Modena Food Guide – Where And What To Eat In Modena Italy
Modena Food Guide
The cuisine of Modena is legendary. It’s just that most travelers to Italy don’t know that the most typical Italian food products come from this small city in North-Central Italy. We’ve visited Modena Italy at least a half dozen times and it is the food that we crave. It’s why we created this Modena Food Blog, to help travelers understand what and where to eat in Modena.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
How To Visit Modena Italy For Food
Modena is the home to Slow Food and Fast Cars. Sure, the city is most known for its production of luxury cars, but for people who travel for food a visit to this lovely Italian city should be focused on eating amazing Modena cuisine and learning about the production of some of the most famous Italian food products. This Modena guide will help travelers not only to understand what dishes and products to eat in Modena, but how to experience the gastronomy of the region.Traveling to Modena? Check out our Modena Travel Blog and Guide
What To Eat In Modena Italy
When it comes to the food in Modena there are a handful of must-eat dishes, but there are also some famous Italian food products that come from Modena that should be eaten. I will share what these products are and how to taste them.
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP – The King of Cheese
What is Modena famous for? Cheese! Parmigiano Reggiano is a DOP-certified product and nothing like the generic “parmesan” found in supermarkets in the United States. Because of its DOP classification, cheese makers in Italy must follow specific rules to certify the cheese as Parmigiano Reggiano, rather than just regular old parmesan.
The consortium’s rules and regulations cover not only the proper feeding of the dairy cows, but they also maintain an approved list of producers who can provide the feed. The rules also cover production standards, and regulations for fire branding the Parmigiano Reggiano mark.
In order to be deemed DOP Parmigiano Reggiano, the cheese can only be produced in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, or Bologna. There are over 350 dairies certified by the consortium as well as more than 3,500 cow breeders who can provide the milk.
The process used to make Parmigiano Reggiano creates a cheese different from a lot of others, to the point that even lactose-intolerant people can eat it. It is so good, and so special, it rightfully deserves the name “The King of Cheeses.”
Prosciutto di Modena
Most people are familiar with prosciutto or what is also known as Parma ham. The most famous of these ham products is Prosciutto di Parma, from the next city to the west of Modena. But, Modena produces its own cured ham called Prosciutto di Modena. Trying prosciutto while eating in Modena is important, regardless of whether it is di Modena or di Parma, but most Modena restaurant menus will say which it is. Both types of cured ham are DOP-registered products, and must follow strict guidelines to be branded with that label.
To a layman it would be hard to tell the difference between the two types of DOP prosciutto, from Parma and Modena. They each have a consortium (Modena’s is actually older) that protects quality. They each come from Italian raised pigs. They are each salted and cured, but Prosciutto di Modena must be aged at least 14 months, not 12, as in Parma. The Prosciutto di Modena is also fire branded, with a large P and a small m, in place of the Prosciutto di Parma crown.
Most restaurants in Modena offer a local cured meats and cheeses as a starter, or antipasto. Generally, this platter is served with bread, but it is unlike most typical bread that is placed on a table at the start of a meal. One of the most popular ways to eat cured meat in Modena is with gnocco fritto, a deep fried puff of bread popular in and around Modena. The bread is sliced open in order to pop a slice of prosciutto inside. The best gnocco fritto is served warm, so the bread melts the meat just a bit.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Balsamic vinegar, aged balsamics, and balsamic glazes have been the rage recently in the States and Europe. A whole range of different balsamic vinegars are available in supermarkets and gourmet deli stores. You can use it to dress a salad, drizzle it over a nice chunk of cheese, or even use it to make desserts and cocktails. But, this is not the Modena balsamic vinegar.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is the traditional, aged Modena vinegar. It is light years away from the supermarket versions. The consortium that regulates Balsamico di Modena sets the standards in the region. There are two DOP versions of Modenese balsamic. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena Affinato (or aged), must be a minimum of 12 years. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena Extra Vecchio (or extra old), must be aged a minimum of 25 years.
How To Purchase Aceto Balsamico In Modena
The consortium also dictates the rules for bottling and labeling the two DOP products. The involvement of the consortium in the bottling process ensures that all producers use the exact same shaped bottle, with the same color top, either orange or gold, depending on the age. This helps the consumer distinguish between the DOP product and lesser-quality vinegars.
Other, cheaper balsamic may seem better than table vinegar from the supermarket, but unless it is approved by the consortium, there is no way of knowing its quality. It may include sugars, or caramel, or other additives to make it sweeter or thicker, or to give it the right color.
Many tourist shops around Emilia Romagna will sell balsamic vinegar and call it Balsamico di Modena. They may even add product numbers, or lot numbers, to make it seem official. But if it is not in the official bottle, with the official consortium seal, it is not the official black gold of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP.
The registered and regulated Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, the good stuff, generally sells for €50 for affinato and €80, or more, for extravecchio. Not an investment easily made, but definitely worth the money if you really, really want to treat yourself to a little piece of luxury. Anything cheaper than these prices, or sold in a bottle that is not labeled by the consortium, is not the real deal.
Must-Eat Pasta Dishes In Modena
Of course, no visit to Italy is complete without eating pasta. And, there are some pastas that are unique to Modena and to Emilia Romagna that food travelers must try.
One of the pasta dishes that will be most familiar to Americans is tortelloni, a small half-moon shaped pasta pinched at one end. They are generally stuffed with cheese or meat. In Emilia, it is common to find tortelloni in a cream sauce, or slathered in butter and topped with sage.
Another version that’s commonly served in Emilia, which is very popular, is tortelloni drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with local Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The savory flavor of the pasta is offset perfectly by the sweet taste of the balsamic vinegar. This is a great way to try two of the most famous typical Italian products from Modena.
Tortellini and Tortelli
What, then, is the difference between tortelloni and tortellini? Or what about tortelloni and tortelli? This can be pretty confusing. In Italian, anytime the letters “ini” are added at the end of a word, it means smaller. Tortellini is a smaller version of tortelloni. It can also be confusing because many Italian restaurant menus in the States use the word tortellini more generically, referring to the larger version of this pasta. But, in Emilia Romagna, there is a big difference. Tortelli, on the other hand, is slightly larger than the tortelloni. Similar shapes, in three different sizes.
The most common way to eat tortellini is in a light broth, particularly during the winter months. This dish, tortellini in brodo, is also a must-eat dish for Christmas. Outside of the winter months it is common to find tortellini also in a cream sauce, although traditionalists claim brodo to be the only way to serve tortellini. And, it is almost always filled with meat, with the official recipe including a mix of pork loin, mortadella, prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Tagliatelle is a pasta that can often be confused with many other Italian pasta shapes, including fettuccine and pappardelle, as they are each different variations of a similar pasta. Tagliatelle is made by rolling out the pasta until it is so thin you can almost see through it. Then, the pasta is cut with a knife to make it the perfect thickness. If you accidentally make it too wide, it turns out to be pappardelle. Too thin, and it is tagliolini.
Regardless of its width, in this case, it is best served in Modena with meat ragù, a typical Bolognese sauce. As much as this is a dish most associated with Bologna, it is on most restaurant menus in Modena as well. This is one of Eric’s favorite things to eat in Modena!
Passatelli is particular to Emilia Romagna, and virtually unheard of outside of Italy. It is a traditional pasta that is thicker than many other pastas, and has a more dense taste to it. As dense as it is, it is more delicate than it appears.
Passatelli is made with Parmigiano Reggiano, bread crumbs, egg, flour, and sometimes nutmeg. All of the ingredients are slowly folded into one another to form a dough. The mixture is run through a press, similar to a potato ricer, to form its eel-like shape. There is a texture, or a roughness, to the pasta, which allows the sauce to hold onto it more than a smooth pasta would. Part of the texture is due to the fact that no water is added into the pasta mixture, which is typical of many pasta dishes from Emilia Romagna.
In Modena, it’s most common to find passatelli served in a broth, which is the traditional preparation. However, you can also find passatelli served “dry,” without a broth, often mixed with fresh vegetables or meats.
Imagine a corner gelateria with a dozen or more vats of gelato in exotic flavors like Nutella, crema, pistachio, and stracciatella. The gelato is whipped and piled high in plastic tubs, often with wisps of bright red strawberry, or bright purple blueberry, peaking through. Some vats might include bright blue Smurf-like colors with rainbow colored candies. Most people select their flavors based on what looks good, but boy are they mistaken.
There is so much more to quality gelato in Italy than you might guess. There is a trend in Emilia Romagna right now where many gelateria are becoming specialists in artisan gelato. But, how do you tell whether gelato is of the highest quality; if it’s what might be called “artisan” gelato?
First, an artisan gelateria will only use natural products and no artificial flavors, preservatives, or colors. With no artificial coloring or flavoring, the gelato is not going to be bright red or purple, unless it is due to fresh fruits being added. Second, pay attention to how the gelato is stored in the shop. Artisan gelato makers store their gelato not in giant vats, open to the air and the elements, but deep inside the counter top, temperature controlled, and covered by a metal lid. This storage method controls the temperature so the gelato is not exposed to oxygen or light.
Recommended Modena Gelato Shops
With locations across the region including one in Modena and Parma, Emilia Cremeria is a reliable choice for gelato. Using only natural raw materials and quality ingredients, they make their gelato daily at each of their locations. Unlike other gelato “chains” they refuse to make their gelato in industrial laboratories with unnatural processes. No hydrogenated fats or artificial colorings are used.
Gelateria Bloom in Modena
Bloom is another artisan gelateria, just around the corner from Emilia Cremeria’s Modena location. A little smaller, and often with a line out the door. In addition to gelato, Bloom serves Sorrento lemon granita. They have vegan options as well.
Gelateria Pomposa in Modena
If staying closer to Parc Novi Sad, Gelateria Pomposa is a little neighborhood gelateria that offers amazing value and high quality gelato and granita. Flavors are written in chalk on the board, with typical flavors as well as rotating specials.
What To Drink In Modena – Lambrusco
When it comes to Modena wine one variety stands out – Lambrusco. Lambrusco is a wine made from an ancient grape that is seeing a Renaissance of sorts. There are many varieties of Lambrusco produced, some of which can taste similar to Champagne to an untrained palette; some of them are entirely different. It makes Lambrusco exploration in Emilia Romagna that much more interesting.
The History of Lambrusco
Lambrusco is a wine that many people are wholly unfamiliar with, depending on their age. For Generation X, who likely came to drinking age in the 1990s, Lambrusco was unheard of. The Italian wine world had been conquered by Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. This generation was too young to really remember Lambrusco the first time it was popular in the U.S.
With more seasoned wine drinkers in the market, winemakers have an uphill battle as they try to rehabilitate the name of Lambrusco. Apparently, in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was marketed to the disco crowd as red or pink Champagne. It was cheap. It was bubbly. It was trendy.
What Is Lambrusco Today
I like to say Lambrusco is having a bit of a Renaissance because many of the wines drank in and around Modena don’t bear a resemblance to what people drank in the disco era.
There are several varieties of Lambrusco, depending on the type of grape and the region where it is grown. Most widely produced in the hills surrounding Modena, it also grows in nearby Reggio Emilia and even in Parma and Lombardy. There are four DOC varietals, including Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, and Lambrusco di Modena.
It is possible to buy a decent bottle of Lambrusco for as little as €5. This is one benefit of drinking wine in Italy, where wines are found at a much better value than in the U.S. It’s also possible to find a wine for as little as €3, but there is quite a difference in quality just within this price range. So splurge and pay the extra €2.
Lambrusco Metodo Classico
Some winemakers are trying to change the perception of Lambrusco, by making it more upscale. Traditionally, Lambrusco is made by fermenting the wine in big metal tanks until it sparkles. A few winemakers in Emilia Romagna, though, are starting to make fantastic Lambrusco with the traditional Champagne method, or metodo classico. These wines, produced metodo classico, are sometimes not even red in color like normal Lambrusco. Instead, they look more like Champagne. Although Lambrusco metodo classico is priced higher than other versions, it is a great value in comparison to Champagne.
Modena’s Mercato Albinelli
Mercato Albinell in Modena is a traditional market, which caters to the locals. As far as markets in Europe go, the Modena food market is not huge. It is a pretty compact space, but it holds many magical stands in its petite building. The architecture and lighting help to highlight how fresh the foods are. And, it’s possible you could end up rubbing shoulders with world-famous Modena chef Massimo Bottura.
Along the edges of the Modena market are specialized stalls, with descriptive names like the Casa del Formaggi (House of Cheese). Other stalls specialize in the local speciality, horse meat, with amazing deep red hues of the flesh. Depending on the season it is possible to see (and smell) heaping baskets of fresh mushrooms of different shapes and sizes, fresh black and white truffles, and other local delicacies. A corner wine stand offers bottles of local wine for next to nothing.
The prepared foods are freshly and beautifully displayed. If you’re in the mood for a picnic, pick up fresh pasta or salads, a bit of prosciutto, and other cured meats, along with some Italian cheese and bread.
The Mercato Albinelli operates Monday through Saturday from 6:30 am – 2:30 pm, and again Saturday afternoons during the winter months from 4:30 pm – 7:00 pm. The market is closed on Sundays. It is located in a smaller square, just steps from the Duomo, or main cathedral, of Modena.