by Hayley Forney, Cordata Deli
Join Hayley Forney on a foodie’s journey to the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy.
Photos by Hayley Forney
The Journey Begins
This past May, my husband and I embarked on a food tour of Italy. After my husband returned home, I continued my tour with a friend named Shay who resides in Spain. We met up in Venice, and then headed to Bologna to start our tour because Bologna is a renowned food mecca in Italy.
Bologna is located in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, which is the point of origin for some of Italy’s most famous foods. Balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, an hour drive from Bologna, and the focus of this story—Parmigiano-Reggiano—is produced in Bologna and Mantua.
History of Parmigiano-Reggiano
The production of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the Emilia-Romagna dates back to the 12th century. The first recorded reference to Parmigiano is from 1254 in a document that states that a noble woman from Genoa traded her house for the guarantee of an annual supply of 53 pounds of cheese.
Parmigiano’s global rise is thanks to the close ties of Italian and French nobility in the 17th century. The French court became infatuated with Parmesan, French for “from Parma,” and the name stuck. This of course led to imitations of the famous cheese all across Europe. Not wanting the imitators to pass for the real thing, the Duke of Parma drew up a formal denomination of origin in 1612 establishing who could use “Parma” in the name of their cheese.
In 2008, the European Union created legislation for a Protected Designation of Origin for Parmigiano-Reggiano. All production of this type of cheese outside of its home region is called simply Parmesan. But nothing beats the real thing, Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Dining in Italy
As part of our tour, we decided to enjoy some aspect of fine dining in Italy. While we had dreamed of going to Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s restaurant in Modena, we were about 800 euros short of the tasting menu price. After some research, we decided to go to Al Pappagallo.
Al Pappagallo means “To the Parrot” in Italian. This restaurant has been an important food mecca in Bologna since 1919. After the First World War, Giovanni Zurla, a well-known chef among Italian aristocracy, opened Al Pappagallo. Whether it was a tongue and cheek response to his reputation for parroting the hits of culinary fashion or an ode to a popular humorist newspaper that closed that same year is a mystery. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Zurla knew what he was doing. In an industry where most businesses fail in the first six months, his has stood for 100 years.
After a thorough perusal of the menu, we ordered vegetarian lasagna with zucchini and eggplant bolognese and a risotto served in a cream sauce of 30-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Enjoy a pictorial tour of our dining experience at Al Pappagollo (below) and devour all the delicious details.
The Perfect End to an Evening in Italy
Walking back to the apartment that night we were blissfully content. There was a car show in Piazza Maggoire. The owners of these dashing vehicles were dining with us at Al Pappagallo. After being on the road all day they were not dressed in their best; they looked about like us. Though they returned to their fancy Porsches and Ferraris the next day, for one night only, we were the same—just people having an exquisite meal in a beautiful restaurant on a perfect night in Bologna.
Hayley brings her passion for food and coffee to everything she does: work, travel, and her podcast, “Best People,” available on most streaming services.
¡Mangiamo! Let's Eat!
Pull up a virtual chair and join Hayley for dinner at Al Pappagallo in Italy.
Our meal at Al Pappagallo begins with a morsel of Parmigiano-Reggiano served with a spot of rich balsamic vinegar. It is hard to eat the Parmigiano delicately. After a few attempts at cutting it into smaller pieces, I decide not to stand on ceremony and instead dip the entire chunk of cheese into the balsamic vinegar and take a bite. An explosion of flavor erupts on my taste buds.
At the Co-op, we import Parmigiano-Reggiano and I have helped crack wheels of the stuff, but I have never tasted anything quite like this. It’s rich and buttery yet light and delicate. A symphony of flavors in a morsel of cheese. This must be magic.
In my quest for the perfect lasagna, I have found the vegetarian varieties are sometimes the best and this lasagna with vegetable bolognese is perfect. A little crispy on top, which is just the way I like it.
I taste every herb and every delicious layer of pasta. I think this must be heaven on a plate.
The pièce de résistance is the risotto. The aged Parmigiano-Reggiano makes another appearance in the cream sauce for the risotto. A drizzling of balsamic reduction not only adds an artistic flair to the plate, it sends the risotto to its crescendo. The rice is cooked perfectly. It’s light and fluffy, like eating cheesy air.
Experience a Taste of Italy
Cordata: Thursday, February 13, 3 to 5 pm
Downtown: Friday February 14, 3 to 5 pm
Taste freshly cracked Parmigiano-Reggiano with the classic complementary flavors of balsamic vinegar and regional wines. Arrive by 3 pm to watch our staff experts split an 80-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
No plane ticket required!
SALE! Save over $6 per pound on Parmigiano-Reggiano! Both stores Feb. 12 to 18.