in the wine hills of Romagna
Italy March 17, 2007 I returned earlier this week from a visit
to the wine hills of Italy's Romagna, the eastern section of the region
of Emilia-Romagna that extends down to the Adriatic sea. Emilia-Romagna
is known as the belly of Italy, since it is the source of so many good
things to eat, notably parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto di Parma,
aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena, mortadella, handmade egg
pasta, ragù, tortellini, piadina and much else.
main reason for my visit was not wine but cycling. I spent a fantastic
week with Colin Lewis (ex-Tour de France rider), and friends Phil D-M
and Kevin F, cycling into the foothills of the Apennines and up and
around San Marino. The cycling was hard but fantastic, and afterwards
we relaxed, drinking some very good wines accompanied by the ample and
delicious foods of the region.
me, apart from the cycling, there were two particular highlights. We
discovered an astonishing red wine called Burson made from the grape
Uva Longanesi, a little known pre-phyloxera variety discovered some
200 years ago in vineyards surrounding a monastery not far from Ravenna.
It's quite probable the variety dates back to Roman times. The wine
made today is immense, a real blockbuster, with dense, blackberry fruit
overlayering dried fruit flavours such as figs and raisins; in the mouth
it's incredibly velvety (the wine ages in new French oak barrique),
with a long, lovely and persistent finish. Just the sort of rich, warming
wine to spin out when feeling totally exhausted, after a day spent spinning
up those savage hills.
other remarkable discovery is a fascinating cheese: formaggio di
fossa. A 'fossa' is a pit or a hole in the ground, in
this instance carved into the soft sandstone rock upon which the hilltop
castelli di Romagna are built. To make formaggio di fossa,
young 3 month old pecorino cheeses are first stacked in cloths, then
arranged in these circular, underground, conical pits that are some
four metres deep. Once the cheeses have been so arranged, the pits full
of some thousands of cheeses, they are then completely sealed with a
stone that is further made airtight with cement. The cheeses thus age
anaerobically and undergo a secondary fermentation. In the process,
they lose both fat and whey, which drains off. The cheeses that eventually
emerge from this lengthy (around 3 month) underground sojourn are quite
unlike any other that I've tasted: rather soft and creamy in texture,
with deep, pungent flavours that are at once, paradoxically, forthright
yet also somehow delicate, no where near as strong as you might imagine.
We enjoyed formaggio di fossa after cycling to an agriturismo
farmhouse, the cheese delicious dribbled with a little acacia honey.
cycling holidays in Romagna (at whatever level, from leisurely to, well,
let's say downright painful) the Hotel Dory in Riccione makes a superb
base. There are brand new Scott CR1 carbon-fibre bicycles available
to hire, and expert guides take out groups of varying levels into the
stunningly beautiful and always challenging countryside. Afterwards
there is a spa to rejuvenate weary limbs and meals that are at once
outrageously ample as well as delicious.
more information visit