Monday, 26 January 2009

Cheese and Biscuits on tour - The Best of the Rest of Bologna

As should be clear from my last couple of posts, we avoided any multiple Michelin-star high-end meals in Bologna. I'd like to tell you that was due to my uncompromising search for authenticity and deliberate rejection of the homogenised, ratings-chasing international dining scene, but in all honesty, the reasons we ended up in local Trattoria, good though they were, is largely due to one thing - that bloody exchange rate. The world economy has been tanking for the best part of a year, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed and the entire financial system is dangerously close to collapse, and yet I would have happily ignored the whole thing had my trips to Europe suddenly not become 30% more expensive. Very irritating, although I suppose there is one benefit - at a rate of £1 = €1, it's very easy to work out how much things cost.

Anyway, the reason I bang on about the exchange rate is that having imagined Emilia-Romagna as some kind of rustic gastronomic utopia where merry farmers' wives sold their unpasteurised homemade cheese for half a cent and a handful of buttons, and €5 would get you a meal for four and a cab ride home, the reality of eating and drinking out in Bologna, which is after all a wealthy, major European city with its Prada and Gucci stores and well-heeled residents in fur coats, came as a bit of a shock to the wallet. I didn't begrudge at all paying £35 a head in della Rosa because the food was excellent and the service a delight, but the next day we naïvely wandered into a café on the Piazza Galvini called Zanarini which charged - and I promise this is the menu price, without service - €7.50 for a cup of tea. They also did a milkshake for €10. Quentin Tarantino would not be impressed.

Having said all that, my philosophy when it comes to food and drink, repeated many times on this site, has always been "you get what you pay for". There are the odd exceptions to this rule, such as Tayyabs at one extreme and Zanarini at the other, but in the main, good food costs more than bad food, and the real issue is value. If I think I'm getting my money's worth then I will shell out quite happily, but if I think that an establishment is cynically attempting to fleece naive tourists who had been shown to a table in the only place in the entire city open on a Sunday before they'd really had a chance to check out the prices on the menu (I blame myself really), then that will leave a bad taste in my mouth. And I'm not just talking about the contents of their tortelloni.

Now I've got all that off my chest, I can show you this:

It's a whole, boned, roast pig stuffed with herbs and it is the best bit of pork I've ever eaten in my life. We bought about €15 of it and ate it on the flight home. Recommending this is completely pointless unless you happen to be in Bologna on the occasional Sunday where the farmers market appears in the Piazza XVIII Agosto, but there it is anyway.

Also at the farmers market was a number of cheese stalls with handily translated labels. Letting me loose in a cheese shop is a danger at the best of times, but here I just couldn't stop - each sample was better than the last, extraordinary aged-Gouda style hard cheeses and rich, farmy goats. Totally useless blog material as I haven't the foggiest where they came from or how to ever get hold of them again, but here's what they looked like once I got them home:

All in perfect condition, all made from milk from one farm and one small-batch producer and all completely delicious. And I'll probably never eat any of them ever again... sigh.

Roccati chocolate shop on a back alley near the Piazza Maggiore was a bit of a find as well. We watched the guy put together the chocolates with incredible precision at the preparation area towards the back of the store and we spent a good half hour cooing over the plates of intricate sweets and huge spheres of hazelnut nougat. Then we bought a timid amount of dark-covered almonds and a block of 100% chocolate and it cost about €30.

This Gelateria on the charming Via Castiglione apparently draws people from far and wide for its generous selection of ice creams and sorbets, and seems to have been doing so for a very long time, judging by the dates on the menu. My own choice was perfectly nice - caramel and custardy and fresh-tasting - but the real surprise was the price, just €1.50 for two decent-sized scoops of home-made ice cream.

Which just goes to show that there are bargains to be had anywhere, and anyway, being a Londoner I can hardly hold up my home city as an example of fair pricing and generosity to tourists. What I will take away from the Bologna trip is a renewed appreciation for Italian food, memories of a fantastic long weekend in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, and a cupboard full of the finest Italian produce my crappy Pound Sterling can buy. Now that's what I call value.


Unknown said...

I am getting a severe case of travel envy reading this Chris - must get to Bologna!

Anonymous said...

That pork looked fantastic - and the cheese too die for. I too have massive envy problems at this moment in time!

Anonymous said...

I love the Boar's Head hanging there. If only we had this sort of thing at Smithfield Market.