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Bologna Artisans

Food Shops | Craftmanship | Traditions | Shopping

Bologna's maze of narrow medieval streets is home to a semi-hidden though thriving network of micro-businesses – artisans who work each day to produce first-class products by hand for the lucky few who have discovered them. Pasta makers such as Le Sfogline and the beautiful workshop where Max & Gio make high-quality hand-crafted shoes are among the more high-profile places – we explore some of their lesser known counterparts who specialise in fabric items, stringed instruments, etchings and that most bolognese of products, mortadella.

Artigian Quality 

Mortadella, one of Bologna's best loved specialities, was first made in the Middle Ages and nowadays plays a fundamental role in the local culinary culture. Wherever you go, mortadella features on menus in panini, platters and even as an ingredient for tortellini. Over the centuries the aromatic sausage has become popular across the globe whilst remaining so intrinsically entwined with its roots that elsewhere it's known simply as 'Bologna'. The huge popularity of mortadella has inevitably led to large-scale industrialised production resulting in alterations to its characteristics and quality. Nowadays one tiny family-run firm, Artigian Quality, remains in Bologna, making mortadella the old-fashioned way with impressive, and delicious, results. Simona Scapin, who founded Artigian Quality in 2015, owes her passion and knowledge of real Bolognese mortadella to her father Silvio, a butcher since the age of 12. She joined the family deli straight from school, and was immediately passionate about cooking and interacting with clients. At that time her father was still making just six mortadellas a week at the shop but when his classic mortadella became a Slow Food Presidium, promoted as an authentic high-quality, artisan product, the family suddenly found themselves snowed under by requests. That's when Simona decided to open Artigian Quality, which is dedicated to production and makes rather more mortadellas each week (about 2800 kg) but still follows artisan methods. “Our mortadella is different,” she explains. “We use only the best parts of fresh (not frozen) pork meat, which is sourced locally from free-range, or semi-free-range farms; our products are flavoured purely with natural spices [her father's secret recipe includes mace, cardamom and pepper, as well as PDO certified Voghera garlic] and our methods are slow – our mortadella is cooked at a low temperature for 24-28 hours to bring out all the flavour.” In addition, each one has a natural bladder casing and is tied by hand with hemp string. The result is a mortadella that's especially easy to digest and has an appearance, aroma and flavour that is decidedly subtler and more delicate than its industrially-produced counterparts. Alongside the classic variety, Simona and her staff of four make a type of mortadella with pistachio (from Bronte on Mount Etna – Italy's best) and another with black truffle in response to specific requests from clients. They also make an organic version both of their mortadella and of salame rosa, an ancient Bolognese delicacy which Simona is helping to bring back to popularity. “Salame rosa is another deeply traditional Bolognese product,” she explains, “it's actually the predecessor of mortadella, made using the same cuts of meat which aren't blended together but chopped, resulting in larger pieces showing in the slice and an exceptional flavour, somewhere between a high-quality ham and mortadella.” So how does Simona recommend serving her mortadella – or salame rosa? “It's ideal for all sorts of dishes, from simple canapés to potato pies but if I had to choose, I'd say the classic way, in a warm rosetta-type panino, with a glass of local Pignoletto and - most importantly of all given the convivial character of mortadella – it's to be enjoyed with friends!”

Delicatessen: Via Santo Stefano 90 (reopening early September 2019) - www.artigianquality.com

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Confezioni Paradiso

There's a peaceful, timeless atmosphere at the small premises on Strada Maggiore where Emanuela Paradiso makes and sells her beautiful fabric creations. “Nowadays I concentrate mostly on clothes and accessories for women, and sometimes children, though my first love remains fabric items for the home,” says Emanuela, who set up shop over 10 years ago at an even tinier location in the Ghetto area near the two towers. She uses a vintage sewing machine and a characterful, rather gnarled old wooden worktable, which you can see at the back of her shop and while she makes all the smaller items – bags and purses, fabric necklaces, home decorations and some garments – from start to finish, she does rely on others with larger workspaces to sew the dresses that she has designed and cut herself. Natural fabrics such as pure linen or cotton, and a cheerful, relaxed style with clean lines and the occasional light-hearted touch, are what characterise Emanuela's products – maxi skirts teamed with crop tops, marine stripes for the summer in bold or natural shades and colourful thread necklaces – these items are not simply to be worn, they are to be enjoyed.

Strada Maggiore 32 - www.confezioniparadiso.com

La Tarlatana

Charming and evocative, each of the etchings designed and printed by Daniela Collina at her studio just round the corner from the city’s landmark two towers, is unique. She starts by etching her drawings onto copper plates, scoring deeper or lighter lines to create depth, “I use copper rather than the more resilient zinc as it doesn’t alter the colours,” she explains, indicating the beautiful deep blues and Siena reds of her bookmarks, cards, calendars and framed pictures. Each plate can make up to about 150 prints before becoming too worn to produce good results and it’s for this reason that each of the numbered prints is unique. Her designs include representational images of Bologna’s most famous sights - the two towers, the seven churches of Santo Stefano 

and the San Luca sanctuary for example, as well as more dreamy, fantasy interpretations, either in a single shade or several different colours. Daniela often uses a combination of techniques such as acquaforte, aquatint and soft-ground etching to create different effects and bring the pictures to life. The studio, named after the type of fabric (tarlatan) used to blot the special oil-based ink used for prints, is a fascinating place so pop in and take a look next time you’re near the two towers.

Via De' Giudei 1C - www.latarlatana.it

Gianluca Poli – violin maker

The table which dominates Gianluca Poli's atmospheric workshop is taken up by violins in various stages of life - the rather naked-looking unvarnished wood of a new instrument alongside the evocative parts of an 18th century French violin here for restoration - plus a dizzying line-up of tools including wood planes and gouges in decreasing sizes and a selection of pots of resins and varnishes. “I've been fascinated by violin making since I was a child and was lucky enough to meet the great master, Ansaldo Poggi, a friend of my grandfather,” tells Poli, who left his Bologna home for the International Violin-making school in Cremona at the age of 14. After honing his skills and personal style during a ten-year apprenticeship in Brussels and Verona he started working for himself back in Bologna about 20 years ago with the aim of making characterful instruments in celebration of the historic Bolognese school. Maple wood from the Balkans is the classic variety he uses for most parts, while the belly, or front is made from Italian spruce. Everything is done by hand from cutting the shapes to perfecting the curve of the belly, a painstaking and lengthy process. Poli manages to make around four new instruments each year, mostly violins but also violas and cellos, as much of his time is dedicated to restoration. His clients, all professional musicians, often invite him to concerts to hear the results of his work: “it's a delight to hear the rich and resonant quality of sound they produce, which gets better and better through time,” he says.

Via G Petroni 15C - www.gianlucapoli.com

Sarah Lane

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