We’ll begin in the town of Modena, home to beloved Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
For a Golden Day in Modena, begin in the Medieval town’s pedestrian only historic center, which fans out from the Piazza Grande, the 12th century Romanesque Duomo and Tower–a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nearby, is the covered daily Mercato Albinelli, a football-field sized paradise of tidy stalls stocked with tempting greens, fruit, cured and fresh meats and baked goodies, graced by a lovely bronze statue in the center. Stop for a panini at Vino e Panini (Via Albinelli, #13).
Cobblestone streets in the Medieval historic center are lined with shops that sell luscious homemade chocolates, fresh pasta, and countless bottles of their “black gold” — balsamic vinegar. A great stop to buy local products is Enogastronomia Giuseppe Giusti Srl(Via Farini, 75059222533)
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, slip into Pasticceria San Biagio( Via Emilia Centro,77059217284) , that’s been famous for over a hundred years for its outstanding Marrons Glacèes and typical Modenese sweets such as the Barozzi Cake and the Amaretti of St. Geminiano.
Amaretti of St. Geminiano
My most memorable time in Modena was a visit to tour the Acetaia di Giorgio. The acetaia is in the attic of the home of a charming couple–Giorgio Barbieri and his wife Giovanna. The moment Giorgio opened the door I was hit with the eye-watering aroma of fermenting vinegar!
“One conducts an acetaia, a person doesn’t own it… it’s a living thing,” Giorgio told me, as took me up three flights of stairs and showed me around his vinegar loft. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, the genteel, slim retired national volleyball player is a master conductor. Using a giant glass dropper, he meticulously decanted vinegar from one antique barrel to another, while explaining the vinegar-making process he learned from his grandmother, which involves judiciously transferring grape must from year to year to barrels made of different woods, so a variety of flavors is absorbed into the liquid.
Barbieri is one of fifty-five producers approved by a government run consortium to make what is considered “real” balsamic, labeled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, and stamped DOP, which stands for Denomination of Protected Origin. A rigorous testing process must be undergone to meet the consortium’s standards. Barbieri’s vinegars, which he ages from twelve to twenty-five years, have always passed inspection.
“I’ve never had real balsamic vinegar before,” I said, amazed, when I tasted a demitasse spoonful he offered me. The thick, syrupy condiment burst with a balance of sweet and sour flavors that didn’t come close to what’s called balsamic in the states. After seeing the meticulous production process, and the daily dedication this tradition takes, I’ll never balk at paying for the real thing again.
Giovanna made lunch in their downstairs dining room that opens to a garden. Aceto balsamico was featured in every delicious dish, including pumpkin tortellini with sage butter and an arugula and apple salad. This lunch remains up there with one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy!
We had a light dinner that night at Trattoria del Giardinetto (Piazzale Boschetti 1, 059234448), where you can enjoy such classics as Gnocco Fritto di Modena (fried pasta pillows) or housemade tigelle (small savory flatbreads) with cured meats.
For more on the Modena Market, click here for Travels with Tricia’s beautiful Blog Post