You already know that Italy is famous for incredible food and sports cars. Did you know that Modena is the place to enjoy it all at once? It’s perfect if you’re ~meh~ on sports cars but !HECKYES! on amazing cheese, or all about sports cars, or even just interested in seeing a part of Italy off the cruise-ship-beaten path.
We visited last spring with our nephew, who happened to want nothing more than simply to drive a Ferrari while he was staying with us. My husband took this as an invitation to see as many sports car manufacturers in driving distance as possible.
While I’m no sports car enthusiast, it’s easy to understand the cult-like fervor Italians have for the brand after a walk through its history at the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena. For the Very Enthusiast, the Ferrari Museum at Maranello has all the sexy red cars, and the Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese has all the sexy Lambos.
But let’s talk about the food.
Modena is famous for its traditional balsamic vinegar and the world’s favorite cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano.
We learned about the balsamic vinegar production process at Acetaio San Villa Donnino. While not much happens after the grapes are harvested and the musts are boiled each year, our guide showed us the various barrels where the vinegar is aged for 12 to 25 or more years as she described the production process. Moving the vinegar to progressively smaller barrels allows it to take on the flavors of the varying woods to develop a complex flavor profile. The barrels are reused – one was 500 years old! Of course the highlight is the tasting. Balsamic vinegar on ice cream? Strawberries? Meat? Cheese? Yes, yes, and yes, thank you.
Perhaps our favorite stop as a family was the 4 Madonne Caseifico dell’Emilia: where Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made. Here we saw the massive vats where the cheese is made, and the equipment used to move the 50 kilo blobs of cheese to press them into wheels to stamp and age. We saw the towering shelves of aging cheese (and photos with the story of the earthquake that devastated the cheese-makers of the region when millions of wheels of parm crashed to the ground), and learned how to tap a wheel to know if it’s ready.
And, of course, there was a tasting. Please allow me a moment as I remember the deliciousness. YUM. (Did you know a vacuum-sealed package of parmigiano-reggiano can last 5 days unrefrigerated?)
Modena itself is a charming town, with an inviting medieval center connected to cute shops and delicious-looking restaurants. I recommend it as a destination if you’ve got a weekend in Italy where you’re looking to get away from the crowds!