Five Foodie Reasons to Visit Modena, Italy

By Anita Lee Breland

Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s breadbasket—an ideal destination for food-centric travel! Some of the country’s best-known exports are from around Modena, in the heart of the province.

Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar have proved to be great travelers far beyond Italy. Modena offers myriad opportunities to sample the region’s cuisine. To make your foodie trip through northern Italy exceptional, try these.

Dine under three stars

"Truffles from Osteria Francescana"
Truffles from Osteria Francescana

Looking to put three Michelin stars in your travel crown? Try Osteria Francescana, where Chef Massimo Bottura tells the food history of this part of Emilia Romagna on each plate he serves. Listed as one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the past four years, Francescana offers an entrée to a complex regional cuisine. My husband and I opted for a nine-course tasting menu of fish from local rivers and estuaries, enriched with echoes of the region’s well-known meats and cheeses. Perhaps the most intriguing plate was a molecular treat of flavors and textures: Parmigiano Reggiano at five ages of maturation, from 12 to 36 months.

"Five ages of Parmigiano reggiano at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy"
Five ages of Parmigiano reggiano

The sommelier recommended a reasonably priced red wine that matched superbly with every course on the menu. After dinner, we were invited to tour the kitchen and wine cellar, and offered a taste of the best of the best: a single drop of highest quality aceto balsamico traditional di Modena.

Visit an acetaio

"Aceto balsamico traditional di Modena"
Aceto balsamico traditional di Modena

Modena is the birthplace of what amounts to an elixir: balsamic vinegar aged in a time-honored manner, in the attics of local producers’ homes. Visiting Acetaia di Georgio was a highlight of my stay in Modena, honing my appreciation of a rare, enigmatic and highly regulated condiment. Aceto balsamico traditional di Modena is not for salad dressing, but rather a piquant condiment to be dribbled in minute quantities over shards of Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, or strawberries, or even vanilla ice cream. Up to 25 years’ aging brings out the flavors imbued by a series of successively smaller barrels made from different woods: juniper, oak, and cherry, to name just three.

Watch Parmigiano reggiano being made

"Parmigiano reggiano from Modena, Italy"
Parmigiano reggiano

The Modena area is the center for production of one of the world’s great cheeses, Parmigiano reggiano. The work that goes into it is as impressive as the cheese itself, and I spent an enjoyable morning observing the process at a local production center. It takes advance planning, so be sure to register your interest with the Consortium for parmigiano reggiano cheese in Modena several weeks in advance.

Sample “cucina della nonna”

"Cucina della nonna"
Cucina della nonna

Trattoria Aldina, a simple lunchtime restaurant housed in two rooms in a building across from the entrance to the Modena market, offers visitors a chance to eat like a local. We followed several workers in bright orange overalls up the stairs, and made our choice from single-sheet menu: tortellini, a platter of sliced pork loin with potatoes, and a side of spinach. Dessert was equally homey: a fruit tart, handmade earlier in the day.

Take a cooking lesson

If you want to get your hands into some flour, eggs and oil, try a cooking class. My one-on-one session with a chef in a restaurant kitchen capped my stay in Modena. On our first evening in town, my husband and I enjoyed the first of many plates of tortellini with balsamic vinegar at Da Danilo, a popular taverna. The pasta packets were stuffed with spinach and ricotta, and folded just so. Two days later, I was in the kitchen with Elena Gramegna, chef at La Piazzetta del Gusto (I) in Nonantola, not far from Modena.

"The perfect tortellini"
The perfect tortellini

It was a hands-on, lively session. As we made the pasta, Elena treated me to local cookery lore, including how thin to roll the dough: “my grandmother always said it should be thin enough to see the church spire through it!”. Soon, she finalized the presentation, poured glasses of wine and joined us for a simple, delectable lunch. Afterward, for a sweet finale, we were treated to a dessert sampler.

"Dessert sample at La Piazzetta del Gusto"
Dessert sample at La Piazzetta del Gusto

A perfect cap to my foodie exploration of Modena!

"Writer Anita Breland"About the Author:
Anita is an avid traveler who delights in sharing her discoveries of cultural traditions around the world. She is on a never-ending quest for good food and the people who make it. Anita’s Feast is her blog about food, art and culture.

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19 thoughts on “Five Foodie Reasons to Visit Modena, Italy”

  1. Great post! Modena is just a few hours away from where I live and makes for a great day trip. I have yet to see Parmesan cheese being made yet though. Your post makes me want to go back!

    1. Oh you should do it! Loved the traditional-but-efficient methods, the aromas of the process at various stages, and especially picking up a kilo of Very Good Parmesan at the shop on my way out.

    1. Emilia Romagna in general is foodie heaven, and Modena is certainly a sweet spot. I think about returning, just about every time dinnertime rolls around!

    1. Osteria Francescana was one of the many highlights of our travels through Emilia Romagna. About half way through our tasting menu, Massimo Bottura came out to talk us around the plate, which was both entertaining and enlightening. Altogether, a wonderful evening!

    1. Lucky you! Living like a local in Italy is one of the most satisfying things going, and we found that the good meals just kept coming in Emilia Romagna.

  2. I would love to know of a spot to take a cooking class while in Modena in October 2015. Any suggestions would help. Internet is not giving me what I am looking for.

    Thanks so much!
    Lisa Baker

  3. Hi Lisa, I’m not sure what you are looking for! My own class was a private session, and I don’t have personal knowledge of any classes in Modena. However, participants in Emilia Romagna’s Blogville Project have also done a lot of cooking, and here is a post from one very satisfied blogger, about a class in Modena: http://bit.ly/1gA4jyu . Perhaps something like this could fit the bill?

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