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Why Bologna is famous for Bolognese

19 October 2020 09:11

Dine on the enchanting Marco Biagi Square

Dine on the enchanting Marco Biagi Square

It's a childhood staple, an easy-win beloved by first-daters across the globe, and something Heston Blumenthal's made needlessly difficult in the name of culinary exploration. You guessed it - Bolognese. But where did this super-sauce come from, and what makes it so special? Let's find out.

What's special about Bologna's Bolognese?

You may have tried your hand at Bolognese sauce before - but chances are, it won't have been quite the same as you'll find in its mother country.

Authentic, Italian Bolognese sauce is created by gently sautéing carrots, celery and onion in olive oil and a hint of butter, before adding fresh beef and rich ragú. The main difference between the real stuff and wannabe Bolognese, though? In Italy, it's not served with spaghetti, but rather thick, luscious tagliatelle or pappardelle, which is far better for absorbing and holding the delicious sauce than its narrow, noodley cousin. In fact, late Italian chef Antonio Carluccio explained, 'spaghetti Bolognese... does not exist in Italy. In Italy, it is tagliatelle Bolognese, with freshly made tagliatelle.'

When does Bologna's history with Bolognese begin?

Contrary to popular belief (and its name), Bolognese sauce has no official ties to the northern Italian city of Bologna. Rather, historians have traced the rich ragú back to a nearby city of Imola. Ragú itself likely comes from the French 'ragoût', a tomato and meat sauce introduced by Napoleon's soldiers in the late 18th century.

The first recipe for a Bolognese sauce can be found in an 1891 cookbook by Italian businessman Pellegrino Artusi, entitled “La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene” or “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”.

How important is Bolognese to Bologna today?

Despite its origins in a neighbouring city, Bolognese sauce has become synonymous with Bologna, and is one of the chief reasons foodies flock to the city each year. However, the mayor of Bologna, Virginia Merolo, tweeted in 2019 claiming the dish spaghetti Bolognese to be 'fake news'! Perhaps the city isn't too keen on the association, after all...

Where can I go in Bologna to find its famous Bolognese?

While you may not find spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna, you'll find the famous sauce paired with tagliatelle in most eateries. Try the aptly named Ristorante Bolognese, a short walk from the city's train station.

What else is Bologna known for?

Aside from sampling its authentic cuisine, travellers head to Bologna for a glimpse of its rich historical architecture. The Church of San Stefano, housing seven separate temples and built throughout different eras, and the 16th century University of Bologna are of particular interest.

Make sure you're covered for Bologna

Interested in making your next trip an Italian trip? Just think of the food! And then take a look at our brief guide to travelling in Italy.