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13 Life-Changing Foods of Emilia Romagna You Never Knew Existed

One word of advice when traveling to Emilia Romagna, Italy: come hungry. Known as Italy’s “food valley”, Emilia Romagna more than lives up to its well-deserved reputation.

Food lovers are no strangers to the mouth-watering foods of Emilia Romagna. Emilia Romagna boasts some of Italy’s most iconic Italian dishes including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, succulent Parma ham (Prosciutto di Parma), traditional balsamic vinegar di Modena, and hearty tagliatelle al ragu.

This northern Italian valley along the Po river truly is a foodie’s paradise.

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However, what you probably aren’t as familiar with are the under-the-radar cuisines that go beyond the prominent staples of the region. Here lies a whole host of lesser-known but equally delicious dishes waiting to be discovered.

From sparkling wines and fresh cheeses to regional sandwiches, street foods, and desserts, we’ll take you on a culinary journey of Emilia Romagna’s hidden food gems.

You might not know that these under-the-radar foods existed, but we guarantee they will leave a lasting impression on your taste buds for the rest of your life. Get ready to explore some of Emilia Romagna, Italy’s best-kept food secrets.

What are the best foods of Emilia Romagna?

Below, you will find a list of some of the most unique foods of Emilia Romagna. These are some of our favorite dishes that you will usually only find in this part of Italy and are most definitely worth a taste!

Wines of Emilia Romagna

To kick off the list, you’ll need a drink to pair with your meals. Let’s start with the region’s under-the-radar wines. Whether you prefer red or white, we have your palate covered.

To truly experience the wines of the region, head to the rolling hills of Bologna and Modena, where the wine is produced. There, you can visit local vineyards and wineries on one of your day trips, sample different varieties of local wine, and learn about the winemaking process from the producers themselves.

1. Pignoletto – White Wine

What’s a trip to Italy without tasting some world-class wines? As the world’s largest wine-producing nation, Italy boasts an incredibly wide portfolio of regional wines that you’ve likely never heard about but should know.

Sitting at the top of the list is a local wine from Emilia Romagna called Pignoletto.

Pignoletto is a delicious sparkling white wine from Emilia Romagna that is sure to tantalize the taste buds of any wine lover. Made from the Grechetto Gentile grape, this refreshing wine has a crisp, citrusy flavor with notes of green apple and pear.

Its light, frizzante quality makes it the perfect accompaniment to a variety of dishes, including favorite Emilia Romagna foods such as tortellini, salads, and summer fruits.

What makes Pignoletto unique is its balance of acidity and fruitiness. As a sparkling wine, Pignoletto can be compared to Italy’s most famous sparkling wine Prosecco. Like Prosecco, Pignoletto has a nice dry finish that is both refreshing and satisfying and has a nice, light sweetness.

Pignoletto’s versatility also makes it a favorite among locals, who often enjoy a glass of Pignoletto with their afternoon aperitivo and locally, it is used as a substitute for Prosecco in the popular Aperol Spritz. Unlike Prosecco, Pignoletto has the benefit of being a budget-friendly wine, which you can easily order for a couple of euros for a glass.

When you are visiting the region, make sure to order a glass of Pignoletto for a truly authentic taste of Emilia Romagna. Whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or just looking for a refreshing drink to enjoy on a warm summer day, Pignoletto is a must-try wine to give you a true glimpse into the culinary richness of Italy. 

Our recommendations for where to order Pignoletto: You can order a glass at practically any restaurant in the whole region, or you can pick up a bottle at the local grocery store.

2. Lambrusco – Red Wine

Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine from Emilia Romagna. This light-bodied and low-alcohol wine is known for its refreshingly bubbly texture and sweet-tart flavor. It has aromas of ripe cherries, watermelon, raspberries, and strawberries with hints of cranberry.

Lambrusco is one of the more popular wines in the region, but outside of Emilia Romagna, and by extension Italy, is relatively unknown. This means that when you try Lambrusco, you are getting a real opportunity to discover new flavors and notes, which is exciting for any wine enthusiast.

One of Lambrusco’s greatest attributes is its versatility. Whether you are eating a rich bolognese meal or are searching for a nice drink for an aperitivo, Lambrusco is wonderfully food-friendly. You can pair it with any of the dishes listed below, and can even be used when preparing local wine desserts in the region.

Whether you are sitting down for an evening dinner in the old town city center or enjoying a nice lunch in a small town of the region, you’ll want to try a nice, refreshing glass of Lambrusco.

Primi Piatti of Emilia Romagna

Bologna, the capital city of Emilia Romagna, is nicknamed “La grassa”, meaning the fat. This is due to the widespread use of pork and animal fats in many of the main courses.

When you plan to eat in any of the region’s main cities or smaller towns, be prepared for a hearty meal. Here are a few of the lesser-known primi and secondi piatti from the region.

3. Gramigna

Gramigna is a unique pasta shape that’s a specialty of the Emilia Romagna region in Italy. It’s a short, twisted tube pasta that’s similar in shape to fusilli, but with a wider diameter and a flatter surface.

This unique shape gives it a texture that’s perfect for holding onto rich, hearty sauces. The pasta itself is made from durum wheat semolina and water, which gives it a firm, slightly chewy texture that’s satisfying to bite into.

When it comes to pairing gramigna with sauces, there are endless possibilities. The most common pairing of gramigna pasta is with traditional bolognese ragù, a rich meat sauce made with slow-cooked beef and pork.

Another popular sauce is salsiccia e funghi, a sauce made with sausage and mushrooms. However, gramigna can also be paired with lighter sauces, such as tomato and basil or a simple garlic and olive oil sauce. It’s a versatile pasta that can adapt to a wide range of flavors and styles.

While you can find gramigna on the menu in other cities throughout the region, it’s a particularly beloved dish in the city of Bologna. Here, you’ll find it served in traditional trattorias and osterias alongside other classic Emilian dishes like tigelle and tagliatelle al ragù.

It’s the perfect comfort food for a chilly evening and a must-try for anyone looking to explore the delicious foods of Emilia Romagna. And while the region has many fresh pastas to choose from, we recommend making room for gramigna.

Our recommendations for where to order gramigna: Pasta Fresca Naldi or Sfoglia Rina in the historical center near the leaning tower in Bologna. 

4. Passatelli

Passatelli is one of the lesser-known foods of Emilia Romagna that is sure to surprise and delight any food lover. This hearty pasta dish is made with a unique blend of breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, and nutmeg, which are combined to form a thick dough.

The dough is then forced through a special press that creates long, thin strands of pasta that resemble short and stout spaghetti, but with a texture that’s uniquely soft.

Passatelli has a long history that dates back to the 16th century when it was first created as a way to use up leftover bread. Today, it’s considered a classic comfort food and is typically served in a rich beef broth, which perfectly complements the pasta’s delicate taste and subtle texture.

While it may not be as well-known as other Italian pasta dishes, passatelli is a true hidden gem of the region’s cuisine that’s not to be missed.

To experience passatelli at its best, head to one of the region’s many traditional trattorias or osterias. These cozy, family-run restaurants specialize in hearty, home-style dishes that showcase the very best of Emilia Romagna’s culinary traditions.

We think passatelli is one of the best-kept secrets in all of Italian cuisine.

5. Zucchine Ripiene

Zucchine ripiene, translatted into English as stuffed zucchini, is a classic Italian dish that you’ll find seasonally in the restaurants of Emilia Romagna.

This hearty and satisfying dish is made with a local green zucchini variety that is slightly sweeter and girthier than other zucchini. This makes it easier to remove the insides and gives ample space for the filling.

Once the insides have been removed, the zucchini are stuffed with a savory filling consisting of veal, pork, sausage, mortadella di Bologna, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg. This filling is the same or similar to what you will find in tortellini throughout the region.

The zucchini are then slow-cooked in a hearty tomato sauce until soft and ready to eat. The result is one of our favorite dishes in all of Italy.

Zucchine ripiene is typically served as a main course and pairs well with a light salad or fresh bread. Don’t let the word zucchini trick you into thinking this is a light meal. This hearty dish is plenty as the main entree – no need to order pasta along with it. 

It is a popular dish during the summer months when zucchini is in season and at their peak freshness. When ordering zucchine ripiene, expect to see beautifully plated dishes that are both visually appealing and delicious.

The best places to find Zucchine ripiene are at the more local, less touristy-facing restaurants of the region. For some of the best zucchini ripiene in the region, we recommend Trattoria Collegio di Spagna or Le Golosita Di Nonna Aurora in Bologna. 

Read also: Emilia Romagna Travel Guide

Antipasto of Emilia Romagna

We focus a lot of our attention on main courses when we eat, but sometimes the star of the whole meal is a flavorful antipasto. Italy’s “food valley” is no stranger to unique and flavorful antipasti.

Here are some of the lesser-known antipasti from the region that are definitely worth ordering.

6. Gnocco Fritto

The next food on our list is known by different names depending on the city where it’s being served. In Modena and Reggio Emilia, the dish is called “gnocco fritto”. In Bologna it’s called “crescentina”, while in Parma it’s called “torta fritta”. Fiinally, in Piacenza it is known as “chisulèn”.

Despite having a wide variety of names, the one thing that is consistent is gnocco fritto’s incredible flavor.

So, what exactly is gnocco fritto? This delicious and versatile food dates back to the Middle Ages, and is believed to have originated in the Modena region.

Made from a simple dough of flour, lard, water, and yeast, gnocco fritto is rolled thin and cut into small diamond-shaped pieces before being deep-fried to golden perfection.

The result is a light, airy, and crispy dough that’s perfect for snacking on its own or pairing with other traditional dishes like Prosciutto di Parma, cheeses, and pickled vegetables.

No matter what you call it, the experience of eating gnocco fritto is truly unforgettable. Locals often enjoy it as a mid-morning snack, paired with a cappuccino or espresso, or as a savory appetizer or accompaniment to a meal.

So, whether you’re traveling through Emilia Romagna and want to indulge in the region’s culinary delights, or simply looking to expand your palate and try something new, be sure to seek out some freshly fried gnocco fritto. Its crispy texture, simple yet flavorful ingredients, and versatility make it a perfect addition to any meal or snack.

7. Squacquerone

Squacquerone is a fresh cheese made of cow’s milk that is native to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. This soft, spreadable cheese has a creamy, tangy flavor that pairs perfectly with a wide range of foods.

In northern Italy, it’s commonly used in traditional dishes like piadina, a type of round flatbread that is often filled with cured meats, vegetables, and of course, squacquerone.

One of the most popular ways to enjoy squacquerone is to spread it on bread with a drizzle of caramelized fig sauce. The two together are a match made in heaven.

This combination perfectly balances the cheese’s tanginess with the sweetness of the figs. Squacquerone is absolutely one of Italy’s lesser-known cheeses that you must try.

While Squacquerone is often enjoyed on its own or as part of a charcuterie, it’s also a versatile ingredient in many other dishes. It can be used as a filling for ravioli or tortellini, or added to pasta dishes to create a creamy and satisfying sauce. It is also good with traditional balsamic vinegar di Modena.

You can find squacquerone in many local markets and specialty cheese shops throughout the whole region, and it’s a must-try for anyone looking to explore the unique flavors of Emilia Romagna.

Our recommendations for where to order squaquerone: Inside Mercato delle Erbe in Bologa is a specialty cheese shop called Formaggeria Barbieri. They will have both fresh squaquerone and caramelized fig sauce.

8. Friggione

Friggione is a popular side-dish from the Emilia Romagna region that dates back to 1886 and is a local food staple that you cannot miss.

This simple yet flavorful dish is made from onions, tomatoes, and olive oil, slow-cooked until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded together into a delicious, comforting dish.

Friggione served with fresh pasta.

Friggione is typically served as a side dish or accompaniment to other dishes, and pairs particularly well with grilled meats, crusty bread, pasta, and local cheeses. It’s the perfect addition to any hearty meal and is sure to leave you feeling warm and satisfied.

You can find friggione on menus in any city throughout Emilia Romagna. If you are in Bologna, Modena, or Parma, you will find it in virtually any restaurant.

If you’re looking to experience the true flavors of this beautiful region, be sure to seek out a bowl of friggione – it’s a taste of Italy’s history and culture that you won’t soon forget.

9. Salame Rosa

You’ve heard of mortadella di Bologna, but have you heard of its lesser-known sibling Salame Rosa?

While the two types of meat are nearly indistinguishable on a platter, their flavors couldn’t be more different. Salame Rosa, made of lean pork meat, has a softer, less intense flavor than mortadella.

Salame Rosa is the lighter colored meat in the photo above.

Salame Rosa is a delicious and versatile cured meat that is a true standout of Bolognese cuisine. This quality salumi is a blend of lean pork meat and beef, seasoned with spices and herbs such as nutmeg, coriander, and garlic, and slowly cured for several weeks to develop its tender and succulent texture.

The result is a beautiful and flavorful salami with a delicate and aromatic taste that pairs perfectly with a wide variety of other foods.

When enjoying Salame Rosa, it’s hard to go wrong with pairing it with other Bolognese specialties. It goes well with squacquerone cheese, as well as hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano.

It’s also delicious when paired with hearty breads like piadina, and fresh fruits such as figs and grapes. And of course, no Italian meal would be complete without a good wine pairing.

Salame Rosa pairs well with a range of red wines, from lighter and fruitier varieties like Sangiovese to fuller-bodied options like Barbera.

To sample this delicious cured meat, look for it at local markets or delicatessens throughout Bologna. It’s often served as part of a traditional antipasti platter, alongside other cured meats, cheeses, and bread. Whatever way you choose to enjoy it, Salame Rosa is a true delight for any food lover exploring the flavors of Bologna.

Sandwiches and Breads of Emilia Romagna

Emilia Romagna owes much of its culinary culture to ancient civilizations, dating as far back as roman times. The breads used in these regional sandwiches come from many generations ago and now provide the base for these iconic sandwiches.

10. Piadina

Piadina is a true gem of Emilia Romagna’s culinary scene, a round flatbread that is as versatile as it is delicious. Made from a simple dough of flour, water, and salt, piadina is a staple of the region’s street food scene.

While piadina can be found in any city throughout Emilia Romagna, if you want to experience the best, head east towards the Adriatic Sea to Ravenna and Rimini.

Stemming from humble origins, we recommend you don’t let the simplicity of the piadina detract you from eating one. Piadina is a true delicacy that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

One of the most popular ways to enjoy piadina is filled with a variety of local meats like Prosciutto di Parma, cheeses, and leafy greens. The bread is typically heated on a griddle until it’s warm and slightly crisp.

It is then filled with flavorful cured meats like prosciutto or mortadella di Bologna, soft and tangy cheese like squacquerone or stracchino, and fresh greens like arugula or radicchio. The result is a satisfying and delicious sandwich that’s perfect for a quick lunch or snack.

But piadina is also versatile enough to pair with a range of other flavors. It goes well with rich and savory meats like grilled sausage or roasted pork, as well as fresh fruits like figs or peaches.

To try the best piadina, we recommend visiting Ravenna or Rimini. However, if neither of those cities are in your current plans, you can easily find a piadina shop in any city in the area. We recommend asking locals for their favorite piadina shop.

And while the fillings and toppings may vary from place to place, the one constant is the delicious and satisfying flatbread at the heart of each dish. So if you’re looking to experience the flavors of Emilia Romagna, be sure to add piadina to your list of must-try dishes.

11. Tigelle

Tigelle are an absolute treasure of Emilia Romagna. These small, flat-bread sandwiches serve as a perfect mid-day snack, or a complete meal if you want to try a wide variety of flavors.

Tigelle itself refers to the bread, but you typically eat them sandwich style, adding a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and toppings in between two thin layers of tigelle.

The name “tigelle” comes from the stamps used to decorate the bread, which were traditionally made from terra cotta and engraved with intricate designs. Today, these molds have been replaced with cast-iron molds called tigelliera, but the tradition of making tigelle remains alive and well in the Emilia Romagna region.

The bread is typically made from a mixture of ’00’ flour, water, and salt, and is cooked until it is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Tigelle is typically served as a snack or appetizer and can be enjoyed on its own or paired with a variety of toppings, from cured meats and cheeses to savory spreads and vegetables, such as caramelized onions.

The bread’s small size and unique shape make it perfect for sharing, and it is a staple at local gatherings and celebrations. You can easily try three or four variations for a filling lunch.

If you’re looking to dive into the rich culinary traditions of the region and get an authentic food experience, be sure to seek out a plate of tigelle and savor the unique history and flavor of this beloved regional delicacy.

Desserts of Emilia Romagna

After every meal at a restaurant, you’ll be asked if you have room for dessert. In our experience, the best answer to this question is yes. So, what local desserts should you try when visiting Emilia Romagna?

12. Zuppa Inglese

Zuppa Inglese literally translates as “English Soup”, a reference to an English trifle.

First made in the 16th century for the noble Este family in Ferrara, the dessert is now abundantly found throughout the entire region. It is a layered, boozy dessert consisting of pastry creams and spongecakes soaked in Alchemers liqueur. The liqueur gives the cake a bright red color.

If you have room after dinner, give Zuppa Inglese a try.

13. Torta di riso

Torta di riso is a typical dessert from the region. While each recipe varies, the base for this delicious treat combines rice cooked in milk, eggs, and sugar.

The result is a dessert that tastes like a cakey version of rice pudding. While you can certainly order this after dinner, Torta di riso pairs nicely with a cappuccino or macchiato in the morning.

FAQ: Foods of Emilia Romagna

What food is Emilia Romagna famous for?

Emilia Romagna is home to some of Italy’s most beloved foods including Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar di Modena, Parma ham, tortellini, and tagliatelle al ragu.

What city in Emilia Romagna has the best food?

Each city in Emilia Romagna offers a rich a vibrant food scene. When you are in the area, you’ll begin to understand how important food is to the culture of the entire region.

The entire area prides itself of the high quality of its food scene. And, each city specializes in different types of food. The best piadinas will come from Ravenna. The best capaletti from Ferrara.

The best Parma ham from Parma. And the best tagliatelle al ragu from Bologna.Having said that, Bologna is the largest city in Emilia Romagna, and offers the largest quantity of restaurants.

Final Thoughts: Underrated Foods of Emilia Romagna

To truly experience the foods of Emilia Romagna, don’t limit yourself to the well-known dishes. Venture off the beaten path and discover the treasures that are waiting to be savored, like the unique Pignoletto wine, comforting gramigna pasta, and tangy Squacquerone cheese.

These hidden gems are a testament to the region’s diversity and creativity, and they offer a taste of Italy’s rich culinary heritage. So, next time you visit Emilia Romagna, dare to be adventurous and explore some of these local specialties. Your taste buds will thank you for it!


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