These recommendations are from a Roman friend (hence why the plural forms are in Italian), including emoticons. I am working my way through this list so only have comments for those places that I have tried so far.
BAKERY Panella – Via Merulana, 53 and Via dei Gracchi, 262 very ancient bakery in Rome, bread, pizza, cakes, dishes, bio, biscuits … yes, I agree. They had lots of variety and items that I had never seen before.
Campo de’ Fiori – Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, 22 very nice and noisy bakery to buy warm pizza alla pala, bread, cakes, biscuits … it’s so so so so famous. It does have lots of stuff and they are accustomed to tourists so don’t even try to speak Italian in there.
Forno Monteforte – Via del Pellegrino, 29 bread, bar, enoteca, cakes – very friendly … my favorite so far. It’s elegant, recently featured in Vogue Italia, and quite delicious.
Natura Sì – Piazza Farnese, 99 -100 only Bio food the store is ok, but people are … It is the organic store for Rome.
Castroni – Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198 plenty of delicatessen, and sweets, best in Rome … this is an emporium, a treasure land for ingredients and products from all over the world.
Le Sicilianedde – Viale Parioli, 35 all food is typical from Sicily and next door there is the Gelateria the ice creams and pastries are……
Ciampini -Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, 29 DaRe – Via Bisagno, 19 5 mn from my home very, very tasty icecream
Gelateria dei Gracchi – Via dei Gracchi, 272 … They do have real vanilla flavor. It’s not glamorous and I wish they would make fresh gelato for the evening.
Emma – Via Monte della Farina,28 the best pizza in Rome … I don’t know. The pizza was thin which is the Roman style. The restaurant is a large, but light, cavern underground. Very touristy as it is a stone’s throw from the Roscioli bakery.
Mora – Piazza Crati, 13 pizza and tuscany restaurant
Da Bucatino – Via Luca della Robbia, 84 – very noisy restaurant but the food is fine, typical roman cuisine … I liked this place. The waiter was a bit too fast and not so good at upselling but the food was good. Because the location is in Testaccio away from the tourist center, the crowds are not quite as bad here.
Hosteria Grappolo D’oro – Piazza della Cancelleria, 80 food and fantasy… right near the Campo de’ Fiori. Food was fine but nothing I would go in search of.
Il Goccetto – Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14 wine, wine and very friendly place
Del Frate – Via degli Scipioni, 122 excellent enoteca and very nice restaurant
The place of my heart:
Hotel Locarno – Via della Penna, 22 Beautiful liberty hotel from 1922, with original furnishings, there is small nice garden and lovely roof garden, the cocktails are super and in winter they light the fireplace, also the restaurant is quite nice
And in the end: Hotel de Russie – Via del Babuino, 9 very luxury hotel, but don’t miss visiting the garden is absolutely beautiful and maybe to take a coffee, or cappuccino or even a cocktail, with credit card……
I have other lists so I will publish them later. Eventually, I’ll have my own list of top restaurants, but for now, I’m not sure…
Speaking of markets, and as I am currently writing a book about fruit, here are some “exotic” fruits now grown locally in Italy. Italy has some famous citrus types (read about popular fruit types here or here), including one which was introduced to this area 23 centuries ago (long before the formation of Italy as a country).
Annona (custard apple): A quick google search brought me to the annona, a cherimoya or custard apple, that is now being grown in Calabria, a southern region in Italy.
Bergamotto (bergamot): I mention this because people may not know that this is the citrus that is used in Earl Grey Tea. Ninety percent of the world’s bergamot oil is produced in Italy. As far back as 1709, the bergamot has been pressed to extract the essential oils, for use in perfume, most famously Chanel No. 5.
Diamante citron in Italian or esrog from Calabria (etrog). This citrus is essential in the Jewish sukkot ceremony and has been grown in Italy since the the third century BCE (before current era).
Cacchi or lotta (persimmon or sharon fruits): Introduced to Italy in the early 20th century, these are grown in Campania.
Ficodindia dell’Etna (prickly pear): the fruit of the cactus. The black pits inside are very hard and peeling this fruit can hurt your hands.
Kiwi: This brings to mind that the kiwi is now grown in Italy. Italy is the second or third largest exporter of kiwis. I see kiwis at the market all the time in Rome. They grow them right outside Rome so they are even at my zero kilometer market that I mentioned last week.
Melograno (pomegranate): Supposedly Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds when she was in the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the earth, made a deal with the god of the underworld to let her go. But because she had eaten six seeds, she could only be above ground for six months of the year, and that is why we have the six months of spring and summer. Pomegranate seeds are like jewels and work well in salads and on meats, but the juice is what most people like. To remove the seeds, one can whack the cut pomegranate with a wooden spoon and the seeds come rat tat tatting out like shots.
Cotogna (quince): The cutest name for a fruit that is so sour. It is better as a jelly or jam to be eaten with cheese. In Latin America, this is often paired with fresh cheese and the fresh milky mildness of the cheese goes well with the brown gummy bear texture of the cooked quince.
Finally, a native exotic.
Nespola (medlar): This is exotic but native to Italy. These strange dried looking fruits are winter fruits that are only ready to be eaten when they are soft and wrinkly. Then you peel them and eat the mushy brown interior. The taste is sort of like a fruit paste or dried figs. Just not as tasty.
And finally, if you want to read about the “equatorial” fruit growing now happening in Italy, read this article from Euronews.
In Rome, people still shop at their local market. Every “rione” (“REE-own-eh”) has a local market (Some rione can be as small as 20 streets by 20 streets). A local market is the kind of place where you will see older ladies in their house dresses pulling their shopping carts. You will never see a lady in a housedress in a grocery store. For some reason, for a certain generation, shopping at a grocery store requires putting on more formal clothing (Another great thing about Italy is that there are so many people in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond). A local market will be mostly fresh produce and products with some of the other amenities available out of convenience. Clothing stalls seem to be a big thing that crops up at these markets. Most markets will also have bakeries and places for a quick bite.
Here is my list of top ten markets and why. At the bottom is the market where I like to shop.
Mercato Trionfale (“Tree-ohn-FALL-eh”), Via Andrea Doria 3 (you can read about here): This is the biggest and oldest of the neighborhood markets, completely covered, with parking underneath. There are rows upon rows of metal box stands. It’s not the most attractive place inside. Some of the nice things about this market are that there is a stall where you can bring your own bottle to fill with wine, there are zero kilometer produce vendors at the back of the market (useful to know in August when the farmers markets shut for August vacation), and there are international produce vendors at the front of the market (one or two). Trionfale is open every morning, except Sundays. The market hours are 7 am – 2 pm, but if you arrive after 1 pm, many of the stalls will be closing for lunch (But, a warning, the vendors will be hangry). Also, many of the vendors will give you samples and some even speak English (not the samples). At the entrance to the market, there is a stall that usually has porchetta (“pork-et-ah”), the famous pork roast, out for you to buy.
Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, Via Principe Amedeo 184: This market is located near Termini train station. This area of town is the “Chinatown” or Banglatown or whatever one calls the international part of town. The market is much bigger than it appears with what appears to be markets within markets. There are stalls selling produce and groceries from Bangladesh, India, Senegal, China, Kenya, Philippines, Italy, and other parts of the world. They also sell halal food. I have even seen rambutan for sale here. There are also fresh fish stalls and the local coffee bar truly feels like another part of the world where this is a refuge for men (there are women in this one, by the way). The market, as well as the whole area, does not feel as clean as one might like but I guess that adds to the charm. It reminds me a bit of the markets of Bangladesh, which could all have been improved with a change of lightbulbs to something less neon and stark.
Nuovo Mercato Testaccio, Via Benjamino Franklin: This market is quite different than all the others, also perhaps the cleanest of the markets, or at least feels so because of the good lighting. The roof allows in light and the stalls are painted white giving the market a new feel. It is also fairly new as it was relocated here in 2012. The old version of this market was the largest butchery in Europe. The unusual thing about this market is that it has many eateries making it like a food hall, a trend that has not really taken off in Rome. Due to the food stalls and the eating area in the middle, this place is popular with food tours and lunchers. Testaccio market also is the location of a recycle food program where the unsold food is given to the needy. This is the most “way trendy” of the places. Lots of food tours and publicity from international magazines and TV shows.
Mercato Rionale Coperto Nomentano, Piazza Alessandria: This market is inside an attractive building from the 1920s, with a high dome. This market has both produce, pizzerias, and some stalls with clothes outside. It is not huge but a good size for a local market. You can find almost anything you want in here. I think I bought a paring knife and a bowl. There are several bakery stalls in this market as well.
Mercato Italia, Via Catania 70: This is a large market in a part of town that is not touristy and not international. Also, it has a bakery run by two young guys who play rock music and make excellent lasagne. It was like visiting Rome as one might imagine it was. Zero tourists. I’ll be back.
Mercato di San Cosimato (Trastevere), Piazza San Cosimato: This market is slightly different from the others because it is outside in a square in Trastevere. There are some permanent box stalls but the majority of the stalls are fruit and vegetable stands that set up some tables and umbrellas every day.
Mercato di Campo de’ Fiore, Piazza Campo de’ Fiore: Surely the most romantic sounding of all the markets, located in a former field of flowers. This is the uber touristy local market. In the morning, the hold-out vegetable sellers are still there, slowly losing out to the ever dominant tourist tat and limoncello vendors, toasted nuts, and fresh-juice-at-five-euro-a-glass touters. This is an outdoor market in a square that was used for executions (people seem to ignore the statue of the hooded figure) because it was the only square without a church (which to me is the opposite reason as far as I can see). The location can’t be beat. Also, some of the vendors sell exotic items like lychee and round cucumbers from Apulia. In the evening, this square becomes a boozy open air bar, sticky with spilt drinks and hair product from the 80s.
Mercato Rionale Monti, Via Baccini 36: This is the smallest and oldest of the local markets, but it is also quite special. In the center, it has a reading area with shelves with books, a children’s area, and a few tables. The book selection is both in English and Italian. This market also has a pasta stall with a window where there is active pasta making in action. Although this market is basically a square, it even has a gift shop, a speciality Apulian stand, a fish vendor, a butcher, baker, two vegetable stands, a basic grocery stall, and a coffee machine that stands in for a coffee bar. This market is also open until the evening on Thursdays and Fridays, making it even more convenient for the locals.
Mercato Rionale Prati, Piazza dell’Unità 53/Via Cola di Rienzo: This is another 1920s building high to the ceiling and attractive. Another market that is not huge but big enough. It is a bit overgrown by the abutting buildings but you can find it if you try.
Città dell’Altra Economia, Via di Monte Testaccio (not far south from Testaccio Market): This market is part of a much larger event space. The market is in the large open space and comprises ten to 20 market stalls. If you live near here, then one could shop here. Especially if you like the outdoors farmers market atmosphere.
Now to the most famous farmers’ market, a zero kilometer market, where I like to shop.
Campagna Amica (Coldiretti is the cooperative that runs these markets all over Italy) in Via San Teodoro 76, Sat & Sun, 8-3, sometimes called the Farmers Market at Circus Maximus because it is located nearby: This zero kilometer market is as local as you can get for Rome. Everything produced here, from milk, meat, artichokes, and oil, and all are from within 100 kilometers of Rome.
In the back courtyard, there are a couple of eateries, including a fried seafood food truck. If you follow me on Instagram, then you will have seen that I like to check out this market every few weeks to see what is in season. It is not my local market, but it is all about local food. This market attracts a lot of TV crews and special events.
As I go to more markets, I may update this article but this gives you a start if you wish to go to a local market. In general, it is better to go to the market at 9 am if you want to avoid the crowds. 11 am if you like the crowds. After 1 pm, forget it.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is more than a cheese. No Italian refers to it as a cheese. They call it by its name.
To be the real deal, it can only be produced in a few areas around Parma, Reggio, Modena, and Bologna. You can read about the consortium that controls it here.
But, the other very similar cheese that you find around there is also good. It’s called Grano Padano and in a way, it’s better on pasta. Leave the real deal for eating on its own.
Going on a parmesan factory tour is a study in alchemy. How milk (from two different milkings) can, with a few ingredients, and many turns of the wheel, be turned into something that plays a symphony on your tastebuds, is pure magic.
We went on a tour at the Red Cow creamery in Reggio Emilia. Our guide was a wise professor. He had been making parmesan for more than 60 years, and he still got equally excited about it every day. The tour cost 5 euro per person and was conducted in Italian. At the end of the tour, the professor had us try different ages of Parmesan. Wowza.
By the time we got to the factory (10ish), the parmesan was already at the “getting swung in clothe stage. We saw a lot of balls of white curds being transferred from one cloth to another and rocked back and forth by two guys. Then we saw where the girdle with the shape and writing is applied. Then the salt baths. Finally we were in the aging room.
We saw parmesan so old and crystalized that only presidents get to eat them. We also saw parmesan wheels that had scoring around indicating that they were not perfect but still saleable. Then we saw those with “AA” stamped on them. These are the perfect ones that have been x-rayed. These are only ones that get exported.
These cheeses have 30 percent protein and no lactose.
In the old days, parmesan and other hard cheeses were the “meat” for many Italians.
Italians love food. It is an integral part of their family structure. This is evident in the story of balsamic vinegar. In Emilia Romagna, Italy, balsamic vinegar started out as a daughter’s dowry. No gold, no houses, just the sweet product of 25 years of nurturing. This is no longer the case, but in some families, the balsamic production continues. Some also make it when they have a son.
Traditionally, when a baby girl was born, her father would make a “mother” barrel of balsamic vinegar. There is sometimes a misconception that the grapes used to make balsamic are left over from making wine. Not so. The grapes are crushed into a “must” just like in wine making, but then, a mother yeast (like sourdough starter) is added to the mother barrel. From this mother barrel, a “battery” of progressively smaller barrels are filled.
Normally, one should wait till the daughter got married, or 25 years to started imbibing in the balsamic. If the woman got married before she turned 25, she could decide to leave the battery in her paternal home or take it to her new home. On the old battery frames, one can still see the name of the girl painted on the frame, as these are passed down through generations.
So you aren’t supposed to eat the balsamic before 25 years. But, this rarely happened. Also, the balsamic evaporates. To fill up the evaporated balsamic, the smallest barrel in the battery is filled from the next big one and so on. The largest of the battery barrels is then filled from the mother barrel. Which is itself filled with fresh grape must.
This is how one gets “100 year old” balsamic vinegar (where a percentage of the balsamic is from a barrel made 100 years ago). I tried it and it was too musty for me. The barrels used can be old whisky casks and the barrels can be made from many types of wood. The bunghole of the barrel is loosely covered with a stone and/or a lid with a doily. The acid from the balsamic eats away at the stones so it’s cool to see how strong those bacteria really are.
Now, to what it’s called. In Europe and Italy, one must call real balsamic, “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” — if it’s from Modena which is one of the few places where the real stuff comes from. The bottles are distinctive so that it’s hard to copy. There are many fakes. Most of what is sold is fake. The real stuff will not be sour and bite you when you try it. It won’t make you gag. The real stuff is subtle and sweet. With a slight tang. It will be complex. It’s also not impossibly expensive. 25 euro for a small bottle. But that’s the kind that one sips on a spoon or drizzles on a piece of parmesano reggiano.
Most of the acetaia (ah-chey-tie-ah) will sell salad vinegar products that you will like. Real aceto balsamico is not for salad. That’s how you can make it last a long time. Salad dressings are better with apple cider or red wine vinegar. Balsamic is too strong. Also, all those thick balsamic sauces in squeeze bottles are not made with the real deal.
Going for a tasting at a real acetaia is eye opening. It really is. We went to three. La Vecchia Dispensa is fantastic as a destination. Great tour, tasting, and shop. It’s in a fancy building and the tower is medieval (it was a jail/dungeon before), in the picturesque Castelvetro (one can also go on the less expensive tour that does not include climbing up into the claustrophobic medieval castle tower). The tour guide also speaks English, well.
At Acetaia San Matteo, you get a family feel and the son-in-law who shows you around is enthusiastic but doesn’t speak English. It’s marvelous but almost has a Swiss chalet feel. We also went to the a place that claims to be the oldest (they claim that their family has been selling it for 400 years) but the museum is now in a new, from 2017, farmstead. Also, their vinegar wasn’t tasty. And the place had a slight theme park feel. Too touristy. Enough about them. Go to Castelvetro and La Vecchia Dispensa.
When we were in the tower for our tour with La Vecchia Dispensa, we could see the photos of the families who maintain their balsamic there. It’s a heartwarming idea of familial love.
Oddly, or perhaps not, most of these places also sell jams and other products.
There is a lot more to aceto balsamico than I imagined. It was also a delight to go to the acetaia with a balsamic fanatic. When we got to the San Matteo location, my Italian wasn’t up to explaining things so I just blurted out “we are balsamic fanatics!” We were welcomed with a big grin.
Italy is famous for its agroturismo, a bed and breakfast on a farm. To qualify as an agroturismo, the farm must actually be a working farm. Many of these places will also have animals. Many are family owned. You can search this site or use other sites, like Google, to find a stay. Some of these farms have a minimum stay and during the peak summer season that may a minimum of a week. Because these farms are actually farms, often someone’s family homestead, the guest accommodations may not as fancy (or air conditioned) as at a hotel.
The concept of an agroturismo was started as a government scheme over 30 years ago, as a way to help the economy and tourism, which is 13 percent of Italy’s GDP. During the pandemic, I have been told, that the quality of the cleanliness has gone up at these farm stays.
Recently, I stayed at two that contrast quite a bit but seem typical of what’s out there.
Sotto i Sassi: Located at Via Castellino 171, Guiglia. Near Modena. You can book them through the usual places like booking, airbnb, tripadvisor, etc. but my tip to you is to whatsapp him (Matteo Bizzini): +39 337 331 802. He speaks English.
The family farm is located up some narrow lanes in the countryside and you may get lost getting there. Use a GPS. And go left around the parking lot with the bench at the end of the road — the road continues to the left but, BUT, do not go up in the field. Not yet. Prepare time to find the place.
Once you get there, Matteo will greet you and help you to your room. The rooms are decorated stylishly like something out of a style magazine. There may be steps. During the pandemic, the breakfast part is a basket placed outside your room in the early morning. The onsite restaurant is not open every night but it’s an excellent restaurant with lots of outdoor (under the trees and stars) dining. The food is so good that it’s a place that people eat here for the food, even if they are not staying at the B&B. Convenient for not having to drive home after dinner, as well. Matteo takes a genuine interest in your stay with him. At dinner, he gave us a taste of his family’s balsamic.
The grounds are free for walking around and there are some majestic gobstopping views. The air is clean and as it’s the countryside, you can hear the animals in the early morning. Sotto i Sassi is the kind of place that I imagined an agroturismo geared for slightly luxury customers. Lots of photogenic locations, nice bathrooms, kitchens, good food, not so fancy that one can’t figure out how to turn on the light (actually there were a lot of lighting options), but nice enough that you felt that you were staying at a deluxe farm. Some antiques and some modern design. Plus, the personal connection to Matteo, always just one whatsapp message away.
Then there is the other sort of experience… The sort of experience where you feel like the hosts were gulag forced into exploiting their inheritance to keep it in their family. A place where the hosts are shackled by their amazing farmstead but can’t enjoy it because they are constantly changing sheets in the rooms. Corte Olfino was such a place. Their website makes it look cosy (I have not posted any photos here of this place — it was cute in a tired sort of way — be a bit suspicious of the website photos) and emailing with them makes it seem like they speak English. The couple who run the place look so unhappy. Well, she does. He seems oblivious to how miserable his wife is. She is harassed and stressed looking all the time. If this beautiful farm is her inheritance, I almost feel sorry for her that she can’t enjoy it.
The majority of the customers are German and they give the place a high rating. The place is interesting looking, like a small village, and the rooms are clean. But, the checkin process and accessing WIFI was difficult. I only found the WIFI code because someone left if on a scrap of paper on the table in my room. Some of the rooms are up in a tower from a fairytale and have a dungeon-like lock that makes it quite annoying when tired (mine had a modern key). The breakfast was fine and included the usual cake (yes, the Italians seem to think that tourists eat cake for breakfast), and toast, ham, eggs, and cheese (Is it this that makes them have higher ratings? The hard boiled eggs? The ham? Apparently it’s the price point and the cleanliness). Yes, they have animals including a llama, and maybe this is why people like this place. The prices were around 68 euro per room per night. So not so high. But, the overall prison feel given off by the house-poor owner made us uncomfortable. Also, the rooms had no sound insulation so one could hear everything going on in the neighboring room.
We felt no need to stay and left early. They owners did not seem surprised and did not want to know why (I paid for the whole stay even though we left early, but I wish they cared why we left early). I guess they don’t need my business. I wish them well and hope that they enjoy their farm when the cash cows are not there…
A word about air conditioning. A place like Sotti i Sassi doesn’t have it but even during the heatwave of the summer, the rooms cooled down by evening. Corte Olfino had AC but we also didn’t need it.
The season is over so you have six months or so to research where to stay next year.
Romans truly eat by season. They get excited by what is only available at certain times of the year. Of course, all year, there are imported vegetables and fruit in Rome, but the Romans still find joy in the seasonality of fresh vegetables. And, it seems like chicory is always in season…
Cicoria (chi-CORE-E-ah) or chicory is “Italian dandelion” and is a bitter green leafy vegetable that looks a bit like spinach. If you live in the U.S. and want to plant some for your self, this farm sells the seeds.
January: puntarelle (puhn-tah-R-ALE-eh), or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago (although no one in Rome uses these names) is in the chicory family but looks more like a thick stemmed dandelion. The Romans eat the white stems, cut to curl up, in a salad with an anchovy garlic dressing — like a zero-carb caesar salad. No cheese. In other parts of Italy, puntarelle are cooked. In Rome, only the trimmings are cooked as part of a general vegetable stew. But, the white inner stems are the treasure.
March: agretti, asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), fava beans, and artichokes. Wild asparagus are slimmer and have a stronger taste. Agretti (Salsola Soda, opposite-leaved saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, Roscano, or barilla plant) is almost unknown in the English speaking world, although recently becoming a bit of a thing with chefs.
April: Strawberries, agretti (monk’s beard), peas, beans, and small artichokes.
May: Peas, beans, spring onions, garlic chives, etc.
June: Apricots, peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.
July: Melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, lettuce, etc.
August: This was hard to figure out as most of the markets close in August… but at the back of the Trionfale market, there are still some zero kilometer farmers who sell their produce. So it’s all about peaches, cucumbers, pears, walnuts, water melons, cantaloup melons (called so because they were grown in Cantalupo just outside Rome), lettuce, grapes, nectarines, plums, and apples.
October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.
November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.
December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.
Every restaurant will have “seasonal vegetable” on the menu and it will always be cicoria/chicory greens. Very healthy. One of the nice things about living in Rome is that it is possible to eat pesticide free food and in a perpetual “farmer’s market” all year round. I have to admit that I’m excited for artichoke season after not having artichokes for six months.
So here it is. My list of gelato shops to try in Rome. This is not the definitive list but I’m getting tired of trying gelato…
Gunther, Via dei Pettinari, 43: Gunther has three locations but this is where you will usually find him. He makes the best vanilla (from Madagascar) and his gelato is extremely creamy. He also lets you try lots of flavors until you find the ones that you want.
Gracchi, Via dei Gracchi, 272: old school but go early in the day when the gelato is fresh.
La Romana, various locations: big chain but still good gelato.
Neve di Latte, Via Federico Cesi, 1: two locations, and I’m fairly sure that the staff are hired for their looks.
Come il Latte, Via Silvio Spaventa, 24/26: I have a suspicion that this place was started by an American. Great affagato.
Otaleg, Via di S. Cosimato, 14a: famous place in Trastevere. The name is gelato backwards but the gelato is straightforward.
Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112: located on one of the most picturesque streets in Rome.
Fassi 1880, Via Principe Eugenio, 65-67: Oldest place in Rome. One of my favorites because it’s out of the tourist frenzy.
Gelati Gelati, Via Cicerone, 20: I’m fairly sure that this gelato is made by the gruff guy working here. The pear compote was unusual and the grittiness worked.
Cremilla, Via di Porta Castello, 39: Almost like soft serve. Near the Vatican.
I will probably write another article when I go to more places but as I’ve been to over 30 so far, I’m in need of a break from gelato.
Bologna is called “La grassa” or “the fat” city. The correct translation should be “the bountiful” as the fat represents richness. I learned this when on a food tour with Cook Italy.
The origin of the name comes from Bologna’s production of bologna, or as they call it here, mortadella. To be a protected status mortadella, there is a required number of fat squares in each.
Normally, to preserve meat, before refrigeration, is to salt, dry, or cover with fat. Bologna invented the boiling of this meat product and the city became famous for it. Hence why in the United States, mortadella is called bologna or boloney.
Bologna is also famous for its covered sidewalks, over 70 kilometers of them. Also, the red brick. But, mostly, Bologna is famous for being a foodie city. The city anchors the food valley (which is also motor valley) of Emilia Romagna.
Bountiful Bologna is often overlooked by tourists. That’s kind of nice. There are many foreigners in Bologna because Bologna has the oldest (still functioning) university in the world (started in 1088). True, the center of the town is a bit crowded but slip down a side street and you can soon imagine your own medieval scholarly wanderings. Or just shop.
So next time someone calls Bologna fat, you know that it’s bountiful. Enjoy it for yourself. More later about where to eat, shop, and stay in bountiful Bologna.
Looking back on Bologna, I see why people love Bologna. It’s a real city without pretension and it’s a foodie city.
I had an intro food tour with Cook Italy’s Carmelita, email@example.com. These are the shopping places she recommended. Carmelita runs food tours and cooking classes. In English. Carmelita has incredibly high standards. Hire her if you are one of those people who almost never find anything quite up to scratch.
Simoni, Via Drapperie 5/2a: the deli that still maintains the high standards of yore. They have several stores in the area.
Bruno e Franco – La Salumeria Bologna. Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 16: This is on many a food tour. (also across from a store that sells Reisenthal bags which is not part of the Bologna tour but I like their bags).
Eataly: the one in the bookstore.
Ancient Aguzzeria Horse, Via Drapperie 12. It’s a knife store that now sells all kinds of things for the kitchen. You want to go there. Trust me. The staff are incredibly nice as well.
Eats: I got many recommendations but these were Carmelita’s that I liked.
Impero, Via dell’Indipendenza, 39: bakery with great breakfast options.
Enoteca Italia, Via Marsala 2: wine and a light lunch
Sable Gelato, Via dei Mille 3a (behind the red newsstand): This gelato maker makes super creamy artisanal gelato and he is a renaissance man whose current passion is gelato (he said, “do you know what is the most beautiful thing? freshly made gelato”).
And where to stay (This I found on my own): Il Terrazzo Di San Colombano/la porta rossa, find them online for a good price. Or call them: 347 058 1371 . I found this place online and it’s a great find. It’s on a quiet side street, has a terrace, and for 25 euro per day, a parking spot in the underground garage. The cost is around 200 dollars per night but I think it depends if you pay cash or go through a booking service. The place sleeps six (two full beds in the same room and a queen in the other room). The artwork is too weird for my liking but other than that, I like it.
As for dinner or other places to eat, I wasn’t there long enough. I’ll have to go back. I didn’t like the place that was recommended to me by the apartment owner so I don’t want to recommend them (it was a place on Oberdan street). I have a list of places recommended by my Italian teacher so I’ll write about that another time. Clearly I’ll have to go back.
Empty streets in Rome, lots of parking spaces, and shuttered businesses. Ferragosto, started by Emperor Augustus in 31 BCE (2050 years ago!), is a holiday now celebrated on August 15. The name, Ferragosto, is a combination of the Latin for “feasts + Augustus” so not only did the emperor name the month after himself, he also named the celebrations after himself. Supposedly, it was started as a way to celebrate the end of all the hard labor done during the summer harvest. Things ripen earlier than I’m used to in Italy so harvesting can be done in the summer. For example, I always think of pears as a fall/autumn fruit. Not here. They are optimal in July and August.
I know this because I was thoroughly enjoying my fresh zero kilometer peaches and pears a few weeks ago. Then August started. My zero kilometer farmers’ market and many other businesses close for the whole month of August! I wonder what happens to all that ripe fruit?
Then one day, I was having a wine consultation with a wine expert and she gave me a great insiders’ tip — some of the zero kilometer farmers sell from their own farm at the back of Trionfale Market. While the stalls are not as pretty and they are back by the fishmongers, at least I was able to buy produce grown from within 68 miles of Rome. To identify these stalls, the price signs will have “prod. prop.” or something like that written on them. It translates to “our own produce” or “we grow it.”
Also, did I mention that it’s melon season? I’ve only seen cantaloupe, net, and watermelon. I was hoping for honeydew but have yet to see it. Previously I preferred the melon without the proscuitto but with the summer heatwave, I completely understand the salty sweet wet combination that is a very Italian way to refill your electrolytes.
Tomatoes are juicy and red, Olive oil is gold and green, Mozzarella is creamy and white, And Johnny Madge is keen.
I felt inspired to write a cheesy poem!
Johnny Madge loves, lives, breathes olive oil. He even has “I Love Olive Oil” written on his van. Oddly, that is the least of the reasons to go on his olive oil tour. Sorry, Johnny. It’s not just about the oil.
If anyone is a natural at what they do, then it’s the legendary Johnny Madge. Taking an olive oil tasting class with him feels less like a class, and more like you just happen to have a wise friend who is an expert on olive oil… wild plants… wine… life? There are some professors and tour guides who seem scripted in their style of teaching. All respect to them, but Johnny is not one of them. Johnny Madge speaks with the ease of someone who knows vastly more than they are telling you. It reminds of advice a writing teacher once told me, “Make sure you know everything about the character, and then put none of that in your story.” Once in a while you meet people who are more than the product they sell. The fact that he has a British accent just makes everything he says sound more credible. It’s easy to get a crush on him (olive oil joke).
As I said, the olive oil tasting was a minor part of the day. The whole day was a celebration of good extra virgin olive oil (and the lifestyle that it symbolizes). Johnny Madge has a sensational high rating on TripAdvisor and rightly so.
He will pick you up from the train station in Fara Sabina (a small town about 35 minutes on the regional train line from Rome) in his van which can seat eight. If you drive your own car, you can follow him like the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The whole day had that fairytale feel to it as we meandered the undulating lanes.
You might wonder what could take so long. The pace is set by the lovely small streets along the neat rows of olive trees, the green hedges, and azure sky above gently rolling country. The tour starts in an olive tree orchard. Johnny will tell you about olive trees, the recent devastating fires, harvesting, and other facts about the trees. Did you know that an olive tree can survive a fire? As you walk around enjoying the clean air of the countryside, he will show wild edible plants like wild fennel, and explain other plants if you ask him (I asked about a seed that I found which it turns out inspired Leonardo da Vinci to invent the helicopter). Or you can wander away and sit in the shade of an olive tree. There are no demands that you pay attention and no exam. No stress.
After the orchard, he takes you to visit the largest olive tree in Europe. The tree is famous for being large, but it was comforting to meet such an old tree. It is perhaps 2,000 years old but no one really knows. Olive oil trees hollow out making it hard to count rings. When we were there admiring the tree, the owner came out to chat with Johnny. They were clearly friends catching up with each other.
Then back to admire the vegetable garden. All the while, Johnny regales you with stories and anecdotes, pointing out this and that along the way. As a city person, it’s interesting to see Swiss chard growing like a weed. One could feel the pace of life slowing down to that sweet art of doing nothing (a saying in Italian)… the art of enjoying the sweet life.
Outside the main hangar-size building, there is a metal car scale built in to the parking lot. When the local farmers need their olives processed, they drive their olive-laden cars on to the scale. After the initial weigh-in, the car is emptied of olives. Then the car is weighed again. The client pays by weight. I say client because it turns out that many Italians own a small patch of olive trees and make their own olive oil each year. After the weighing, the olives get cleaned, crushed, and spun. In the old days, the olive mash would be squeezed in reed mats but now, the oil is extracted using centrifugal force. Super high quality olive oil is spun for a mere seven minutes — thus ensuring that minimal heat is created — making it truly cold pressed. Most extra virgin olive oil is spun for 30 minutes. After spinning, the oil is filtered. Olive oil doesn’t need to be filtered but it’s better to avoid the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.
There is also something about what can be called “virgin” and “extra virgin” — the “virgin” olive oil is defective. Shocker. I think that he explained that defective doesn’t mean undrinkable. But I wasn’t paying attention… I guess I’ll have to go on another tour. If you want to geek out a bit, read this newsletter. Olive oil’s quality is not based on color. How deep is that? Professional tastings happen with blue glasses.
The mill has just opened a shop on site where small bottles of olive oil cost 5 euro and large bottles cost 8 euro. I didn’t get a photo of the shop because I was too busy shopping! They also sell flavored oils, but not garlic flavor (Romans really don’t eat much garlic), and spreads like pistachio with pesto. I think I spent around 90 euros… because I wasn’t sure when I’d get back. That said, the mill will deliver and you can purchase online. I don’t know if it was pre-arranged (despite what Johnny said) but when we visited the mill, they gave us freshly made bruschetta, which had been toasted on the olive tree wood barbecue. I’m not sure it gets better than that, in terms of experiential shopping experiences.
From the mill, we could see our lunch destination, across the valley, past neat green fields, impossibly pretty. Can this be real?
Lunch was a leisurely feast of multiple courses including creamy cannelloni beans, crunchy bruschetta with tomato, cheese, golden oven roasted potatoes, yummy lasagne, and not too sweet apple pie. Johnny brought lots of wine to pair, but it was mostly about the olive oil pairings. Every dish had olive oil. At this point, Johnny explained how to taste olive oil and we tried a few straight up. I did not like most of the oil when tasted alone. I preferred the oil on the food. We actually started with olive oil on a chocolate crostini which brought happy memories of my days in El Cacaotal in Lima. I can’t wait to get these food nerds together and watch them nerd out.
To contact Johnny for olive oil tastings, or to feature him in your documentary or to hire him as an expert (he was in Pasta Grannies! Name drop!), here is how to contact him: Johnny Madge, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.johnnymadge.com, +39 328 339 8479. He speaks English and Italian.
The olive oil tour, including lunch, wine, and olive oil tasting, cost 110 euro per person. The train costs 2.80 euro each way. You can also drive there in 35 minutes and leave your car at the train station or follow him around the countryside.
The day out was fabulous. Johnny loves olive oil and after a day with him, you might love olive oil as much as Johnny. Or maybe him.
If you really want to get an idea of how pleasant the day was (I mean, how olive oil is made!), enjoy this video by the mill again.
I end this with a version of the roses are red poem from Les Mis. We did go a-touring in the countryside of Rome where the pomegranate blossoms were orange and I loved, loved, loved it.
We will buy very pretty things A-walking through the suburbs. Violets are blue, roses are red, Violets are blue, I love my loves.
I have also made a video of my own. Nothing compared to the mill’s… but, enjoy the song by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. It’s perfect.