Begin here with part one: http://tavoladelmondo.com/2016/02/29/parma-primer-pt-1/
People often make generalizations about the north; they are colder, more closed, more serious. We found quite the contrary in Parma. Parmigiani are friendly, light-hearted, engaging, and incredibly warm people. They are as chic as the Milanese, as well-fed as the Parisians, and as literarily inclined as the Czechs. This comes as no surprise; one of the oldest universities in the world is located here, and beautiful independent bookstores are scattered throughout the center. They also value music, with a beautiful opera house just a strone’s throw from the train station and a famous conservatory in town. Adventures and beach holidays are a must throughout the summer; some of Italy’s most pristine waters are a short drive away: Cinque Terre, Liguria, and the Tuscan coastline.
We follow the dinner recommendation of a student of the Conservatorio. At I Corrieri, a large, traditional trattoria with many rooms and two floors, Parmigiani specialties are in surplus. I think about the tortelli d’erbetta, filled with swiss chard, but ultimately go for the cappelleti with funghi, a traditional pasta in the shape of little hats and filled with meat. We take a half portion of tortelli with zucca served simply with parmigiano. The little pockets of pumpkin taste like dessert, and we obligingly devour them.
After dinner, at around 10:30, we return to Via Farina, where the Parmigiani are just finishing their cocktail hour and have spilled out of Enoteca Fontana onto the street. Similar to the Bolognesi, they are an incredibly social people, and apparently quite late eaters. We join a group of friends for another round of vini and keep them company at their midnight dinner of perfectly cooked steak and succulent roasted potatoes with rosemary. Still awake with Parma endorphins but with heavy eyelids, we return to the hamlet of Porporano and climb into bed.
The next morning, we wake to the sound of Elena’s cheerful voice and the scent of just-out-of-the-oven pear and chocolate torta. It is a little chilly and grey outside, typical February weather in Emilia Romagna, and the heated floors in our room feel extra cozy. Downstairs, we dive into bowls of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, homemade jams, and local yogurt. Freshly squeezed juice is served along with the best caffe macchiato in una tazza grande I have had in Italy, and we indulge in the homemade pear and chocolate cake as if the previous day of nonstop eating was conveniently erased from memory. Elena has one of those magnetic, vivacious personalities; always laughing, always smiling, and always ready to offer advice on travel, fine dining, recipes, and shopping. She is the charismatic spirit that makes Villino di Porporano worth repeat visits.
Back in the center, we dodge the rain and visit the astounding 12th century Romanesque cathedral with its frescoed ceiling by Corregio, a Renaissance painter known for his illusionist style. The Cupola of Corregio is particularly well-known for its play on perspective, light, and composition. Lattanzio Gambara also had a hand in the frescoes; the central nave is his masterpiece, with works of art telling the story of the Life of Christ and depictions of the Old Testament. There are so many statues, frescoes, carvings, chapels, and colors; surely this is the kind of cathedral one must visit many times, at different times of day and in different seasons. The entrance door itself is a marvel, carved in 1494 by Luchino Bianchino. Not to be missed, the exterior of the octagonal Baptistry is just as extraordinary as its frescoed interior. I am enamored of the light pink Verona marble carved in a fashion that sits somewhere between Romanesque and Gothic style. Inside, an arched dome contains sixteen arches in the shape of a sbrisolana torta, each covered in frescoes depicting individual stories.
Satiated (for the moment) with outstanding artistry, we don our umbrellas to the Sunday morning organic farmers market, where we sample Parmigiano that has been made into a spread and sold in small bottles. It is as simple as it sounds: the cheese and a dash of olive oil, and it is nothing short of divine. We spend the rest of the afternoon soaking in the colors of the pastel lanes, their colors ever-vibrant in the grey weather, their inhabitants ever-lively on the streets of this chicissima city. You know you really love a place when it sweeps you off your feet in the rain.