“Lowlands, the flat stripe of fertile land, laid along the right bank of the Po river, between Piacenza and Guastalla”. This is how Giovannino Guareschi describes that area which, in one way or another, coincides with the boundaries of his Mondo Piccolo, a narrative but very concrete universe, the theatre of an itinerary along the Grande Fiume to be covered by bicycle or car. The pleasure of the intellect and that of the senses are intertwined in a path between castles, villages, museums and tastings in wineries, acetae and cheese factories dedicated to cult products such as Culatello, Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano.
The slowness and taste - secrets of the beauty of this territory - suggest an unforgettable journey with many stops, because here the Italian Food Valley coincides with the fascinating universe of Don Camillo and Peppone, along the middle stretch of the Po River declared in 2019 Biosphere Reserve Mab UNESCO Po Grande.
"So, the Po begins in Piacenza, and it does very well ..."
Guareschi's sounds like an implicit suggestion to start our combined journey between food and wine and culture from Piacenza. The starting point is the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery, one of the most important Italian collections of painting and sculpture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born by the will of the collector from Piacenza Giuseppe Ricci Oddi and inaugurated in 1931, its rooms host masterpieces by Hayez, Induno, Fattori, Lega, Fontanesi, Previati, Pellizza Da Volpedo, Michetti, Zandomeneghi and Bruzzi, just to name a few. Among the most famous authors of the twentieth century, we cannot fail to mention Medardo Rosso, Boccioni, De Pisis and Carrà. Not to mention the daring mystery of Klimt's "portrait of a lady" that was discovered, stolen and found again here ...
The river is the imposing liquid thread that unites the tradition of good food and good drink in these places in Emilia. It is therefore by following him that from the city we move along the Lower Piacenza. The flavours are the same: from Grana Padano Dop, to Provolone Valpadana Dop, to Cacio del Po, together with the three Piacenza Dop cured meats (Coppa, Salame and Pancetta) flavoured with Monticelli’s garlic and accompanied by the "Grass pist", passing through the pissarei and fasö and the famous anolini in broth. Among the different local wines, 17 DOC, a glass of red Gutturnio is inevitable, possibly tasted in the traditional "bowl".
In the afternoon, the Castle of San Pietro in Cerro is well worth a stop, faithful and precious testimony of a fifteenth-century noble residence, well preserved in its original structure and entirely open to visitors. Over 30 richly furnished rooms, including 2 halls of honour, the kitchens, the icebox and the prisons are the prelude to a surprising combination of past and present: in the attic, there is in fact the MIM (Museum in Motion), a fascinating collection of over 800 rotating works of contemporary Italian and foreign masters, with a section dedicated to Piacenza painters. In the basement, instead, there is the permanent exhibition "Millennial China - The Warriors of Xian".
Entering the territory of Parma, you find yourself in the home of delicacies such as Culatello di Zibello DOP, Strolghino, Spalla Cruda di Palasone di Sissa, Spalla di San Secondo and Fortana, an ancient wine, easy to combine with cold cuts and cheeses that spread their aromas along the Strada del Culatello. In every tavern or restaurant in the area you can taste these exquisite products from the Bassa, created by the hands of skilled craftsmen. Chasing the stories, we find ourselves among the panorama that have seen Guareschi's imagination grow and feed. In Roncole Verdi, the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi, in 1957 the writer opened a tavern, managed by his son until 1995 and now home to the Club dei Ventitrè - by the "Ventitrè readers" whom Guareschi addressed in his books - association of enthusiasts which enhances the work of the inventor of the Mondo Piccolo. The permanent Anthological Exhibition and the Guareschi archive consisting of 200,000 documents can also be visited by appointment.
Continue to Fontanelle, the writer's birthplace. Here are the birthplace and the "Il Mondo piccolo" museum, which tells - through the biographies of two exceptional protagonists such as Giovannino Guareschi and Giovanni Faraboli (founder of the reformist cooperative movement that inspired Peppone's character) - the historical events and social areas of the Parma plain from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s. Not far away, in Diolo, a hamlet of Soragna, the Centro del Boscaccio hosts a valuable exhibition dedicated to Guareschi.
A stop in San Secondo Parmense- where the film "Don Camillo and the young people of today", the only one of the saga to be shot entirely in the lands of Emilia, was made - allows you to visit the majestic Rocca dei Rossi and taste the famous Spalla di San Secondo paired with Fortanina’s wine, products celebrated in the famous fair held every year in late August and represents the perfect opportunity to undertake this literal-gastronomic itinerary. A good connoisseur ...
Continuing for Reggio Emilia, always in the right bank, we arrive in the heart of the events of Don Camillo and Peppone, Brescello, an open-air village/set of the epic scenes of the saga, also remembered by the bell hanging from a beam under the portico that runs alongside Giglioli.
Among the recommended stops, the Don Camillo and Peppone Museum - with a collection of numerous memorabilia and memories such as the priestly dress of Fernandel and the mayor's motorbike, scenic reconstructions and stage photographs - the Brescello and Guareschi’s Museum, the territory and the cinema - where you can admire the reconstruction of a film set of the series, as well as an exhibition on the relationship between cinema and territory and a tribute to the peasant reality of the 1950s and the memory of the Great Flood of 1951, with the typical boats of the Po and the instruments of the boatmen - and the Church of Santa Maria Nascente, which still houses the well-known speaking Christ.
You cannot leave Brescello without getting lost in the streets of the village, take the classic souvenir photos with the bronze statues of Don Camillo and Peppone that preside over the central square, have a snack with a view of the embankment or have a drink at the Caffè Peppone or at the Bar Don Camillo. For lunch, you will be spoiled for choice in a menu that includes fresh pasta, tortelli and cappelletti or the Erbazzone, all accompanied by good Reggio wines, such as lambrusco and spergola.
The tour in Reggio Emilia is not complete without stopping at a dairy, where you can cheer up your trip with a guided visit to the processing of the precious Parmigiano Reggiano, obviously seasoned with the tasting of the King of cheeses. The visit to a vinegar factory of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Consortium of Reggio Emilia is the worthy and obvious conclusion of the immersion in the lower Reggio Emilia area, whose alternation of hot and dry summers and cold winters creates the optimal conditions for the acetic oxidation process, for evaporation, for the concentration of the product and for the moments of sedimentation and settling at the origin of the pure clarity of the vinegar.