Modena is a historic town in the Emilia Romagna region in Italy. The town is perhaps most famous as the home of some of Italy’s most famous automotive brands such as Ferrari and Maserati – a tour of the Motor Valley is a must! – but foodies will most likely associate Modena with balsamic vinegar or balsamico. Authentic aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is the stuff of foodie dreams; rich and syrupy, this balsamic vinegar bursts with flavour and just a few drops of it is sufficient to lift a simple salad, cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano in particular), fruits, steaks or gelato to stratospheric levels! But for the foodies amongst us, Modena has a lot more in store than just balsamic vinegar. As I discovered, a food tour around Modena is the perfect way to discover its culinary treats and traditions.
Discovering the culinary delights of Modena
For the first-time visitor to Modena, I suggest kicking off your stay with a meal that starts with delicious Modena ham, followed by a plate of tortellini. A typical main course includes zampone, made with ground pork meat. Don’t forget to order Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese) covered with a sprinkling of traditional Modena balsamic vinegar. And while you’re at it, order a glass of Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine. This is a great introduction to Modena’s culinary delights! The next thing to do is discover the origins of these wonderful products and this is where a tour comes in handy.
My food tour around Modena started with a visit to 4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia, one of the most prominent producers of Parmigiano Reggiano in the region. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and you can follow each step of the production process – the highlight of which is the massive storage facility! I recommend visiting in the mornings when the cheese-makers are at work. The tour concludes with a fabulous cheese-tasting of course!
My next stop was the lovely Cantina Paltrinieri. This vineyard produces some of the best Lambrusco I’ve ever had! I have to admit, I’m not an expert as the Lambrusco I’ve tasted on occasion (outside Italy) didn’t make any sort of lasting impression on me. That changed after my visit to this cantina. Their Lambrusco di Sorbara, with its gorgeous bouquet, rich flavours and never-ending strings of silky bubbles, was nothing short of superb.
The tour continued with another highlight, a visit to the nearby Acetaia Paltrinieri where we were given a tour of their traditional balsamico production facility. Traditional balsamico di Modena is very expensive (prices start at EUR 45 for a 100ml bottle) due, amongst others, to the time it takes to produce it – the minimum aging period is 12 years. In the past, families in the region would celebrate the birth of a baby by setting aside a barrel to age, which would then be used as a dowry.
At today’s prices, a barrel of traditional balsamico di Modena would be more than sufficient to cover a child’s education right through university! Strolling around the storage room, with its hundreds of barrels containing this ‘black gold’, is a wondrous experience.
The tour ends with a balsamic vinegar tasting – best done on the skin of your hand. I assure you, once you’ve done this tasting, your perceptions of balsamic vinegar will never be the same again! The Acetaia Paltrinieri is also a great place to have lunch – and discover the different ways traditional balsamico di Modena can be used.
The final stop of the tour was a Modena ham (prosciutto di Modena) factory. The unassuming entrance opens into a series of passages and the second you step in, you’ll be overwhelmed by the smell of erm.. ham! The passages lead into various rooms, each a step in the production and curing process. It’s a fascinating tour, though not for the vegetarians amongst us. The ham-tasting at the end was another sure highlight of the tour!
I highly recommend touring the countryside around Modena to experience its culinary delights and learn a thing or two about deep-rooted traditions, and the passion and dedication with which these products are produced. There are a variety of food tours to choose from (check with the tourist office in Modena at Piazza Grande) or you can hire a car/driver for a day of touring.
Modena is also a featured destination in the Ultimate Euro Food Trip.
Search for hotels in Modena.
Read about things you must do in Emilia Romagna.