Bologna is the place where a meat ragu was first recorded being made and has been dubbed “Bolognese sauce”. Strangely, this relatively modern nick-name for the ragu has not been embraced by the residents of Bologna, but has been labeled offensive to the chef, so you will not see the word Bolognese anywhere in Bologna. The town attracts quite a few Italian tourists and there are very few North American and Nothern European travellers.
One of the main attractions is the world’s longest arcade. This arcade is not a store full of games, but is a walkway beside the street that is covered to protect from rain and heat. Above the roof of the walkway, there are usually 2-3 floors of apartment buildings. These were built for students studying at the University of Bologna which was built by the Pope. What makes this arcade unique is that it is over 4 kilometres long! Unfortunately, while the parts of the arcade inside the city walls have lots of stores along the sides, the ones outside the walls are in a state of economic downturn.
A few other sights we saw included a church where the bottom half was ornately decorated with marble and limestone, while the top half is an ugly brick that jaggedly sticks out making the incompleteness of the church even more obvious. The reason the church was not completed, is because the Pope moved his sights off the church, and onto building one of the first Universities in Europe. Another sight we saw was a set of medieval towers, one leaning 11 feet to one side while the other stood straight up making the precarious state of the first tower quite visible.
Our next stop is an Agrotourismo close to Modena. While there, we went to a family’s house where they make balsamic vinegar. It started hundreds of years ago with an accident, someone who made wine put some freshly pressed grape juice in the attic instead of the basement. It was forgotten up there and it slowly turned into the balsamic vinegar that we use today. To make the special balsamic vinegar, first you press grapes in the same fashion as making wine, then they let the juice sit in large mother barrels for 2-3 years. After that, they put the liquid into 5 barrels, the first one being the biggest and the ones after it getting consecutively smaller. The liquid sits in the barrels for 1 year, they are left open so during that year all the barrels loose about 20% of their contents due to evaporation. At the end of that year, juice from the second smallest barrel is transferred to the smallest barrel, and then the middle sized barrel fills the second smallest barrel, and so on. The largest barrel will be topped up with grape juice that has fermented for 2-3 years. This happens every year for a minimum of 12 years, and a maximum of 50 years (even so, they don’t normally age it bend 24 years). They make different kinds of vinegars by changing the type of wood that is used to make the barrels. For example, a balsamic aged in Juniper wood has more of a spice and less fruitiness than a cherry wood barrel set. The favoured wood used for barrels is a combination of juniper, oak, and cherry tree wood. My personal favourite was the balsamic aged in cherry wood.
Outside Modena, we took a course at a gelato university on how to make gelato and the history behind this popular treat. It started in the Roman times when snow was mixed with fruit juice to form an ancient slushy. At about the same time, kings in the middle east were enjoying the ancestor to our modern day sorbet. Their cooks would put snow and salt in a bowl, and then put a smaller bowl inside the larger one. Then they would pour fruit puree into the small bowl and stir until it froze. In the workshop, I replicated this sorbet. It turned our even better than the modern equivalent. I made apricot gelato by hand using this ancient method, while our guide and gelato expert made the same flavour in a modern gelato maker. After comparing the two, I decided that the ancient way makes the gelato much more flavourful.
Lucca (our next stop) is famous for its extremely wide walls that circle the city. They are so wide in fact, that we were able to easily bike on top of the walls. The city is only 2 kilometres across and the walls are only 4 kilometres in circumference, very thick walls for such a small town. From our bikes, we were able to see the gardens of many large buildings, one even having its own fountain and statues.
My favourite small town in Italy has got to be Lucca, because of how small and cute it is, it makes for a fun evening walk or bike ride around the town!