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To be a Parmesan

After driving through the Italian countryside (well, on Italian highways, all of which were surprisingly enjoyable to drive) we arrived in the village of Porporano, a small enclave located a few minutes outside of Parma. We only needed two days in this section of Emilia Romagna to start discussing a return trip while we were still there: Parma is that attractive in its architecture, natural beauty and lifestyle. We stayed at a lovely inn with a saltwater pool and meticulously landscaped grounds. One morning, we ran from the inn through the village and beyond (on the way to Parma, but not quite), taking in ancient villas and rolling hills as we ran by. I don't think running there would ever become rote.

Ravenous from our drive from Ravenna, we immediately asked for a restaurant recommendation and were directed to a trattoria directly down the street from our hotel (Trattoria da Romeo), in a pseudo-strip mall, near a gas station. Despite the late lunch hour (2:30), the restaurant was still bustling with people finishing up giant plates of pasta, prosciutto di parma, and carafes of wine. We slid into our chairs, barely able to read the menu in front of us from our hunger (and because the menu was, of course, in Italian). We'd heard from our waiter that the pasta at this place was sought out by visitors near and far (I spied a Japanese magazine photo spread framed on the wall after lunch) and that the pasta maker had been making pasta for decades.

We each ordered a free form ravioli style pasta, with ricotta and basil and potato and funghi (did I mention it was mushroom season, specifically porcini?!). I also ordered a pasta fagiole after being reassured it was vegetarian (does this sound familiar from our dinner in Bologna?). This time, translation was not on my side and the soup, rich and addictive, was speckled with ham. I ate around the ham and sighed in contentment. If pasta at a roadside restaurant was this good, what else did the Parma region have in store for us?!

The rest of our two days found us walking around Parma, watching Italians enjoy the good life as they dined on plates of cheese and cured meats, lining up for gelato (I'll call out Emilia Cremeria here), and drinking wine at outside tables. We dined outside of Parma on our first night, at an agriturismo with a Michelin star (Antichi Sapori), where we enjoyed a caramelized eggplant appetizer (another common ingredient on our trip, along with zucchini) and a new-to-us wine: Gutturnio. We also drove from our inn to Modena, birthplace of balsamic vinegar. It was a Sunday and most shops were shut, but luckily not the one shop we wanted to visit: Enoteca Ducale, where I'd read that the selection of balsamic vinegar was second to none (we had tried to go on a balsamic tour, but the producer we contacted was closed on Sundays).

When we left Parma after two nights, we made one more stop in the Emilia Romagna region before crossing into Piedmont: La Stoppa Winery. Justin and I have enjoyed La Stoppa wine at Portland’s DOC and purchased bottles at Pastaworks. We love the funky tastes, the story behind the winery (female owned, biodynamic practices, a mentor to many in the region, small production, in tune with climate and environment) and messaged Francesca, the winery’s distribution manager, to see if we could visit. A few hours later, we were driving up a winding hill to the top of the winery.

It took all of my willpower to not have Justin pull the car over every few feet so I could take photos of the view and grapes. Francesca was incredibly gracious, giving us a tour of the operation, a tasting of all of their wines, and some fine conversation. We were joined by a few of the winery dogs, including Rocco, an affable, excited Bernese mountain dog. Ravenous and slightly tipsy after our tasting, we made an unexpected stop in Rivergaro, just down the road, and enjoyed plates of cacio e pepe before driving into the Piedmont region.