Day trip to Modena

Last month the NY Times came out with one of its 36 hour articles for Modena, Italy (Bologna’s balsamic-loving next-door-neighbor).  I was impressed we hit a number of the places mentioned in the article during a day trip to Modena with friends last July.  (Woo!  We might be getting a hang of this trip planning thing after all.)

Here’s what we did:

Museo Ferrari

With a car-loving visitor onboard, our first stop was just outside Modena at the Museo Ferrari (via Dino Ferrari, 43, Maranello; Adult admission: €13,00)

Obligatory photo outside the Museo Ferrari with Biomedical Engineering pals Nima, Luke, Matt, and Eleanor.

The Ferrari 250 GT

The Ferrari F40, 1987

Balsamic Vinegar Tour & Tasting

Modena is the home of the world’s finest balsamic vinegar, and so, at the top of our to-do list was visiting a balsamic producer.  Following in the footsteps of my Blogville colleagues Kash and Bianca (see their posts here and here), we visited Acetaia di Giorgio (via Sandro Cabassi, 67).  Acetaia di Giorgio is run by Giorgio Barbieri, a retired Italian volleyball player, along with his wife, Giovanna, and daughter, Carlotta.  They process their balsamic vinegar in large wooden barrels in the attic of their house and sell just about 2,000 bottles per year.  The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar bears little resemblance to the thin stuff we are accustomed to tossing on our salads.  It is thick and has a deep, concentrated flavor.  It is perfect for drizzling on good cheeses, strawberries, veggies, and even gelato.

Friends Matt and Eleanor; me; Giorgio’s daughter and our guide for the afternoon, Carlotta; and Luke. Carlotta’s parents started a line of balsamic vinegar in her name when she was born. They started selling it last year after her 25th birthday. Carlotta is currently in training to become a Balsamic Vinegar Master Taster like her father. The Master Tasters are responsible for testing and approving all balsamics marked as “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena”. Carlotta is one in a group of about six students in the 20 year training program to become a Master Taster.

This is Carlotta’s line of barrels. The barrels are made from different types of wood in order to influence the flavor of the vinegar. Juice from local grapes is cooked and then poured into the first and largest barrel. Each year, the balsamic “works” and the liquid in the barrel reduces in volume. The concentrated liquid is then moved progressively into the smaller barrels. This process continues for at least 12 years at which point liquid is removed from the smallest of the barrels, bottled, and sold.

All balsamic vinegars tested and approved by the master tasters of the “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” Producer Consortium are sold in the same bottle. This gives us an easy way to tell when a balsamic vinegar is truly the real deal. Acetaia di Giorgio’s least expensive bottle is a 12-year-old balsamic that costs about 45 Euro. We splurged for a 25-year-old balsamic aged in cherry barrels that cost about 90 Euro.  When I set up the visit, I was hopeful that at least one of us would buy a bottle.  That was not a problem: none of us could resist.

Aperitivo in Centro Storico

Before dinner, we took a stroll through Modena’s historic center stopping at Caffeteria Giusti (via Farini, 83) for aperitivo.

Palazzo Ducale in Piazza Roma

Torre Ghirlandina, the bell tower and traditional symbol of Modena

Aperitivo time at Caffeteria Giusti

Dinner at Osteria Francescana

After booking his ticket to Bologna, our foodie friend Matt had his heart set on dining at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena — a Michelin 3-star  restaurant, named #4 in the world by Restaurant Magazine.  I was admittedly hesitant to join him for a number of reasons: my frugal and vegetarian tendencies were high on the list, not to mention that you can eat better pasta than you’ve ever eaten in your life at a budget-friendly trattoria in Bologna.  Silly, silly me.  My knickers were in a knot, as the British might say.  Less than halfway through the meal, any doubts that I had melted away from my thoughts as the flavors of the 50 month aged parmigiano and the balsamic-lacquered short ribs melted in my mouth.  Even though a lot of molecular gastronomy goes into the creation of Massimo’s dishes, the presentation of the food isn’t overly ostentatious and the food presents the traditional flavors of Emilia Romagna with integrity and love.

Three of us did the Traditional tasting menu along with two additional dishes that came highly recommended: the five ages Parmigiano and the foie gras popsicle.  One friend got a special Pescatarian tasting menu, which resulted in equal if not more groans from the table.

Traditional menu + 2 dishes

Memory of a mortadella sandwich
Massimo Spigaroli Culatello aged 42 months and Prosciutto of Modena aged 30 months
Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in different textures and temperatures
Tortellini in capon broth
Tagliatelle with ragù
Mora Romagnola short ribs lacquered withTraditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Foie gras crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Warm and cold “zuppa inglese”

Pescatarian menu

Aulla tempura with frozen carpione
Razor clams and their friends
Baccalà Mare Nostrum: salt cod filet in Verdute olive and tomato broth served with dried tomato pesto, Noto almonds and fragrances of Pantelleria.
Gerardo di Nola shell pasta with Monkfish ragu
Guitar string pasta simmered in burned calamari broth and finished with Fines de Claire oysters and extra virgin olive oil
Saba lacquered adriatic eel
Globe light like a flower
Oops! Broken fruit pie

A number of the photos I took are not suitable for posting: my plate was half clean by the time I came out of my lovedrunk trance and thought about taking a picture.  Here are the photos that made the cut:

Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, each with a different texture and temperature. It consisted of a soufflé of 24 month old parmesan, a crisp galette (40 months), an ‘air’ (40 months and 50 months), a foam (30 months), and a creamy sauce (36 months).

Tortellini in brodo

Tagliatelle with ragù

Foie gras popsicle filled with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Warm and cold “zuppa inglese”

Post-dessert sweets (just in case eight courses wasn’t enough)

On the drive home from Modena, all of us were giddy with happiness.  We had precious bottles of REAL balsamic coming home with us.  We had just eaten at one of the top-rated restaurants in the world.  From the backseat, we could hear one friend musing about moving to Bologna and proposing to a certain Balsamic Master-Tester-in-training.


4 thoughts on “Day trip to Modena

  1. A Canadian Foodie

    Obviously we missed that dinner! Do you know Martina and Mirabelle? We went to the same Balsamic place and the tour was so memorable – have yet to post it. Have you taken Mirabelle’s class. It is a must. Martina will take you to the best Parmesan Farm if you haven’t gone already!

    1. ciaobologna Post author

      I know (and adore Maribel)! I brought my Mom to her class when she was visiting Bologna in October. We had a lot of fun and now my Mom is whipping up homemade pasta at home (which is making my Dad a very happy man). I have not visited a Parmesan Farm yet, but it’s high on my list. Thanks for the tip!


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