Bologna's Quadrilatero: Food Lovers of the World, Unite & Take Over
Bologna’s Quadrilatero: Food Lovers of the WOrld, Unite & Take Over
It’s 11pm and sleepy Piazza Maggiore is nearly ready for bed. If it were not for murmurs from a nearby alleyway, it would be completely silent. As I get nearer, it turns out the murmurs are laughter and it is soon clear what all the fuss is about. Wine is flowing and cheese is in abundance. I suddenly realise that I must have stumbled across the heart of Bologna – it's famous Quadrilatero...
It’s 11am and laughter is again beginning to fill the narrow streets of Bologna’s Quadrilatero.Famous Salumeria, Simoni, is serving the first customers of the day, and the excitement on their faces is plain as they are presented with a platter graced with the finest regional cured meats including mortadella and truffle salami. Plus a bottle of red wine, obviously. This would be me later, but I put my growing appetite to one side momentarily to allow for the best retail therapy I’ve ever had. By day, the Quadrilatero is shopping paradise for any foodie, bringing together some of the best traders in the world – all solely dedicated to selling the highest quality products from the Emilia Romagna region. I was particularly interested in two of these.
The Emilia Romagna can be proud of its contribution to cheese, but there is one in particular that undoubtedly wears the crown: the wonderful fruity and nutty Parmigiano Reggiano. Never have I approached cheese shopping so meticulously, as with Parmigiano it is not simply a case of one size fits all. Most quality Parmigiano Reggiano is aged between 12-36 months – the longer the aging, the greater complexity of flavour and subsequent rise in price. It’s worth bearing in mind that the label, “Mezzano”, is an indication of poorer quality Parmigiano that has not passed certified standards. Although, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of this laying round in the Quadrilatero. Numerous outlets in the Quadrilatero source this iconic cheese at different maturities and in different sizes; it is even possible to buy a whole wheel. This reminds me of an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix featuring famous chef Massimo Bottura. Rather intriguingly, to tell if parmigiano is ready, a hammer is applied to the wheel and the tester listens for tones to indicate whether the cheese has aged as expected. Bottura himself is infatuated with parmigiano, using a variety aged as long as 50 months in his theatrical creation, five different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in five different textures. This trademark dish is a wonderful celebration of this beloved cheese, but be prepared to depart with a small fortune if you wish to try it.
Speaking of small fortunes, my focus moved from cheese to Modena’s claim to fame: balsamic vinegar. True balsamic vinegar is left to ferment over at least 12 years, absorbing fantastic flavours such as cherry and chestnut depending on the oaks in which it is aged. Unparalleled to the industrial black slime found in supermarkets, the sign of an accomplished balsamic is the DOP certification which, in English, means protected name of origin. Essentially DOP is a stamp of approval for quality. Much like Parmigiano, this liquid gold can demand quite the premium, but to an even greater extent. Certain balsamic vinegars are aged for over 20 years, and can reach in the region of hundreds of pounds for just a small bottle. Luckily - the intensity of flavour means it can be used sparingly, plus it will keep indefinitely.
Shopping for Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar is expensive work, and fortunately my stomach stopped me from being too careless with my money. It was time for lunch; cured meat and cheese was a given but I spent some time deliberating over tigelle or piadina – the region’s popular breads. Tigelle is best described as thin circles of bread that are served in reasonable quantity, accompanied by cheeses and cured meats. A couple beside me look rather enthused at the luxurious picnic in front of them, poised to dig in to the huge ball of squacquerone that laid in front of them. It is clear that tigelle allows for a more involved experience, but, on this occasion, I go for a piadina which is essentially a flatbread. Inside is Italian bacon known as coppa, smoked scamorza cheese and rocket, finished with a generous covering of balsamic vinegar – a dream combination with the peppery rocket. I could have eaten it all over, and at just 6 euros it was tempting to do so. But conscious of the inevitable feasting I would later do at dinner, it was probably time to leave.
The Quadrilatero, whilst predominantly an absolute pleasure, did leave me feeling somewhat bittersweet. Food shopping doesn’t get much better than this, and I couldn’t help but imagine, with some sadness, the prospect of my next food shop being not in the Quadrilatero, but instead my local Tesco.
For a taste of Bologna’s best pasta, a visit to Sflogia Rina is very much recommended!
Learn about the classic Emilia Romagna dish, Tortellini in Brodo, here