Bologna, or How Much Cured Meat Can One Person Eat?

Our usual habit of spending the winter months hiding out from the terrible Dutch weather was observed again this year. We survived darkness, hail, the “Beast from the East”, and code-red-level wind storms, but we emerged on the other side, at the end of March, into a tentative Spring. To celebrate, we made our first trip of the year over Easter weekend, and headed to Bologna, which promised sunshine and some great food. We were not disappointed.

IMG_3836Bologna was an eating trip. Other than me climbing the Asinelli Tower, we had no cultural or sight-seeing plans in place. (If you’re interested: the Tower is a good climb at about 490 steps. Admission is 5 Euro, and entrances are timed and ticketed, so if you’re visiting on a weekend I recommend buying your ticket in advance. I had purchased a ticket for 5pm Friday; by 3pm both Friday and Saturday were already sold out.)

Since our main activity was eating, we booked a food tour, of course. Not just any food tour: this was the mother of all food tours with Italian Days. We found it thanks to my memory of an epic blog post written by Josh and Renee, the fun world-travelers we met (yep, on a food tour) in Berlin, way back in 2016.  You can probably just read Josh’s post, since the tour remains much the same. If it ain’t broke, and all that. The only difference is the tour guide; by his account, Josh’s guide, Alessandro, was a short, bald, 40-something-year-old fellow with boundless energy and a great sense of humor. Our Alessandro – yep, same name – was 26, tall, and had a good head of hair, which he attributes to eating cheese. Same energy and a great sense of humor.

Raising the cheese

After 3 hours of work, the cheese is ready. The whole process is manual; no machines are used.

The tour is exceptional, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Literally EVERY review on Trip Advisor is 5-star. That may be because people write the reviews in a food-induced stupor in the hours after the tour, and they are so sated with pasta and meats and wine (so much wine!) that they write glowing reviews. Even accounting for that, it was a great experience. Fully eleven HOURS went by between the time we were picked up at our hotel and dropped off again. Hours filled by watching master craftsmen create huge wheels of parmigiano reggiano cheese, learning about real balsamic vinegar of Modena, and touring one of the largest prosciutto producers in northern Italy.

Oh, and did I mention the eating? Most of the hours were spent eating: sampling aged cheeses and drinking Lambruso (at 9:17am) with breakfast, enjoying the “prosciutto aperitivo” of at least seven different kinds of cured meats, or settling in for a “light lunch” of three pasta courses, a platter of grilled meat, and a lovely dessert. Throughout this food-fest, Alessandro shared information about the producers and their crafts, and converted us all to the religion of DOP: Denominazione d’Origine Protetta or Protected Designation of Origin. The DOP certification ensures that what you’re buying is from a specific region, and produced in a specific, regulated way.

Our group consisted of thirteen people, including Brits, a Kiwi, and a number of Americans. Everyone was friendly and pleasant and we all ate ourselves silly, encouraged – and sometimes shamed – by Alessandro, who in spite of his age (and gender) perfectly plays the part of the fussing Italian grandmother. By the end of the day, we were stuffed, a little tipsy, taking group photos (“Smile and say “DOP”!) and exchanging hugs. We got back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep. Needless to say, we skipped dinner that night.

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The next day was Easter Sunday and like a good Catholic country, Italy made sure something things were closed. We wandered around the city, and walked up to the Church of San Michele for the views. When we returned to Bologna proper, we ran into some of our fellow food-tour participants and learned we weren’t the only ones who took a long nap and skipped dinner! The rest of the day was filled with strolls through the beautiful covered sidewalks, with lunch and gelato and a few more churches thrown in for good measure. We returned to Amsterdam on Monday morning with our bellies still full and with a huge chunk of 60-month aged DOP cheese in our suitcase. Next time we’ll bring some elastic-waist pants.

Finally, a few quick notes and suggestions:
Italian Days offers food tours in several cities, so check them out the next time you head to Italy!
On the nights we actually ate dinner, we had great meals (though very different) at Antica Trattoria Spiga and Parlor, and would recommend both.
We wandered off the beaten path for our afternoon sweet fix, and were rewarded by the friendly service and delicious gelato at Cremeria Santo Stefano.

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Overlooking Bologna from the Church of San Michele

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