Cobbled paths

By Caro U. Rock

History and family business are deeply intertwined in Italian culture

Ciao! This fall, my husband and I explored the historic Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Food, Ferraris and fantastic architecture greeted us in the six towns we visited. Much of these Papal States dates back to the Roman days. In fact, the Romans conquered Modena (Mutina) in 183 B.C. The town later flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. Fortunately, most of the old buildings and palaces from this wealthy region have survived and are integrated into the modern cities. We never tired of seeing beautiful arched porticos that have made several of these cities famous for over 700 years.

Admiring the stately columns and porticos of Bologna, Modena and Ravenna, I reflected on the foundation the Romans built in the towns around or near the river and in the valleys of the Apennines. I was reminded of the way family companies build layers and layers of foundation steeped in values and family culture.  Here, I was surrounded by family companies. From the Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese factory, a third-generation operation since 1910, to the prosciutto ham company and the balsamic vinegar estate, all displayed deep respect for tradition. Although the larger companies like Maserati and Lamborghini are no longer family owned, most of their suppliers were multi-generational family.

The food processes have been basically the same for centuries, and most if not all in their industries were family companies. Members of the owning families gave us the tours with pride. For instance, the prosciutto company is currently run by a third-generation brother and sister team that produces 350 to 500 hams a week. 

Many of the delicious restaurants we ate in were family-owned and -operated, often dating back over 100 years. And, not surprisingly, almost all of the vineyards were family businesses, connecting generations with their passion for winemaking. We tasted the local Lambrusco during a tour hosted by a fourth-generation member of the Chiarli family. 

A special treat was truffle hunting with a trained guide and dog. Arriving in camouflage so as not to be spotted in his secret paths, the guide was a second-generation hunter who learned the trade from his father-in-law. One truly has to be passionate and patient to follow this line of work, but for us, it was exciting and our hunting dog, Maatjie, did manage to uncover a small white truffle.

The undeniable highlight of our trip, of course, was a master class and dinner with the acclaimed number one chef in the world, Massimo Bottura, at his three-star Michelin restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana. There, aided by his wife, Lara, he makes magic. Through the creations of this true genius, we experienced and “tasted” the art, music and culture of all the unique essences of Italy. And, as we all know, Italy is all about family.

Caro U. Rock is the publisher of Family Business magazine.


November/December 2021

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