By Matthew Wexler
I am Italian by association, although the blood that runs through my veins is decidedly borscht by way of Russia. I grew up in a Midwestern suburb that was home to some of the four million Italian immigrants who made their way to the US during the late 19th and early 20th century. While most kids my age were cutting school to smoke a joint under the bleachers, I was taking advantage of my newly earned driver’s license to head to Alesci’s, a local Italian deli that’s famous for their foot-long sandwich of thinly sliced pepperoni, authentic giardiniera, and melted provolone. So it only made sense that my first visit to Italy would be one of culinary exploration, forgoing Milan’s high fashion and Rome’s architectural wonders for a prosciutto-packed road trip through Italy’s food and agritourism epicenter: Emilia-Romagna.
Nestled north of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s 20 regions and spans from the Adriatic Sea in the east toward its western borders of Piedmont and Liguria. Like the rest of the country, Emilia-Romagna touts local products, many of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status that ensures they are “produced, processed, and prepared in a given geographical area using recognized “know how” according to the European Commission. Labels aside, I quickly discover that local favorites such as heaping platters of shaved prosciutto di Parma served with chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano and free-flowing Lambrusco are the stuff that a foodie’s dreams are made of.