. Under Scandellari’s watchful eye, students made (and tasted) tortellini and tagliatelle.

The next day, Accent arranged a meeting with Serena Peverini and her mother, Afra, second- and third-generation owners of the Ciao Latte farm. Located just outside of Parma, Ciao Latte is the only Parmigiano Reggiano producer recognized with the rigorous BioSuisse certificate of organic agriculture. Afra walked the group through the entire production process for Pamigiano Reggiano before opening the doors to the impressive aging room. Before leaving, the students were guided through a tasting of a 24- and 36-month Parmigiano, ricotta, Parmigiano cream, and finally Ciao Latte’s homemade gelato.

The cities along the Via Emilia stimulate minds and taste buds, whether learning about the history and production of Modena’s balsamic vinegar or Parma’s Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma. Whether considering nutrition, business, law, or the history and sociology of food, Bologna is an ideal complement to a customized program in Rome or Florence.