Emilia-Romagna is basically the only region in Italy that almost spans both sides of the peninsula. The Via Emilia, a Roman road that goes from Rimini on the Adriatic coast, all the way to Piacenza on the border of Lombardy and spitting distance from skinny Liguria. To this day, the main train tracks and highways span this line. Roman settlements would spring up in equally distant locations that a Roman Legion could march in a day. Over time these settlements became cities. These are currently still the main cities in Emilia-Romagna. Though this Roman super-highway continued to function, the political fracturization of Italy until the reunification meant that cities otherwise rather close were at best bitter rivals with strict trade barriers but just as often were involved in all out War with each other. This has culminated itslef into some of the most beautiful walled cities as well as unique culinary traditions reserved within these extinct boundaries.
Living in Bologna for the past year and half I have taken full advantage of the fantastic culinary traditions and sites across the Via Emilia. Parma has the most food appellations of anywhere and Rimini has fantastic seafood. Recently I was looking at the map and was wondering what was missing. A colleague recommended Faenza. I had vaguely heard about Faenza ceramics in some antique fairs but had not thought much of it. However my friend who used to work for the tourism office gave me the elevator pitch and I was sold.
It was a rainy winter sunday, but we forced our groggy selves out of bed and headed to the train station. Cities that are on the Via Emilia get frequent train access from a mix of regional trains and others stopping on their way to points north. Hence travel between these cities is often easier than visiting an otherwise closer suburb castle.
Faenza is in Romagna. After all Emilia-Romagna is actually composed of two separate regions. Whereas inland Emilian cities produce the famous aged products such as Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the expensive Culatello di Zibello, Romagna is a glutton for grilled meats. In Romagna having a large wood fireplace in a traditional restaurant is not uncommon, to the point where it doubles as the Trattoria grill. Many people assume that meat in Italy will be of the swine variety but the grilled or oven baked meats span the range of rabbit, Chianina, a race of beef raised in the Apennines mountain range, Lamb and even Castrato which is littelry a castrated male sheep.
On arrival it was unfortunately a very rainy day. Without an umbrella we went to see the historical center. It was immediately obvious that we were in the ceramics capital of the world. The amount of a dedicated modern ceramics art studios was remarkable. Subtle influences of ceramics hidden into buildings old and new was seemingly everywhere. In addition the older Palazzos of the city had more overt signs of wealth via ceramic sidings.
We had been told to visit Ristorante Trattoria Marianaza. Since we were coming as a party of 2, I figured it would be fine without reservation. As we arrived and saw the multitude of Slow Food Osterie d’Italia stickers I realized I may have made a mistake. We walked in and the warm air wafting with grilled meats aroma hit us. It was totally booked. I asked if they recommended anywhere else and they said to go down around the corner and down an alleyway. Seemed like a weird direction to send someone. It ended up being this super cute alcove. The restaurant’s stockpile of firewood was stacked upfront. A small sign said Ca’ Murani I imagine the location of the restaurant was formerly an unused stockpile room or something because it has this beautiful carved wood pillars holding up the hardwood beams and ceiling. It must have been discovered by some interior designer because the decor is a mix of restoration hardware with modern art teasing its way in. The downside of having a perfect aesthetic is that they have a beautiful handwritten menu. Though I very much love the script, it does not help to figure out what one wants to order.
The menu is truly Romagnan. Lots of meat and seafood dishes reflecting the carnivores tendency as well as proximity to the seaside. Something to note in Italy is that term seafood singulary means both swimming fish and critter-crawlers. Trying to describe the difference to Italians tends to go over their heads. I spotted that they had Passatelli a particular favourite of mine. Passatelli are a typical pasta of Emilia-Romagna that is not at all a pasta in a normal conception of the name. It is these worm~looking things with a weird texture since it is made from a base that uses breadcrumbs and Parmigiano cheese rather than flour. It came with a cheese cream and Marzuolo truffles. Rather than commonly thought, there are actually several seasons and regions producing truffles especially throughout Emilia-Romagna and Umbria. The production tends to stay local or destined for truffle flavoured products. Than again, in the semi-illicit truffle business, Romagnan Truffles may end being sold as Alba or Burgundy truffles in Manhattan alongside Croatian ones. I have a feeling I would never be able to to get this divine dish for $12 in Manhattan. For drinks we stayed on conservative and just got a glass each, opting for Albana. Albana is one of several indigenous Romagnan white grapes in the midst of renaissance with diverse styles being produced. However, Romagna is better known for its Sangiovese that provides a fantastic value in the shadow of Tuscany. Before these came out we got an amuse bouche soup that must have had a beef broth due to its richness, though only vegetables were present. The bread here was single handedly the best I have had in Emilia-Romagna. We were given a basket of several styles, each better than the next. The GF ordered a potato~seafood soup with oil from Brisighella. a town known since the middle ages for making fantastic olive oil.
We caved in and got dessert. I luckily got a flourless chocolate cake of which I can still taste the depth of richness of the true cocoa.
In the main Piazza there are number of cute aperitivo bars. We headed to the Ceramics Museum. I was told it was big, but it is massive. I have never seen so much ceramics in my life. It ranges from Incan ceramics to Korean, Chinese and even pre-Islamic Persian examples. It follows everything from the beginning of ceramics to the current wild ceramic constructions that might be more in place at the Guggenheim. I don’t think I will ever see that many ceramics the rest of my life combined. I would suggest setting aside a decent amount of time, it is an overwhelmingly large collection.
After that we headed back to Bologna feeling like we had found the Ceramic Gem of Romagna.
International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza
Viale Baccarini, 19,48018 Faenza RA
Tue-Fri 10-1:30 Sat-Sun 10-5:30 Mon Closed
Ristorante Ca’ Murani
Vicolo Sant’Antonio, 7, 48018 Faenza RA
Mon-Wen, Fri 7:30–10:30 Sat-Sun 12:30–2:30, 7:30–10:30 Thu Closed