La Dolce Eater; Steve Myall Finds That the Cuisine Is as Rich as the History in Italy's Emilia-Romagna Region; CIAO-ING DOWN IN ITALY

The Mirror (London, England), October 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

La Dolce Eater; Steve Myall Finds That the Cuisine Is as Rich as the History in Italy's Emilia-Romagna Region; CIAO-ING DOWN IN ITALY


Byline: Steve Myall

There are two Italys as far as I'm concerned - the sharp-suited, Vespa-driving, macho bum-pinching one with the slicked-back hair, and the other, the one that's all about sun-drenched afternoons, eating, drinking and working on that ever-expanding opera singer waistband.

It doesn't take long to realise that in this part of the country, we're dealing with the latter.

I'd been starving myself in the run-up to the trip and turned down the various food offerings at Gatwick, so by 1.30pm when I stopped for lunch an hour outside ad the Bologna, I had the appetite of Pavarotti in his prime. The "quick" meal does not disappoint, as trays and plates of delicious antipasto - "before the meal" - and then pasta arrive at the table at Azienda Agricola Trere (www.trere.com).

The venue is a winery which, like almost all in Italy, produces olive oil as well. The climate in the region of Emilia-Romagna - just south of Venice and bordering Tuscany - is perfect for farming and the locals can grow virtually anything here.

As an example, Italy grows more kiwi fruit than anywhere else, even beating New Zealand where the crop originates, and there are fields of peach trees and cherry orchards groaning with fruit.

Although I was slightly pressed for time during the first meal, the pattern for eating Italian-style was set - take your time and take in plenty of wine. Antipasto consists of vario of me various plates of meat and cheese with bread and oil - no butter - and maybe some olives and peppers.

Next comes a first course, or "primi", which is a fairly light dish such as a small portion of tortellini or ribbons of pasta with sauce.

Then comes a meat or fish course, before the option for a dessert and a drop of the finest Italian coffee.

It's worth mentioning that I soon learned the local rules of coffee drinking, namely that there's no such thing as an espresso - over here it's simply known as "cafe".

If you want more than a mouthful, ask for "cafe American" and you'll get your espresso served black with hot water.

A definite cultural no-no is a cappuccino or latte after about 11am, it's frowned upon and you stand out like a tourist. My guide, Orazio, even joked that some places won't serve you milky coffee after mid-morning.

After a couple of hours on a coach, which flew by thanks to the post-lunch doze, I arrived in Milano Marittima.

In short, it's an upmarket beach resort on the Adriatic coast with smart hotels such as the Grand Hotel Gallia - where I was staying (www.selecthotels.it) - and tree-lined boulevards leading to streets festooned with restaurants and bars.

The area has strong links to the Roman Empire, and nearby Ravenna - of which more a little later - was at one stage Italy's Western capital under successive emperors.

One of the reasons is the salt flats - accessible best by Canadian-style canoe (canoecervia@email.it) - in which you paddle down a narrow canal and under implausibly low bridges to get to the ingenious salt pan.

Salt used to be as valuable as gold in Roman times and its production fuelled local wealth.

Bags of it are popular souvenirs, and there are 800 hectares of pens for salt production that are still in operation.

The beaches in the resort are beautiful, easily matching others I've visited in Spain and Portugal. On the food front, the hotel operates a tasty buffet and a la carte menu, while in town the place to be seen is Restaurant La Cantinaza (www.lacantinaza.com), which provided a mean carpaccio of sea bass.

A 20-minute car journey away is the old capital of Ravenna, which was the centre of the Roman Empire's world from 402 until its rule finally crumbled in 476.

This historic city is famed for its mosaics, and if you think tiling your bathroom is a pain, the efforts the Romans went to in order to cover their churches and buildings in tiny tiles is breathtaking. …

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