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Food
by Fran Miller
September 2, 2022
Venturini Baldini, courtesy of Venturini Baldini
Prosciutto di Parma. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Traditional balsamic vinegar. Lambrusco. In addition to their utter deliciousness, these delicacies have another common quality. They all originate in the north of Italy in Emilia, known as Italy’s ‘Food Valley.’
The provinces of Reggio Emilia, Parma and Modena are home to a wealth of traditional culinary products, many protected under the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certifications as seals of quality and authenticity. While many attempts have been made worldwide to replicate the flavors and textures of the region’s gourmet foods and beverages, it’s simply not possible. There is no substitute for the real thing, and to experience each within its environment of origin is special. Gourmands who appreciate culinary nuance and authenticity owe it to themselves to plan a visit.
There is no better spot at which to orient than the family estate Venturini Baldini and its charming boutique relais, Roncolo 1888. Founded in 1976, the more than 300-acre estate within the historic hills of Canossa is a one-stop shop for the best of Emilia, featuring an organic vineyard and winery that produces organic Lambrusco wines, a historic vinegar factory, gourmet restaurant La Limonaia and the inn, the building of which dates to the early 16th century. 
There is no substitute for the real thing, and to experience each within its environment of origin is special. Gourmands who appreciate culinary nuance and authenticity owe it to themselves to plan a visit.
Venturini Baldini Cellar, Photo by Dan Miller
Owned and operated since 2015 by Giuseppe and Julia Prestia, the duo is promoting the ‘rinascita’ (rebirth) of the dry, premium Lambrusco, which the estate has produced for nearly five decades. The Prestias aim to revive the reputation of the Emilia Romagna dinner table staple by finely crafting dry, estate grown, organic wines in the Champagne and Charmat methods. Venturini Baldini Lambruscos are elegant – each is a far cry from the sugary-sweet Lambrusco popularized in the 1980’s. 
“Lambruscos are serious wines, yet cheerful,” Julia Prestia says. “It’s a happy, very social wine. It’s very drinkable, without being sweet. People don’t necessarily know how versatile it is and how it’s really a spectrum of tastes, colors and grapes. There’s such diversity.”
A stay at Roncolo 1888 includes a complimentary tasting of Venturini Baldini’s Lambruscos, such as the Cadelvento, Reggiano Lambrusco Spumante Rosato DOP, a light, sparkling rosé and the fruity and spicy Marchese Manodori, Reggiano Lambrusco Frizzante DOP. With low ABVs, these are wines to enjoy and savor throughout the day and night, especially while lounging poolside at the property’s hilltop swimming pool while enjoying panoramic views of the valley.
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Roncolo 1888 Guest Room, Photo by Fran Miller
“The Cadelvento in particular really helped to bring a whole new group of people to taste and discover Lambrusco,” Prestia says. “It’s opening the door, and it speaks to people who aren’t necessarily looking for Lambrusco, but then they end up discovering the whole world of Lambrusco behind it.”
A Roncolo 1888 stay also includes a tour and tasting of the property’s traditional balsamic vinegars, produced under the brand name Acetaia di Canossa in the oldest vinegar factory in Reggio Emilia. This traditional condiment used abundantly in Emilian cuisine is a far cry from the grocery store brands with which most are familiar. The vinegars are aged for 12 to 25 years in century old barrels, resulting in an intense sweet/sour taste that beautifully enhances cheeses, dressings and fruit.
Guests of the hilltop relais can stroll just a few steps to dinner at La Limonaia, the estate’s gourmet, destination restaurant helmed by chef Mario Comitale who uses the best and freshest ingredients in crafting his creative dishes. Located in the historic greenhouse with Instagram-worthy views, Chef Comitale and his menu provide a delicious representation of the culinary heights achieved in the region.  
Ca’Matilde Spinach and Pumpkin Ravioli, photo by Fran Miller
Beyond the Venturini Baldini property just a short drive away is Ca’ Matilde. This Michelin-starred restaurant is a revelation, where dishes are as beautiful as they are delectable, and ingredients are sourced largely from the on-site biodynamic garden. Choose the seven course meat, fish, traditional, or vegetarian option and then sit back and enjoy the parade of dishes, such as a Savoy cabbage and leek mille feuille with cauliflower cream, purple potatoes and sprouts; or the tarte tatin with leek cream, Tosone cheese and balsamic vinegar – both part of the vegetarian offering. A life project for proprietor Marcella Abbadini and Chef Andrea Incerti Vezzani, Ca’ Matilde is a movement and philosophy based on sustainability and gourmet food as a uniting force. 
This is not simply a meal; it’s a defining experience, one not soon forgotten, the memory of which is enhanced by the take-home bread box. Emblazoned with ‘Porta a casa un pezzo di noi,’ (‘Bring a piece of us home’), the box is a charming and eco-friendly parting gift. 
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Fattoria Rossi Cheese Tasting, photo by Dan Miller
Finally, a visit to Reggio Emilia is not complete without a sampling of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and Fattoria Rossi has the goods – including a selection of traditional cured meats. Schedule a tour and tasting at this generational family-owned factory and retail shop and sample delicious organic 24, 30 and 46 month old Parmigiano Reggiano. Caution—your palate for the nutty cheese may never be the same, and you’ll wonder how the choices at home pass for the real deal.
“People know Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, also Ferrari, Maserati,” Prestia says. “But it’s amazing when you realize that this is actually all coming from Emilia-Romagna. People are discovering all the cities around us, and in Reggio Emilia, we are really at the heart of it all, which is wonderful, because everything is a short distance from our place. It’s really an exciting region to discover, and it’s right at the center of Italy.
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