Parma and The Food Valley

Lost In Emilia Romagna

Cindy and The Cheese Factory (Parma) www.caseificiogennari.it

There's a saying in Italy - that if you get lost anywhere in the country someone will come to your rescue and offer you a glass of water and see that you are sent back safely on your way.  However, if you are lost in Emilia Romagna (the province of Northern Italy that stretches from the Mediterranian to the Adriatic and whose principal cities are Bologna and Parma) when you are found someone will offer you a glass of wine, call all their family and friends to gather for a meal in your honor and then, and only then, send you safely on your way.  This saying is true.

This fall we went to Italy to see our friends in Bologna and Parma and to eat.

There is another saying in Italy - one that has no literal English translation - that in essence means that time spent "with our legs under the table" (i.e. time eating and conversing) is time well spent.  This saying is likewise true.

Our friends, who we've met over the past three summers when their sons came to Bangor, Maine  (where we live) for a baseball tournament greeted us with enthusiasm and great kindness.  They opened their homes and their hearts, toured us around the countryside and showed us things that most tourists never see.  Mostly, they fed us.

We ate and ate and ate some more.  All this in what is accurately called The Food Valley, some of the richest and most valuable agricultural land in all the world -  the land surrounding Bologna and Parma.  This is the world of Prosciutto,  Parmigiano - Reggiano cheese, sparkling wines and balsamic vinegar (which is to regular vinegar as a Ferrari is to a moped).  From the cities and fields of Emilia-Romagna we have those gifts as well as lasagna, tortelloni, tortellini, tagliatelli al Ragu and such ordinary splendors as gnocchi fritti (a fried bread, eaten hot from the pan and slathered with fresh, buttery gorgonzola).

All the while we had our friends providing a good natured but serious critique of why the delicacies we had before us were superior to those produced at the other end of the valley.

So, where does this food come from?  Who provides this bounty? 

Well, after this trip, we have some answers to those questions.  Take a look:

 

 

Birth of The Cheese Wheel
"How do I get this into my suitcase?"
Parmigiano - Reggiano The King of Cheese (Parma)

The Queen of Prosciutto

"I love prosciutto!"

Some of our friends are, as they say, "in the meat business".  This being the middle of the annual Prosciutto di Parma Festa their businesses were thrown open to the public for tours. www.ermesfontana.it

That's a lot of ham!
Cindy Is Awarded The 5-Pointed Crown!
And wine, of course! (Casatico) www.carradicasatico.com

The Most Civilized City On Earth

Teatro Farnese (1628) Parma

But Parma isn't just about food.  From its exquisite architecture (the Duomo and Baptistry) to its public spaces (the Parco Ducale) and streets filled with bicycles, Parma may be the most civilized city on earth.

 

Palazzo Ducale (Parco Ducale - Parma)
Parco Ducale (Parma)
Water Feature (Parco Ducale - Parma)
Baptistry (1196) Parma. Yes, that's pink marble.
Baptistry (Interior)
Flight Into Egypt (detail) Baptistry (Parma)
Baptismal Font - Baptistry (Parma)

Castles! Castles! And More Castles!

Torrechiara Castle

The countryside around Parma is dotted with imposing castles (nearly 2 dozen) most from the 15th and 16th century and some from before 1000 AD.  Our friends took us to Torrechiara (www.portaletorrechiara.it).  Built between 1448 and 1460 its interior is richly decorated with frescos.  Surrounded by vine covered rolling hills and offering views of the snow capped Appennines (although fog shrouded on our visit) it's a marvelous glimpse into the past.

Torrechiara Castle (Interior) Langhirano, Italia
Torrechiara Castle beyond the vineyards of Langhirano.

Palio di Parma

Palio (Parma)

Owing to our good fortune, the Palio di Parma happened to coincide with our stay.  The Palio (literally, the prize banner) began in 1314, marking the wedding between two warring families. As its more famous cousin, the Palio di Sienna, the Palio di Parma is filled with jugglers, medieval reinactors, flag tossing and a race.  Siena's race, on horseback, is known throughout the world and draws tens of thousands of spectators each summer.  Parma's race is somewhat less dramatic (and no where nearly as dangerous to either rider or mount).  Parma's race, known as the Pallium Asinorum, is a donkey (asino in Italian) race.  Which may or may not be a satirical reflection of the Parmesian view of their Sienese neighbors.

In any case, it's all wonderful fun and the revived Palio (resurrected in 1978) gives Parmesians and tourists alike a chance to participate in the history of the area while eating gelato and basking in the sun (it was about 80 the day we watched).

Palio di Parma
Strike up the band! (Palio di Parma)
The Green Queen and Yellow Queen with entourage. (Palio di Parma)

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Kathy | Reply 18.05.2017 18.14

Parma is beautiful. Great pictures

Rumjana | Reply 25.07.2015 03.32

Thank you for the pictures and sharing your experience! Very interesting, I enjoyed reading it. Ging to this paradise of food, art and history next year

Clara | Reply 27.10.2014 21.19

Thank you for sharing the pictures and comments, it was like i was right there with you and Cindy.

G and C 28.10.2014 12.25

We're so glad you enjoyed the travelogue and photos. Gary and Cindy

Danielle | Reply 18.10.2014 11.31

Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures.. I think that this City was my favorite.. So happy You and Cindy had such a fantastic time.

Ken | Reply 17.10.2014 23.31

I can see you guys had a great visit! You deserve it!

Dick McGee | Reply 16.10.2014 15.49

Gary and Cindy,
Thank you for sharing the photos of what looks like was a wonderful trip for you.

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Latest comments

12.06 | 09:49

Hi Gary and Cindy,

Thank you for including me in your website with your travel log.
I hope to get to Maine this year and so would like to stop by to say hello.

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09.06 | 18:16

Very Nice.
Dave

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29.05 | 12:23

"Mr. Savannah" looks anything but a square. I bet there's at least one amusing story about him.... -p

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18.05 | 18:32

Ivan and I talk about going to Italy one day, you two will have to be our guides!! Beautiful pictures and wonderful writing.

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