Ryan, Sami, and I fetched our car and drove off to Modena, leaving La Spezia and Cinque Terre behind.
Sami drove while Ryan navigated over the winding hills and valleys until we got to the Emilia-Romagna region. We were in a rush, trying to get to the Pagani factory four our 11 am tour in English. I loved driving through the countryside, and saw cranes and a hare off in the fields. We got to Pagani only 15 minutes late, but they allowed us to join the tour. We stood in the factory itself, where they make the cars by hand, just 40 per year (up from just 20 per year in their old, smaller factory). Mr Pagani is also Mr Carbon Fibre, with what seems to be the whole car out of carbon fibre. Even in the main lobby, carbon fibre tiles were set into the floor. The tour guide said that the base price was €1.3 million for some models, with the sky the limit due to customers’ customization – the top price was somewhere near €3 million! Owners will sometimes have to ship their cars to the factory to be serviced, and some even store their cars at the factory. The factory itself was pristine, and there was a section behind windows where the workers layer the carbon fibre pieces and mold them with heat – if there is any imperfection, the part is destroyed.
We stayed a while after the tour, looking at the cars in the showroom, one of which was the car #5 of just 5 made. There was an Italian family that had ‘Supplier’ passes instead of our ‘Visitor’ passes, and they were talking to some middle-aged short guy – Mr Pagani himself! We awkwardly stared at him before we left. As we got into our car outside, he waved at us from his bicycle as he pedaled away. We freaked out. Then after we made 2 turns to get to Modena, we saw him again in front of us, and Sami was careful not to hit him, since he wasn’t wearing a helmet!
The three of us got to our hostel and left our bags. We stayed at the same hostel where Tomiko and I stayed back in 2008 – only this time we had a private 3-bed room. Parking, with a pass from the hostel, is free on the street in places demarcated by blue lines.
We then walked into town! The imposing Duomo di Modena bordered a square where we eventually found lunch under a blistering sun. Our chosen restaurant seemed a place where local workers were enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch with a drink for €15. We sad amidst local families with kid, or groups of coworkers from nearby businesses.
The spread was typically Modenese: we ate tortellini with ham; pasta with saffron; pork in a creamy sauce with mushrooms and asparagus; various salads with orange-yolked eggs, butter, arugula, or prosciutto; fried gnocchi; tiramisu; panna cotta; deliciously ripe watermelon; and a typical Modenese sausage called cotechino – beautifully red, tender, and succulent. We fully enjoyed our sumptuous lunch and were quite tired by the end of it. After lunch, we walked around town looking for something to do, but most of the stores were closed (on a Thursday afternoon!). We ended up going to a music store where he bought a harmonica and chatted with the staff, asking about the local music scene and listening to the storekeeper’s band in which he plays guitar.
I had wanted to visit Modena again to buy some special aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena (the true DOP version), so we visited the local visitor centre where the staff booked our tour at a nearby acetaia the next day.
After that, we wandered up to Parc Novi, where we got a table at a quite but chic little bar/lounge that catered to people our age. We got drinks and salty snacks and watched MTV Italia while Ryan fiddled with his new harmonica.
The next morning, we fetched the car and left at 9:30 am, driving to San Vito di Spilamberto for our acetaia tour. It was about a 30 minute drive, and when we got to Acetaia Caselli, Mr Caselli was there waiting for us, along with his two yappy dogs.
Mr Caselli explained how his grandfather started making the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena as a hobby, and then eventually turned it into a viable business. He told us how only 10,000 L of the vinegar are produced each year, and packaged in a special bottle. The bottle, the only one allowed DOP status, was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, an Italian car designer, and the bottle is based on the traditional ceramic bottle of vinegar that was traditionally hung in the rafters of the family home, and only accessed by the household Nonna.
Mostly white grapes, grown in Modena region, are used to produce the vinegar. Old barrels, made from various types of wood, are used to age the vinegar. Mr Caselli’s grandfather also made his own barrels (as well as his own shoes!). The grape must (juice) is cooked down by about 50% before being allowed to ferment first into wine and then into vinegar.
Vinegar makers like for their vinegars to have one unified flavour with a good balance of sweet and sour. There are only two varieties: 12+ years old and 25+ years old. The vinegar is transferred from larger to smaller barrels over the decades, with the angel’s share evaporating each year.
The barrels are kept in the attic of the house, where it is warm.
The barrels are marked with the year the battery was started; the barrels above were started in 1978, but those aren’t the oldest in the attic. This house has some barrels dating back to 1923!
Above is the traditional ceramic vinegar bottle on which the new bottles are based. Each acetaia’s ‘batch’ for the year is kept separate from all the other acetaias and the bottles are individually labeled.
Mr Caselli told us that DOP vinegar makers call themselves ‘crazy’ for being obsessed with vinegar, which is basically wine gone bad. We weren’t complaining, though!
We taste tested the DOP vinegars and other vinegar condiments, as well as a sip of the local walnut liqueur before Sami and I purchased our black gold. Acetaia Caselli also holds tastings where they cook up a delicious menu that showcases local Modenese cuisine and highlights their balsamic vinegar.
I had been waiting since 2008 to buy a bottle of this! When Tomiko and I first visited Modena in 2008, we were poor sudents and couldn’t afford the then-€40 bottles.
The vinegar pairs well with strawberries, ice cream, and cheese.
After our tour, we returned to downtown Modena and ventured out to the Mercatto for lunch. We got some fresh tortellini and tortelloni to cook for breakfast the next day; 1 kg of perfectly ripe grape tomatoes for €2; some parma ham; readymade pastas and stuffed zucchini; cherries; and arancini.
The market had six little tables where customers could eat, so we sat and sampled our spoils! Everything was fresh and delicious, and we got some goodies to take back to the hostel for breakfast the next day. We returned to the hostel to put our food in the fridge (and lock up our balsamic vinegar), and then got back in the car and drove to nearby Maranello, for the Ferrari museum.
It was easy to spot the Ferrari museum, as it was surrounded by various Ferrari stores and cars and shops and flags.
The museum was dedicated mostly to racing cars, and they had lots of exhibits of past Formula 1 cars and drivers, which we enjoyed. We weren’t allowed to touch the cars (lest we leave fingerprints!), but we saw others do so when getting their photos taken.
After spending some time in the museum, we headed to a nearby supermarket, passing the actual Ferrari factory and head office. The supermarket was very North American, placed in the middle of nowhere with a large parking lot and located near to what looked like new expat housing. Inside the supermarket itself, we saw quite a few shoppers wearing red uniforms – Ferrari staff! I bought some DOP pesto Genovese to eat with our tortellini for breakfast the next day; some milk to drink; and several dried risotto and pasta mixes, readily flavoured. After the supermarket, we returned to the hostel to drop off our purchases and decided what to do for dinner.
At 7:30 pm, we headed out to a nearby square, looking for restaurants. We found a restaurant with an outdoor patio and rather cheap prices, so we got ourselves a table. Sami ordered a pizza and a risotto for himself, and a tagliatelle ragu (aka spaghetti Bolognese) for the table. The waiter thought that was our whole order and almost left before we realized what was happening and called him back. I ordered a salad with taleggio cheese and walnuts and a cheese and spinach tortellini in a creamy sauce with porcini. Ryan ordered a pizza with lots of prosciutto. The waiter was surprised that we ordered so much, and so were we when the food came!
The pizzas were giant and easily a meal for one or two people.
Ryan wondering if we made a mistake…
Our little table would not hold the six dishes, and each pizza was about 45 cm in diameter. We managed to finish it all (in addition to a few rolls), and then we ordered dessert: a panna cotta with sour cherries. Needless to say, we were all very full!
While the city came alive we staggered back to the hostel and fell asleep in the cozy 30 C weather. Twas a good night.