Monday, 3 March 2014

...traipsing and tasting your way through Italy...

Another great story by Maryke Roberts on her recent gastronomic tour of Italy. 

Scroll down for the English Translation and enjoy! 

...traipsing and tasting your way through Italy...

When South African travel writer Maryke Roberts got the chance to visit Italy, it was not 
the charms of Rome, Venice or Milan that drew her, but the tantalising foods of Parma, 
Bologna and Norcia.

Indeed, by the time you have walked Mother Earth for forty odd years, you know what best tickles 
your taste buds. I include parmesan cheese (its pungency maybe just a tad too much for sensitive 
palates), truffle oil (reminiscent of forest nights, fungi and fertility) and Parma ham with pickled 
artichokes. It makes perfect sense then, having landed at the airport outside Rome that we would 
head straight to Bologna. 

Spaghetti- cause of comfort or contention?

Spaghetti, in my esteem, is comfort food. My mission; to find the best there is in Bologna. Alas, 
the lady at the tourism bureau in the centre of the city does not share our enthusiasm. Whilst her 
friends are lazing away on inviting bright beaches, she has to deal with the ill informed naivety of a 
foreigner’s search for the best Bolognaise sauce in the world. “There is no such thing as ‘spaghetti 
bolognaise’, she broadcasts for our attention, and everyone else within hearing distance. “It’s a myth 
we wish to vanquish, once and for all. Try our linguine or tagliatelli with a ragù sauce...” she advises 
most patiently. 

Rapped over the knuckles, my high falutin bolognaisan notions proving to be a mere rumour, we 
content ourselves with a buffet at Caffe Maxim on the Piazza della Mercanzia, just around the 
corner. The purchase of two drinks at the bar allows one to snack away all night long on the spread 
of delicacies: thinly sliced prosciutto wrapped around plump cantaloupe, chilled melon chunks sweet 
as honey with homemade coppa, rosa tomatoes wrapped in fragrant basil leaves, thick slices of 
mozzarella cheese mellowing the fruity melange- the list goes on.

Well fed now, with at least some of my romantic notions of Italian cuisine restored, we choose as 
our next taste bud sensation an excursion to the Gelato Museum in Carpigiani on the outskirts of the 
city. Sadly, it turns out they are closed for the holidays. Undeterred, we press our noses against the 
windows and take in with childish delight the ice-cream colours in the churns, the antique ice-cream 
tins and the splendid designs of the ice-cream scoops dating back to the fifties and sixties. 

A little sign indicates 1970, my bonny year of birth, as the year in which whipped cream served on 
top of ice-cream became popular, along with the machine that could beat it up twice as nice (and as 

No mean truffle... 

We drive through little villages advertising culinary festivals of all sorts and it seems there’s no end 
to the ingenuity with pasta: gnocchi, pumpkin, sweet potato, not forgetting spaghetti, tagliatelli 

A whole evening is whiled away in Loro Piceno at the Vino Cotto wine festival, where we develop a 
taste for cooked wines and an affinity for the locals who prepare and pour this potent pick-me-up. 
They let us in on the bit of colloquial culinary knowledge that no visit is complete without spending 
some time (and money) at Norcia, the place where truffles come from. We feel compelled to visit 
each little butchery and to discover the carnal treats on offer. We savour salami with truffle oil, 
chewy ciabatta dunked in olive oil, blue cheese and olives vying variedly for the attention of our 
oil factory and taste sensations. I buy a small jar of wild boar sauce and tiny bottle of truffle oil and 
hope to get them back home intact.

A beseeching e-mail from South Africa hints at not missing out on visiting Venice or Milan. The 
most delectable Maschere biscuits can be bought here and preferably enough tins of them to share 
back home. Parmesan cheese takes precedence over these sweet treats and we follow the road to 
the Musei del Parmigiano Reggiano which is one of four of the Musei del Cibo group; its aim to pay 
tribute to the pioneers whose culinary proficiency popularised visits by passionate food lovers to the 
different regions. The other three museums celebrate tomatoes, Parma ham and salami. 

Culinary highlights

We spend many a day visiting little street cafes in the area where we eat bowls of tagliatelli ragù, 
which believe it or not (but don’t tell the Italians) tastes just like our adopted bolognaise sauce back 
home in South Africa! We devour chunks of grated parmesan cheese on our pasta and sometimes 
pop in at street markets to buy scrumptious ingredients for our evening meals.

Good news travels fast and when we hear of a wonderful guest house with a South African as part 
owner in Gualdo di Macerata in Le Marche, Cancello Est in Via Borga, we make our way there. At
their invitation we take over their kitchen from time to time trying our hand at preparing the robust fare of the region. Sharing our gastronomic delights brought no complaints! 

Sure, we did do a little non-food related sightseeing as well. We saw the Black Madonna at the 
Loreto Cathedral and took a spin to the Ferrari museum in Modena. But mostly, we just ate and 
had our heavenly fill of exquisite foods, way more colourful and sensual than we anticipated! We’ll 
be back soon to follow the trail of food through all the other villages inviting our naive but ardent 
search for sublime Italian gastronomy. Viva Italia!

Quick facts for the Foodies

  • Tours to the local Parmesan Farms in and around Parma, Modena and Reggio Emilia can be done in your own time. The full name if this cheese is Parmagiano Reggiano. Some 270 000 cows are milked twice a day to make proper Parmesan cheese. A complete list of farms with directions is available at

  • Present your airline ticket at any of the Musei del Cibo to get a discount. More info is available at
  • Pre-book to visit the Gelato Museum in Carpigiano, via Emilia in Bologna to avoid disappointment. Bookings at

  • In Bologna one can do a one day food and wine tour. The short amble through the city includes a visit to the food markets and a free copy of a book with traditional recipes. To confirm tour dates go to or ask for more information at the tourism bureau.

No comments:

Post a Comment