Unexpected connections

On this our last full day in Italy, we were, frankly, just not that keen on more “culture”. A brief foray into the local cathedral in Modena, where there was a service in progress, drove us back out into the sunshine, much as we were impressed by the ancient construction.

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Some of the stuff in this building going back to the 11th century!

Fleeting consideration of a trip to the Ferrari museum… Enzo’s house and all. But really, are we that interested in cars? And anyway, tomorrow the 100 years of Maserati exhibition is coming “live” to the town square, which one assumes means a convoy of really vintage cars! So we’ll stop by the square before we leave.  Maybe more car photos tomorrow?

A few things remain vaguely interesting. The local wine – Lambrusco – a light and sparkling light reddish wine that we tried with dinner; the whole balsamic vinegar thing, and the Parmigiano Reggiano that are all very much part of the local food scene.

A discussion at tourist information secured us an afternoon appointment at one of the vinegaries… Is there such a word? “Acetaia” a “house of vinegar” I think it is.

Cheese tours are only available twice a year… But we pottered down to the fabulous local fresh market and bought ourselves a hunk of 24 month aged Parmesan to nibble on through the day. Tomorrow we will get the 36 month one to sustain us on the journey to Milan airport!  The market is full of the most wonderful fresh sights and smells…

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On a whim we decided to break the car out of its privileged parking position in the LTZ (low traffic zone) with the historic precinct of the city, and armed with our map, found ourselves a morning tour of a wine museum and winery that has been in production since 1794.

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Although we’re arriving unannounced, the nice young man escorted us around the museum – the boss collects stuff, he says… A lot of stuff! Ranging from wine related curiosities, through a range of vehicles (the Mickey Mouse Fiat from the 30s, as well as early (but not that early) Maserati and Ferrari… Plus the bike that Pantini rode before he was famous – he was sponsored originally by the family Giacobazzi, as was Gilles Villeneuve who drove for Ferrari… A whole pile of F1 memorabilia…

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Over a few glasses of the sponsor’s product, we shared travel experiences. Our host had just returned from holiday – a road trip of over 5,000 miles around what he termed “Eastern Europe”, from Istanbul, through Serbia, Bosnia, Hungary, etc etc.

Where are we heading to… Rwanda, you know, in Central Africa, the gorillas, big monkeys…. Oh yes, he says, I lived in the Congo for two years, just got back in January… And now my boss sends me to Africa to represent our product a lot. Recently been to Angola, and off to South African next month…. Wow, not bad for an Italian lad in a tiny village outside Modena! We felt we should buy some wine… A lovely light dry refreshing and really RED Lambrusco of the house…. €3.45! Wow!

So then on to Villa San Donnino, one of the balsamic houses of Modena, an industry that is just as, if not more, strongly controlled and restricted a the French wine production. Yet, on the other hand, a genuine cottage industry.

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In the attic of the house – always the attic, to aid the fermentation – a room full of barrels, with a simple but elegant process of topping up from one barrel to the next, just once a year, until the production is skimmed off the smaller barrel in each set, but only from a minimum of 12 years after the line was started, for the “traditional” (or 25 years for the extra vecchio).

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And then the production can only be bottled if the five expert tasters of the co-operative agree that it is up to standard! And then only in specified bottles, 100ml each… At cellar door prices of €40 for the 12+ year, €70 for the 25+ year! and at this house! a special bottling of just a few bottles each year of a 100+ year line! discovered when the current family bought the estate in 1947, it having been occupied by Nazi forces during the war.

The tradition originally was that the family started a new set each time a daughter was born, and that the barrels (and contents) became her dowry. There are two private sets in this attic… One for Emma Isabel, a special baby born to the family in 2010 and the other for Oliver, the grandson of a Norwegian visitor who persuaded (and paid) the owner to set up a line for him. He visits each year with the estate owner to do the topping up of the barrels together.

This is “story food” at its finest! I take a special photo of Emma Isabel’s barrels… Thinking of my own special Isabel Emma, counting the days until Ouma and Peter get home. Love you, Izzy!

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Our experience ends with a tasting… A range of products, sadly not the precious 100+ year option. The tastes are astonishing. I will never look at balsamic in the same way again. The “cheap” 6 year option – not endorsed by the cooperative, but finding favour with chefs, served on vanilla ice cream – now that’s coming home with me!

So the “tastes of Modena” experience has been further expanded today… All that remains is to return to the fabulous little trattoria we can see out of our room window, for another final tasting of their fabulous tortelloni, stuffed with spinach and ricotta and drizzled with balsamic, which today we shall appreciate all the more!

we get the car back to its privileged position… Thankful for Peter’s fine driving skills through these streets not designed for cars at all… this the view through the (dirty) windscreen as we near our lodgings….

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And on a completely unrelated but really “must share” note, this is Modena’s version of Postman Pat!  I did chuckle…

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I have been trying to come up with an Italian equivalent name for a postie in a bumblebee car!  Will keep you “posted” on that one.

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