Life in Modena, Italy – History, food, vinegars and wines

Emila Romagna is the second most-visited area in Italy. Modena, one of its most visited towns, features history going back to Julius Ceasor and Mark Anthony to modern day Michelin Chefs.

A colorful Modena street | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

MODENA, ITALY,  July 17, 2017 – Visiting Modena, Italy travelers will find all the charm of a small-town in Northern lo stivale (the boot) where people leisurely walk along cobblestone streets in the early summer heat while enjoying gelato — fresh, rich and creamy, as it should be.

As a base of regional travel through northern ItalyModena (pronounced Mo-dah-nah) is located in the Emila Romagna province. Three airports — located in Bologna, Rimini, and Parma — can bring you to this quaint medieval town.

Once in Modena, the Trenitalia train, clean and comfortable, can take you on day trips to Venice (90 minutes), Florence (45 minutes) or Rome in two hours, making Modena a base of exploration for 8.8 million people, according to the Emilia Romagna tourism bureau, that arrive to explore northern Italy every year.

Modena Night Life | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Emila Romagna is the second most-visited area in Italy and while the city of Modena offers numerous properties, from the budget basic to moderate and luxury accommodations, however, the Central Park Hotel is highly recommended, as it is conveniently located in walking distance of the city’s numerous sites and restaurants.

The boutique hotel is comfortable for tourists looking for amenities from Wi-Fi to flat-screen TVs. They also serve a traditional Italian breakfast buffet filled with parma ham, prosciutto, cheeses, bread, fruits, sweet pastries, and more.

Hotel Central Park | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

For Americans traveling to the area, lunch is a two-hour affair, and most stores are closed from noon to 2 p.m. daily. Grab a box lunch from one of the many streetside shops and head to the Ducal Gardens to sit amongst history still very much alive.

In 1598 Duke Cesare transformed an area along the old castle fence into the Ducal garden arranged in the style of the Renaissance garden. In 1634 the lodge, designed by Vigarani, was finished in a manner typical of the seventeenth-century architecture.

The lodge at the Ducal Gardens | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

After a period of neglect, during the reign of Francesco III a part of the garden was transformed into the botanical gardens and today the garden is characterized by the original design and by the elegant lodge.

The town of Modena has 20 beautiful churches, including the historic basilica, the Duomo of Modena, to the Synagogue, located inside the area that once held the city’s ancient Jewish ghetto that serves the towns Jewish population.

The Chiostri di San Pietro, or the Cloisters of San Pietro Benedictines, is a former Monastery belonged to the Benedictine monks who officiated in the annexed Church of San Pietro. The monastic complex features remarkable courtyards and gardens adorned with religious statuary.

The Cloisters | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

The small Cloister, with its typical Renaissance layout was built in 1524 by Bartolomeo Spani and Leonardo Pacchioni and some of the original wall and ceiling paintings, those not covered over by lime in the 1950s, are still visible.

The Clositers | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

The great cloister was built in 1584 with impressive facades covered by the high loggia and thickly decorated with statues and windows.  The cloisters were recently restored and are home to art exhibitions and special events.

The Corso Duomo of Modena was built as a final resting place for the city’s patron saint Geminiano (312-397 A.D.]. Sitting on the Grand Piazza, historical guides at the church say that the church is considered to be the Modena’s greatest treasure.

Duomo de Modena | Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews 

The burial site of Saint Geminianus, Modena’s patron saint, led to the destruction of two earlier churches and the construction of the Duomo in 1099, consecrated by Pope Lucius III on July 12, 1184. The initial design and direction were provided by an architect known as Lanfranco, little else is known about this architect. Lanfranco, created the architectural style now known as Romanesque, in his design of the church.

The Saint’s remains are still exhibited in the cathedral’s crypt

Excavations of the building in 2006 showed that materials from the Roman enclave of Mutina connect Modena with the earliest of Roman history, including Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian and Caesar.

The excavation showed the stone materials from Mutina were used in the cladding, or covering, for the building’s exterior.

There are modifications to the original structure, like the magnificent rose window, carried out by the architect Maestri Campionesi who worked on the basilica from about 1170 to 1320.

Further restorations were made after the building was partially damaged by WWII bombs.

Four large reliefs by Wiligelmo an Italian sculptor, active between c. 1099 and 1120, symbolize the renaissance of art after the medieval centuries. Wiligelmo carved the Creation and Temptation of Adam and Eve reliefs at the west facade of the Duomo di Modena.

Wilmengo’s Frieze depcting the story of Adam and Eve | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Wiligelmo’s name is known due to an inscription over the foundation date on the Modena cathedral’s façade in that reads, in Latin: “How greatly you are respected amongst sculptors, Wiligelmo, is now shown by your work.”

While Modena’s Basilica is a bridge to history reaching back before the birth of Christ, some of our greatest artists and inventors in more modern times come from the Emilia Regina province.

Moviemakers Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, scientist Guglielmo Marconi, designer Giorgio Armani and chef Massimo Bottura are all native sons of the region.

Geographically unique to the region are the PDO (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or “protected geographical indication”) foods Prosciutto di Parma Ham, Parmigianino-Reggiano cheese and traditional balsamic vinegar.

Modena’s can trace its history of balsamic vinegar back to the XI century when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III was given a silver bottle of balsamic as a royal gift from the royal family, the Estensi Dukes of Modena.

Today, balsamic vinegar can be priced for as little as a few dollars for a bottle to more than $200 an ounce in the U.S. because, quite simply, not all balsamic vinegar is equal.

For balsamic vinegar to be the true traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, it has to be made from whole, pressed, sweet white grapes — including skin, seeds and stems — which have been late harvested from the vines of Modena, cooked over a direct heat and simmered to one-third of its original volume, being left to ferment.

As the vinegar ages, it becomes thicker as liquid is reduced through evaporation through the porous barrel staves. The vinegar waits for 12 years to become vecchio (old), bottled with a silver cap labeled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale; or extra vecchio, the 25-year vintage traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena that has a gold cap.

Vinegar of Modena | Images by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

When in the area, plan a visit to Agriturismo Opera 02, set among the vineyards of the Emilia Romagna countryside. The property offers luxury accommodations and amenities.

The elegant dinner venue overlooks the picturesque vineyards and rolling hills of the region. The pasta is made in house and the dishes are created using ingredients that are grown on its own property.

Dinner at Opera 02 | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

When making reservations for dinner or an overnight stay ask if you can see the balsamic batteria and wine operations. Before you leave, choose your favorite balsamic vinegar or Lambrusco wine made from the very vines you see from your table, and at a fraction of the cost found in the U.S.

Michelin 2017 restaurant Cafe Art E Mestieri is a culinary highlight for Modena. Chef Gianni D’Amato where traditonal regional foods are served with a flourish.  A multi course meal that included a regional spinach and parmigiana cheese appetizer followed by an asperagus tortellini and mixed salad, features quality regional wines, including a Venturini Baldini ‘Quaranta’ red Lambrusco Spumante from the Emilia-Romagna region.

When in Modena eat like a native at Da Danilo Restaurante, located in easy, and safe, walking distance to the Duomo and The Hotel Central to experience the traditional pastas and warm welcome one would expect from the neighborhood trattoria.

The menu is traditional, based on the freshest vegetables and classic pasta that change daily.

Da Danilo is Modena’s most popular trattoria (make a reservation). The culatello (sliced meats including Parma ham, dried salami, and cheeses) come to the table fresh and plentiful.

The meal is a progression of regional pastas.

The meal starter is Da Danilo’s version of a regional dish, a vegetable flan, a baked dish filled with savory vegetables including spinach and kale. Fresh parmesan cheese is added and it is prepared “impastato” (or finely chopped), baked in the oven “ban-marie” (or in a water bath to provide additional moisture) then wrapped in a pasta sheet.

Pasta at Da Danilo | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

The dish is then covered with a four-Formaggio (elemental, gorgonzola, parmesan and Reggiano cheese) sauce to create a starter that is light and flavorful.

Small pillows of pumpkin tortellini, rich and buttery, speak to Italy’s food heritage where the pumpkin has long been relegated to the common person.

Traditional pasta at Da Danilo – Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

Tagliatelle pasta is traditional ribbon pasta from the Northern Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. The pasta is thinner than a linguini yet robust enough to stand up to the deep flavors of the restaurant’s pork meat sauce.

What is immediately obvious about regional pasta dishes is that the sauce is thick, neither salty or sugary, and filled with the flavors of crushed tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It clings to the pasta, making every bite a culinary delight.

And, of course, there are the chunks of regional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese drizzled with their own brand of balsamic vinegar and fresh fruit that finish the meal.

Before you leave, ask to purchase a bottle of the Da Danilo house brand balsamic vinegar to take home.

Despite a robust meal, there is always room for gelato.

Just next door to Da Danilo, stop by Emila Cremeria for a selection of desserts that includes a remarkably light and buttery brioche stuffed with gelato and topped with whipped cream. Or get a simple cone stuffed with any one or more scoops of gelato, made fresh every day in the store without the use of hydrogenated fats or artificial coloring agents.

Emilia Cremaria | Image by Jacquie Kubin @CommDigiNews

What this creamy treat is filled with is fresh organic milk, fresh fruit, brown sugar, all IGP and DOP certified, meaning that the raw organic materials come from the region. Making it all the more special, choose light or dark chocolate, drizzled inside the cone before the gelato is generously scooped in.

With gelato in hand (the mint makes a nice digestive), a leisurely walk returns you back to the Central Park Hotel for a night’s sleep overlooking the cool, tree-lined street.

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