Whereas Bologna has unsung food heroes, there is little doubt where Modena’s claim to fame lies: it’s embedded in a culinary star, the fine art of DOP balsamic vinegar production. It becomes clear after today that what we know as balsamic outside of Modena bears only a passing resemblance to the real thing.
But before we experience the delights of balsamic, there’s another star here. It’s the home town of Enzo Ferrari, the musuem devoted to his career and Ferrari’s trajectory through the racing world. Petrol head heaven it may well be, but for me they will always be cars that go “meow” as they zoom past: things of sleek feline lines, rather than the engineering masterpieces they also clearly are.
First on the tour is a fest of engines across all the racing disciplines.
There are men here, eyes are shining with excitement, as they pore over every detail, fiercely debating one design over the other with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of how each engine performed in certain races. What strikes me about the engines, is how extraordinarily different they are from one design to the next – completely deconstructed and reconstructed in a form that bears little resemblance to prior models.
It goes some way to explaining why the racing industry is so expensive to participate in.
Also in this area is a timeline of Enzo Ferrari’s life from first communion to final birthday celebrations – this is much more my speed.
I have a moment’s panic when I think the museum is engines alone, but there’s a later, timed entry into the main display where the Ferraris are kept. Behind the red curtain, I’m in sports car bliss.
The current display focuses on women and Ferraris across film, racing, royalty, literature and celebrity.
Lucky for me these girls like their sports cars, and these cars are swoon worthy. Oh for an unlimited car budget. I satisfy myself with taking photos and admiring them from relatively up close, but afar.
I’m torn picking a favourite but it’s probably one of those two. Or perhaps both. Mind you, there’s barely a car here I wouldn’t happily skip away with…
We also see a film about Enzo’s life, part historical footage, part reenactment, set to a moving score.
The whole experience is very well executed, I’m really pleased we went.
Ferrari musuem thoroughly toured, we walk into Modena’s Piazza Grande, admiring its lovely architecture along the way. Pride of place goes to the Duomo e Torre Ghirlandina,
opposite, the Palazzo Communale.
There’s time for a quick bite of lunch – a bit tricky this time of year so many places are closed. It’s nice enough, but nowhere near the culinary delights Bologna had to offer.
Post lunch, there’s only one thing on my mind: balsamic vinegar. Whilst we could do a full tour at a farm 20 minutes out of Modena, I’m happy enough with the tasting room in town. Our knowledgeable guide brings us up to speed. Modena is the only place DOP balsamic is made, and only in round 100ml bottles, with hand blown stoppers. We learn that balsamic comes from just a handful of production houses, originating from cooked grape must, aged in ever reducing barrels for either 12 years as a minimum, or 25 years for the next grading. It’s only ever used as a finishing touch of flavour in everything from strawberries and icecream to risottos, parmesan and steak. Everything else, literally everything else outside of these tiny round bottles, is commercial production, not the original DOP product.
We arrange a tasting across a series of production houses, in both age brackets, aged in different types of oak.
It’s the second swoon worthy event of the day. The flavours are so intense, so divine, they immediately go into the list of “best things I’ve ever tasted”. I’m sure you don’t need telling that I couldn’t walk away without a bottle… and the card to order more for international shipping. It pales all other commercial balsamics into a distant “also ran” place. Just as well the flavour is so intense – I work out later that the cost runs at around $1,000 a litre. It’s worth every penny.
With delicious balsamic in tow, I skip all the way home, through the gardens, past the Plazzina Vigarani.
It’s extraordinary isn’t it, how you can splash balsamic around your whole cooking life, not understanding that you’re using an impostor, a mere nod to the original.