The region of Parma offers some of the best food in Italy. Parma lies between the snow capped Pyrenees and the Apennines. Geography plays a huge role, sharing borders with Tuscany, Liguria, Lombardy, and Veneto, and it has some of the richest tract of farmland in the country due to its fertile soil. It is an ideal place for Parmesan Reggiano and Parma ham. I only had time to have one meal when in Parma, so I had to make sure I chose the right place. One name that kept popping up on everyone’s “best list” was Cocchi. Mario Batali, Elizabeth Minchelli, and The New York Times, were a few of the people who raved about it. I am glad I followed their advice because Cocchi just may have been my favourite meal on my 18 days while in Italy.
When our car pulled up to the simple hotel, in the middle of nowhere, Hotel Daniel, I thought I may have made a terrible mistake. But on the way into this modest Trattoria, I noticed bottles of Tignanello, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Gaja and all the super Tuscans. So I knew at least they had a great wine selection.
The restaurant is very old fashioned looking, with old-style waiters to match. But the waiters are knowledgeable and helpful and gave us great suggestions for the restaurants signature dishes. The clientele is a mix of locals, businessmen, and tourists. The restaurant was founded in 1925, and they are known for serving fresh local produce and regional cuisine. As soon as you are seated they drop off a plate of Parmesan Reggiano. If you think you’ve tasted good Parmesan before, think again, because you will be blown away.
We ordered the torta fritta, which is the same as gnocco fritto in Modena –fried pillows of hot dough. We ordered a side of Parma ham to top it … heaven. Then we had a bowl of THE best tortellini in brodo we have ever had. Tender tortellini in the richest chicken broth. This would have been enough, but I didn’t come all this way for just a few courses! Next up, we had a signature dish of savarin di riso. It is the creamiest risotto, with Parmesan, butter and porcini, you will ever have, rolled in thin slices of cooked ham. I am a pasta fanatic, and let me tell you the tasting of tortelli (a large size tortellini) is mind blowing. Usually it is a trio, but unfortunately, pumpkin was not in season, but we did try the Swiss chard and potatoes with black truffles. This dish exceeded my expectations, it melted in my mouth and had me swooning in delight.
This restaurant exceeded my wildest expectations – it lives up to its hype. The restaurant’s interpretation of the regional cuisine is a rich, sumptuous experience. We also had a plate of the veal but were too full to appreciate it.
Parma is one of those places that tries to lay claim to gastronomic dominance, and after this superior meal, I think they may be right.