The tour was created, tried and recounted by Susana Alonso, wine blogger of Sorsi di Web as part of the project #destinationYOU

Parma (PR) - 3 days

My experience here in the Parma area was unforgettable from every point of view.  The territory is a land of great food and wine products of excellence as well as boasting centuries of history.  On my journey I met some very special people who gave me some fascinating insights into the land, work, daily life as well as the typical products.
However, before I take you with me on this journey I must remind you that you must never get behind the wheel of a car if you have consumed alcohol.  For this reason all the transfers on this particular tour will be undertaken with a driver.

Day 1 – Parma
You can walk into the centre of Parma from the train station and the brief walk gives you the chance to get a first impression of both the history and the fine food of the city.  In fact, on your walk you will see a number of great food and delicatessen shops.
Our first stop is Meltemi “Pesceria e Spumanteria” right in the historical centre of town. The refined atmosphere, welcoming yet functional, will immediately put you at ease.  Impeccable service and the fish based menu looks great on the page and even better on your plate.  As well as being a first class restaurant, the Meltemi is also a great little collection of fine wines.  On the wine list, in fact, can be found a number of local products as well as a selection of foreign wines.  We took the opportunity to experiment with various combinations of food and wine.  On fine days you can eat outside on cute little tables with places laid simply but tastefully.

From Maltemi you continue for a walk on the theme of “art and flavours” in the centre of town.  The first stop is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Parma’s Duomo, a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture with an austere façade and next to it an elegant Gothic bell tower.  The Cathedral dome is frescoed with a true Renaissance masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio.  The Cathedral square also hosts the no less interesting Baptistery and Bishop’s Palace.

The afternoon in the town centre continues at the Enoteca Tabarro.  The impeccable staff welcome us with a smile and invite us to try the tasty tidbits served with quality wines.  The strong point of this wine venue is its elegant simplicity.
Following the refreshing ‘tapas’ of Tabarro, we reach Pepèn, a pure Parma institution.  This sandwich bar was opened more than 60 years ago and has always been run by the same family and its specialties are a must of city life.  As soon as you set foot in the door you are assailed with the magical scents of the ingredients on show.  The atmosphere is jovial and convivial. You can often bump into people who have been coming here for decades who love recounting tales of the excellence of the panino and of the queues which formed back then in front of the counter at a time when no-one even knew about street food.  Pepèn is also adored by young people and every day when school is over for the day they stop here for a panino or one of the famous “carciofe” or artichoke sandwiches.  This is the heart of that Parma which loves good, genuine food.

The Prosciuteria is a gourmet shop offering a wide range of local specialties; from Parma ham, to Parmigiano-Reggiano, to Piacenza coppa and the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of both Modena and Reggio Emilia. A visit here is a great chance for a ‘panoramic tasting’, as well as learning something about the tradition behind the production of these examples of Italian gastronomy.  A magnificent basket of assorted products will allow you to re-live these flavours and perfumes at home.

Just over the road is the Enoteca Fontana where you can stop for an aperitif.  The venue has a long history made up of many anecdotes which bear witness to changing customs.  We toasted with Lambrusco and Bonarda as we savoured our transfer to the countryside for dinner.

So, we leave for Polesine Parmense, half way between Parma and Cremona, and we reach the Antica Corte Pallavicina, the hotel belonging to the Spigaroli family right on the banks of the river Po and surrounded by nature.  The location is surprising for its combination of rustic elements with modern amenities.  The care which has been lavished on the communal areas can also be found in the rooms from the facilities to the furnishings.  An overnight stay here is like going back in time but really in comfort.
The Spigaroli family also own and run the Cavallino Bianco restaurant just next door where dinner will be served.  Inspired by the presence of the great river and following the advice of chef Luciano Spigaroli. I ordered the sweet water shrimps and frogs, both of which were delicious.  The desserts transform the evening into an infinite treat.  Dinner was elegantly matched with a rosé and two white wines, both with Spigaroli’s private label.


Day 2 – the land of Giuseppe Verdi
After a tranquil night I opened my window and breathed in the pure country air that I am not used to  and was in danger of staying enchanted at the window for hours.  Luckily I remembered that it was breakfast time and this was the second surprise of the morning as I found myself in front of a table laden with marvels: mixed cold cuts, cheeses and jams, all home made. A far cry from the usual offering of cappuccino and biscuits, original and abundant.
After breakfast it is time to visit the Spigaroli farm and we walk through the colourful and scented market garden to reach the dairy where Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is produced.  Our guide explains the basic procedure for making this Prince amongst cheeses where every single wheel is cared for with maniacal attention.  Next to the pig farm can be found the warehouse for culatello and other prized examples of ‘salumi’ such as coppa or shoulder of pork.  Back at the Corte we meander through the curing cellars of culatello where the most mature are kept, all of them already earmarked for special clients and ready to be shipped all over the world.  Just beyond can be found the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese aged for over ten years.  Here at the Antica Corte we are looking at a real museum of gastronomy !!

Leaving Polesine we proceed to Busseto, the market town associated with Giuseppe Verdi.  Piazza Verdi opens onto the Teatro Verdi and the covered arcades are the home of shops and bars.  Between the square and the theatre there is a statue to the great XIX century composer seated proudly in a chair.  We walk to the house where Verdi lived with his second wife before transferring to the more famous Villa Sant’Agata.

Just a few steps away is the Salsamenteria Baratta, a famous historic gourmet store where Verdi himself used to shop.
The original look of the store has been so carefully preserved that it’s like stepping back in time.  Memorabilia of the Maestro are the framework to the counter laden with culinary delights.  The Salsamenteria is a real temple to the typical sauces of this territory – just to be clear I am referring to those sauces which any grandma worth her salt prepares on high days and holidays. I let the staff advise me and try some on the fresh and fragrant bread.  As it is lunchtime I add some excellent cold cuts and cheese.  You can combine the tasting with two local wines, Lambrusco or Fortana, but, in any case you drink only from a ‘coseta’, a small ceramic bowl.

Before leaving this corner of the XIX century which is Busseto we have a brief visit to the historical residence of Giuseppe Verdi, Villa Sant Agata.  Elegant, rich in detail and bearing witness to meetings and dinners with illustrious guests, the villa enchants from the first glimpse as you catch sight of its clean lines within the well looked after park.

Returning towards the Po river we reach the Tomasetti Family Winery at Santa Croce.  The sight of the well cared for rows of vines which surround the house is simply marvellous.  Everything here is well ordered and proportioned from the cellar to the residence of the owners.  Giuseppe Tomasetti is a kind and enthusiastic wine producer.  He was born here in Polesine  but grew up, studied and had his career in Washington before returning here to follow his dream.  Giuseppe is our guide through a memorable tasting session presenting his range of wines to accompany……well, I’m not letting you in on the secret as you will find out for yourselves !  At the end of the visit we reluctantly say goodbye to Giuseppe: I wish I could stay and listen to his anecdotes and the secrets of his wine but the tour must go on.

We turn south and late in the afternoon we reach Monte delle Vigne  winery and B&B at the foot of the Apennine hills.  Exactly as with Tomasetti, my eyes are bewitched by the sight of the beautiful rows of coloured vines which frame the main building.  Here can be found the cellar with its modern apparatus though the grape is transformed using ancient wisdom and tradition.  In the adjacent shop we taste 3 wines appreciating their elegance.  Before dinner we are taken to the former farm building where the bedrooms are housed and I am delighted to find a tranquil space painted in light colours and extremely comfortable.  I take the opportunity for a brief rest after so much stimulation. The tour is going really well from every single aspect. The food and wine experiences go hand in hand with special stories and a magical countryside.  This is the right time to go over my notes and record some impressions of the wines we have tasted so far.

The Trattoria il Belo in Sala Baganza is a typical restaurant from this area and one which people from Parma are loath to share; this is a chance to get to grips with the spirit of the territory.  Once more I find myself immersed in an atmosphere of joviality listening to wonderful stories about local food and wine traditions. Dinner begins with excellent cold cuts and home-made jardinière vegetables.  Amongst the starters you can choose from anolini, tortelli stuffed with either ricotta and Swiss chard or potato, and home-made small gnocchi.  The meat based main course is rich and varied.  An excellent  choice of desserts which arrive with coffee.  A great way to end one day  and prepare for the discoveries of the following one.

Day 3 – Wine and Museums
The cellar of the Wine Museum in Sala Baganza is part of the Food Museums Circuit of the province of Parma and is dedicated to the wine traditions of this area.  The museum is surprising, first of all because of the location in the evocative cellars of the medieval fortified castle and then for the accurate organization.  The museum visit starts with the most ancient archeological finds going back to the Celtic valley of the river Po, then continues with rooms dedicated to wine making, to the harvest, the importance of wine to rural life and the various craft products connected to the whole business, from tools and bottles to corks and bottle openers. The exhibition ends with a panorama of the wines in Parma today from rootstock to labels and associations. Audio-visual material is plentiful and the visit to the museum is guided and  followed by an amusing wine tasting.

Our visit to the Lamoretti winery began with a very interesting walk amongst the vines and then a brief visit to the cellars.  The magnificent Castle of Torrechiara lies to one side of the vineyard.  The winery is family run and follows strict rules of production in terms of respecting the environment and exalting the terroir.  Right next to the cellar is the restaurant housed in a lovely modern building, and on entering we are inundated with those cooking aromas which immediately make you feel at home.  Lunch is  a tasting of local specialities including the giants of the Parma tradition, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parma ham, Felino salame and Zibello culatello knowledgeably combined with the wines produced here.  The general atmosphere exalts the meeting between past and present where the glorious food and wine traditions are renewed with touches of modernity and good taste.  It would be impossible to leave without tasting at least three local wines from this terroir: the sparkling Malvasia, the blend of Barbera and Bonarda and the Sauvignon blanc. This last wine was introduced to the Parma area by the Duchess Maria Luigia and has since become one of the most typical vines.

The museum of Parma ham in Langhirano is an obligatory stop on this tour and the exhibition illustrates the evolution of the ham and cold cuts industry in Parma  emphasizing the great care lavished on the production of each single piece.  Thanks also to the quality of the audiovisual material available, the visitor comes away enriched with knowledge about local history, the instruments of work and the technology of production and conservation of this unique creation.

It’s been an intense experience this tour, hasn’t it ?  But the Parma area is so rich in stimuli that it couldn’t be otherwise.  Local culture, including that of food and wine, is the result of the action of two forces, one aristocratic and one popular, and our last stop on the tour is particularly relevant to this concept.

So let’s go back to lovely Parma; we pass in front of the Teatro Regio and go down a slightly hidden back street to find the osteria Oste Magno, a crossroads meeting place with an informal atmosphere. Once upon a time you could find someone here entertaining the others with an aria from Verdi.  If you close your eyes you can almost feel their presence still today.  The charm of Parma is also the charm of Opera music which warms the cockles of the heart no less than wine does.  At the Oste Magni you lose all sense of time and understand that it is possible to preserve through renewal and renew through preservation.  As far as this is concerned, Parma cannot be beaten.

 


There will be qualified and licensed guides available who are experts in the food and wine products of Parma; there will be overnight stays in exclusive resorts; full lunches and dinners with appropriate local wines.

 

KINDLY NOTE:

This is a tour which can be purchased on line for weekends, but possible on other days according to demand.  The tour is subject to change according to availability of the structures.

 
 

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