Food is an integral part of the countryside between the Apennines and the Po, and the best way to get a feel of this is on a gourmet tour: Food Valley Travel (w foodvalleytravel.com) will take you to a dairy farm to see how the milk is turned into Parmesan cheese, and some of the aceterie around Modena to see how the traditional balsamic vinegar is matured.
Local tourist offices can also advise you on farms and vineyards to visit – or you can head out on your own into the wooded foothills of the Apennines. Restaurant signs by the roadside invite you to try cuisine “all tua nonna” – “like grandma used to make” – usually involving mortadella (cold pork sausage, spotted with lumps of fat and often flavoured with nutmeg, coriander and myrtle), salami or crescente (a kind of pitta bread eaten with a mixture of oil, garlic, rosemary and Parmesan). Higher in the mountains you can still find ciacci – chestnut-flour pancakes, filled with ricotta and sugar – and walnuts that go to make nocino liqueur.
In the foothills south of Reggio and Parma signs along the roadside advertise the local parmigiano-reggiano while the village of Casina, 27km from Reggio on the N63 to La Spezia, holds a popular Festa del Parmigiano in early August, when the vats of cheese mixture are stirred with enormous wooden paddles. Buses run to Casina from Reggio hourly and take around an hour.