Modena, in northern Italy, is known for many things. You can say it has something special for every visitor. Consider its motoring history; Ferrari, Maserati, De Tomaso, and Pagani are all headquartered in Modena. The Enzo Ferrari museum shares the unique history of the man who made the luxury automobile.
In matters cuisine, the town has a special place with the world famous Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano better known as Parmesan Cheese. The town’s restaurants are well known for their tasty cuisines that include cured meats and salamis.
Modena has a rich history, its ancient Roman architecture is stunning, to say the least. The Piazza Grande which is designated a world heritage site, faces the Cathedral of Modena and the Old Town Hall; both are beautiful structures.
Now that you know a little about the town, what is so special about Modena’s Balsamic Vinegar that it warrants a tour? One word; royalty
Another attraction in Modena is the Ducal Palace. It was built in 1634 and stands in the space where the ancient Este Castle stood.
The Estensi Dukes have something to do with the history of Balsamic Vinegar, which can be traced to the 11th century. The Estensi Dukes had great taste, considering that they used Balsamic Vinegar as a royal gift.
Balsamic vinegar is manufactured in factories, but not in the modern factory set-up. The set up is mostly of small operations usually run by grape farmers, making a consortium of balsamic vinegar processors. The local name for a Vinegar factory is Acetaia. The vinegar is special because of the aging process it undergoes. The process takes 12 years or more. Older vinegar is better.
The aging in Modena is still done the traditional way, in ancient barrels. Many of the Balsamic Vinegar factories in the town and its surrounding villages are simple attics.
Booking in advance is essential because a true balsamic vinegar tour includes some tasting. Producers who make the vinegar need to schedule when they will open the barrels for tasting. You can consider taking tours as an individual or in a group. As an individual, you can even take a do-it-yourself tour. Tours are offered by consortiums of the vinegar factories.
Making Balsamic Vinegar is an art. The EU recognizes Balsamic Vinegar and gives it protected status. That means no other vinegar apart from that produced in the Emilia Romagna region can bear the same name. Even the vinegar produced in this area must adhere to the traditional method to use the name Balsamic vinegar.
The people in this region certainly know how to make treats because Parmesan Cheese also enjoys the same protected status by the EU. Balsamic Vinegar is specifically derived from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes and it contains no Balsam despite the name.
The 'Balsam' in the name is derived from a Latin word meaning curative.
If you want to see as much of the aging process as possible, consider visiting when grapes are ripe, and stay for at least 36 hours in Modena. This usually happens between September and November. Then you might see how must is extracted from the grapes and cooked in open vessels.
As the must simmers, it gets more concentrated because it is losing water in form of steam. When it decreases to a third of its original amount, the cooking stops and it is taken to the attic and poured into casks made of wood. The casks are often made of either oak, Juniper, mulberry, cherry or chestnut.
The vinegar ages continually and vintage traditional Balsamic vinegar usually ages for over 25 years. Just outside Modena is the Balsamic Vinegar Museum where you can learn more about this condiment, so special that it was a royal gift in ancient times.
It would be an injustice to visit Modena without sampling its other pleasures too. Make a point to visit the Cathedral of Modena and other historical buildings in town to fully absorb the medieval architecture.
Also remember the food here is special. Take a visit to one of the many restaurants and sit down to take lunch. You can savor a meal that includes Balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. What better way to wind up the tour than popping into the Enzo Ferrari museum to learn a little about the history of the iconic cars and their intriguing creator?
If you are going on a guided tour, it is easy all you need to do is book well in advance to avoid inconviniences. If you plan on a solo, self-guided tour, consider some logistics such as accommodation and transport. If you are driving here is a tip; getting parking space can be a hassle in Modena. However you choose to visit, you will definitely be glad you came.
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