When you hear the words “Modena, Italy” what immediately comes to mind depends on your passions. If what pops into your mind is a flashy red sports car, then you know this to be the birth place of the Ferrari. If, on the other hand you enjoy a good balsamic vinegar or dream of sitting down with a lovely bottle of wine over a platter of cured meat and cheese, then gourmet foods come to mind. From some of the flashiest and fastest race cars in the world to food that will satisfy gourmet tastes, Modena is that place to go in order to savor all things Italian.
During our visit the board of tourism was offering a bus from Bologna that arrived in Modena and followed several routes around Modena. The bus routes enabled us to pick and choose where we wanted to go, including routes that focused in on food and wine tasting or other routes that took you to all things Ferrari. We decided on a combination of the two.
On the first stop we dove directly into an area of which we had little experience (despite being wine lovers) – Lambrusco wine. And, as it turns out, there’s good reason for that. Lambrusco is a sparkling wine that runs from dry to quite sweet. It’s very popular in Northern Italy because it pairs very well with the fatty meats and cheeses that the region is so famous for producing. Unfortunately, Lambrusco’s introduction to the US market in the 1970’s was a complete disaster. It was actually packaged in cans and became known as “Italian Cola.” I’ll have to admit that I was skeptical as our guide poured me a sample of the pink bubbling beverage.
Despite having two strikes against it – the first being pink, and the second was it was well before noon, I decided to give it a try. Why not? And actually, I’ll have to say that it wasn’t overly sweet and very light and refreshing. However, the darker variety that was a bit drier was more to our liking. So much so that by the end of the day, we had a bottle in our bag to enjoy later.
A Museum…of Ham
After an early day of wine tasting, our next stop was gratefully a tasting of a different sort. The bus pulled up in front of the “Museum of Ham.” Here we were walked through a presentation of what makes pork products so special. In sum, in order to make a good product, you need happy well fed pigs, fresh locally sourced herbs and seasonings and several generations of small producers who have perfected the curing process. The results – spectacular.
After all of our sampling we decided to duck into the Ferrari museum. Here car enthusiasts and racing fans can spend hours worshiping all things Ferrari. You can even try your hand at driving one. Well, on a simulated track in a small model car. And while I not enough of an enthusiast to shell out an extra 20 Euros for the pleasure, it was fun to watch people careening into things while an exasperated attendant waved his arms and barked out instructions. The impact the coaching had on their driving skills was minimal at best, but it certainly made the visit more fun for me.
The tour offered a visit to the former home of the famed opera star, Luciano Pavarotti. While the bus slowed nobody decided to jump off – maybe in anticipation of the next few stops where more tastings were being offered.
Balsamic Vinegar from Modena
Our next stop was the one I was most looking forward to – visiting a vineyard and farm making Modena’s famous balsamic vinegar. Here the smell of the rich sweet vinegar filled our noses as we entered rooms with barrel after barrel of the prized condiment.
We learned that each year a “mother” barrel is produced. The barrels have a hole in the top that is opened and covered with a cloth to allow the vinegar to evaporate. Barrels from previous years are topped off from barrels of previous vintages. This process has been continuing for over a hundred years, allowing us the pleasure of sampling vinegars that had been cultivated before we were born.
In the Emilia-Romagna area (of which Modena is part) Balsamic vinegar isn’t just something that you add to your salad. The sweet aged vinegar is used on cheese and fruits, as a marinade for pork dishes and even on ice cream. In the tasting room we were able to sample balsamic vinegars that were infused with a variety of flavors including peach, lemongrass, and my favorite – truffles. But our favorite taste was the dark chocolate and balsamic (chocolate) truffle – a perfect way to end our visit.
And Of Course, More Wine
When the bus pulled into the next stop we thought we were in for another standard winery tour and tasting. That was far from what we found. Here the owner’s passion for all things Modena seemed to have grown to heights that I would describe as “delightfully out of control.”
There were rooms piled with antique farm equipment used to cultivate the revered grape. Another room contained a mini Ferrari museum and another dedicated to Italian bike racing. Below the expansive showrooms was a cellar where wine was aging away to perfect. This included a smaller collection of wines that were being aged with yeast in the bottle – similar to the making of champagne in France.
The proprietors enthusiasm was then directed to the tasting. He directed each bottle that we sampled, trying each one to make sure that it was “just right.” By the end, he ditched the formality and just poured himself a glass and joined in.
We loaded back into the van and headed back to Bologna, each carrying a bottle (ok, two) of Lambrusco to savor later and reflect on our time in Modena. Now we know what the fuss about the land of fast cars and slow food is all about. But how could we leave Emilia-Romagna without sampling some Parmesano-Regiano or tasting some artisan gelato? You don’t think for a second that we would, did you?
Here are additional resources and information about traveling and tasting wine in Italy that you might enjoy:
For more information about taking this tour, including transportation to and from Bologna Italy, visit the “Discover Ferrari and Pavarotti Land” site.
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Some of the links on this article are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and make a purchase, we receive a small referral fee. If you find the links useful and do make a purchase, thanks so much for your support!