North-South divide

27 March 2014


Meats are grilled in the fireplace at Osteria del Mirasole

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Emilia Romagna in recent months, on the lookout for both food and wine. If the foods are some of Italy’s best known – from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Parma ham to aged balsamic vinegars sold in perfume-size bottles – the wines have revealed more surprises. Paltrinieri’s fizzy Lambruscos are scrumptious and  anything but simple. (Yes, Nick Belfrage, there is life beyond that plonk). I’ve been seduced by white Pignolettos near Bologna and red Sangioveses in the Apennine slopes from there to the coast. (For more on these wines see my recent Decanter article).


The house lasagne at Osteria del Mirasole, San Giovanni in Persiceto


A typical trattoria in Romagna

The only problem I have with this region is the food. It’s utterly delicious but so much richer than the vegetable-driven cucina I usually live on that after about five days I have to move on. I start craving the bitter wild greens and fruity olive oils of the south. I just can’t eat a butter-and-meat-heavy cuisine any more. Who wouldn’t be tempted by mountains of lasagne, or bowls of egg-yellow noodles topped with cheese? They go so well with wine, and vice versa. But a little goes a long way. So I pack my gastro-treasures into the car and head down to Campania, or to Sicily, where the food/wine-to-life ratios suit me best.


The Campiume organic winery is housed in a self-contained borgo in Romagna


Vineyards near Brisighella are carved out from the calanche rock formations in Romagna

Or to London where we live on home-made soups and vegetables punctuated by meals out at the city’s top foodie venues. There’s such good food and wine to be had in London these days, from the bold, Best of British at Margot Henderson’s Rochelle Canteen, to the Loire Valley specialities of the Green Man and French Horn, to Ottolenghi’s eclectic vegetable assemblages. You can get great nouveau-Peruvian food at Lima, funky East End minimalism at Clove Club, and top-rate Italian with an English twist at Theo Randall’s. And that does me very nicely for a few weeks until I start feeling the yen for a plate of pasta as only the Italians know how to cook it – never over-sauced or over-cooked – and I know it’s time to get back to Italy again.

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