Certain Italian cities are famous for producing some of history’s most notable figures. The intrepid explorer Marco Polo hailed from Venice; Florence lays claim to Michelangelo and many of his iconic works of Renaissance art; Christopher Columbus was a native of Genoa before he accidentally discovered the Americas.
And the ancient city of Bologna’s claim to fame? A sausage. Now that’s our kind of city! In honor of what many consider the ‘culinary capital of Italy,’ here’s our list of the top five reasons to take a cooking vacation in Bologna.
1. Bologna’s Nickname
What’s in a name? That which we call “la grassa” by any other name would smell as sweet. Okay, so maybe Bologna’s nickname, which translates to “the fat one” sounds a little less poetic in English. And maybe Romeo uttered those words to Juliet in Verona, not in Bologna, but the idea is the same — Bologna is one of the world’s great food cities and the name says it all.
Let’s start with the eponymous cold cut, that staple of American lunch boxes, Bologna sausage. In the United States we’ve been taught that the correct spelling for this venerable processed meat is first name O-S-C-A-R, second name M-A-Y-E-R.
In fact, its real name is Mortadella. The name comes from the way the sausage was originally made, using a mortar and pestle to grind cured pork into a paste before adding spices like myrtle berries, black pepper, pistachio, or olives. True mortadella will also contain visible chunks of pork fat, hence Bologna’s nickname. You can still taste the real deal at shops like Salumeria Simoni in the city’s Old Market, a must on any culinary vacation in Bologna.
In addition to mortadella, which is just one of the pork products for which The Fat One is famous, Bologna also has its own distinct pastas. Chief among them is tagliatelle, a pasta so beloved to the Bolognesi that a cooked tagliatella noodle must equal an exact width relative to the height of one of the city’s most famous medieval buildings. Sound complicated? Stay tuned to our Facebook feed to find out just how wide that is, and which building the noodle is measured against!
4. Emilia-Romagna’s other famous food city
Bologna may be the capital of Emilia-Romagna, but it isn’t this northern Italian region’s only food-famous city. Just an hour away sits Parma, known the world over for its prosciutto (Parma ham) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. And only twenty minutes from Parma is tiny Polesine Parmense, where Chef Massimo Spigaroli ages his incredible culatelli, a refined variety of prosciutto made from special pigs and then aged up to 3 years!
5. Bologna’s other nickname
Our final reason you should visit Bologna on your next cooking vacation has nothing to do with food. The city’s other nickname is “la dotta,” or “the learned one.” Bologna boasts the Western world’s oldest university — the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088 — whose notable faculty once included Dante and Petrarch.
The city is also known for having one of the largest and best-preserved historic city centers in Europe: 350 acres filled with medieval, renaissance, and baroque architecture, not to mention its extensive network of porticoes and covered galleries. In other words, plenty to see and explore so that when you return from one of our culinary vacations in Emilia-Romagna, your friends and family don’t nickname you “la grassa!”
By Adrian Hall
Sign up to receive our email newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best culinary vacations.