February saw central Italy experiencing over a metre of snow and my research itinerary took me bang slap in the middle of the chaos. Bologna airport closed and I ended up in Venice with all the motorways closed. Not good, given I should have been enjoying the hospitality of Antica Corte Pallavicina.I got there the long way round, and it was worth the hassle. It’s a place of huge roaring log fires, even in the bedrooms, and wood panel painted ceilings. It’s all very comfortable and a big contrast to the bland hotel in an industrial estate where I was forced to spend the night in the Veneto. You take the rough with the smooth when you’re researching!
Down in the cellars lurk thousands of culatello hams, gently drying, and these were the purpose of my visit – to interview Chef Massimo Spigaroli in his capacity as lead producer of culatello and champion of one of the rare black pig breeds in Emilia Romagna, the nera parmigiana. But you don’t need to be interested in prosciutto production – just go and enjoy the food.
The airy, glass walled restaurant overlooks the courtyard on one side and the overspill of the Po River on the other, so one can watch peacocks strutting and herons fishing. Not that you’ll be taking much notice of them – the restaurant has a Michelin star, and it’s well deserved. I think the zucca stuffed tortelloni with little cubes of quince paste was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had. The sweet-savoury flavour combination was unusual and I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t be able to replicate the intensity of the pumpkin puree. Italian varieties tend to be a little too bland but sweet whenever I cook with them. This and a platter of variously aged culatellos was enough for me, but the little tray of desserts arrived anyway and were irresistible.
The staff are delightful and expert at cajoling you into eating more. The house wines are, well, jolly! What other adjective suits Lambrusco, the local fizzy red.
Food lovers touring the Po Valley should definitely spend time here.