[Travel Report] More on Modena, Parma, and a Memorable Meal at Osteria Francescana

I can’t believe it’s Friday already.  I’ve been swamped with work this week, which makes it seem like the entire week has gone by in the blink of an eye!  My goal this weekend is to sort through the pictures and finish up my Travel Reports for Italy.

Anyway, remember how I told you about our visit to the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory?  After the tour, we took the back roads and drove about ten minutes to the town of Maranello where the Museo Ferrari is located.  If you’re a car aficionado, you’ll spent quite some time here admiring all the sports and racing cars, latest models, engines, trophies, helmets, and memorabilia bearing the prancing horse.Collage 1I wouldn’t call myself a car enthusiast (having failed the road test once, barely passed it the second time), but I still enjoyed looking at the various exhibits, particularly the technical displays that explain how the aerodynamic technology and design evolve over the years.

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After visiting the museum, we drove past the city center of Parma to the beautiful town of Langhirano in the countryside.  We drove further up the hill to find a nice view before making our way back to explore the castle – it just draws you in from afar!

Torrechiara Castle was built in the 15th century, intended to be used as both a fortress and a residence. When we got there, we weren’t sure if the castle was open judging by how quiet it looked.

Collage 3The castle was practically empty – the perks of travelling during the non-peak season!  We walked around and explored the dozens of rooms and nooks and crannies.College 4
And we took lots and lots of pictures without mobs of tourists in the background.Collage 3When you get to the top floor, you get a stunning panoramic view. It’s a peaceful, picture-perfect spot straight from a storybook.

IMG_1229IMG_1241There are miles and miles of rolling hills and river valley in sight, with private roads leading to the vineyards around every turn, just waiting to be explored.

IMG_1248Moving on…back to Modena!  Modena is well-known for their prized balsamic vinegar, so we arranged for a tour and tasting at a local producer, Villa San Donnino.  The owner Davide gave us a thorough and informative tour, and even took us to the attic where his family has been making traditional balsamic vinegar for generations.

IMG_1272While regular balsamic vinegar can be mass produced, the traditional balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico tradizionale) may be designated a DOP just like many products – wine, cheese, and prosciutto – in the region.  It is made from a blend of grape juice that has been cooked and then allowed to ferment naturally over a long aging process through a series of barrels made from different woods like juniper, chestnut, and mulberry, each one providing the vinegar with unique flavors, aromas, and colors.  Each year, a portion of the starter vinegar is transferred to a smaller barrel for continued fermentation, and the final product is extracted from the smallest barrel of all.


The aceto balsamico tradizionale DOP has to age for a minimum of 12 years, with some – the extravecchio – that are allowed to age for 25 (even 100!) years!

At the end of the tour, we had a tasting of the different vinegars, including the white balsamic vinegar made in the Villa.  There is nothing like the traditional balsamic vinegar.  It is a sweet, syrupy, tastes sharp, but not pungent, and has complex flavors the way good wines do.  Surprisingly, the acidity level is higher than the ones found in supermarkets (usually with caramel and coloring added), and it was hard to tell from the taste alone.  The vinegar is best served at the end of the meal as a digestive, or as a condiment to be drizzled over roasted meats, cheeses, and berries.  Davide even gave us vanilla ice cream to try with the balsamic vinegar!  It was a delicious pairing!

After a full day packed with activities, we were back in Modena city center in time for a gelato, pre-dinner drink, and dinner at Osteria Francescana.

When we were planning our trip, we found that Modena is the home of Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin restaurant, and the third best restaurant in the world.  As you can probably tell, we packed a lot into our few days in Bologna, Parma, and Modena, but we definitely made it a priority to plan everything around our dinner reservation at this twelve-table establishment!

We chose the “Traditions” tasting, which is comprised of unique and imaginative dishes inspired by the traditional flavors of Modena.

IMG_1281To start, we had the bread course, with these freshly made grissini.  Oh, and a bottle of Lambrusco Grasparossa which we tried and really liked the night before.

For the first course, we had cotecchino served with an almond cornmeal biscuits with balsamic vinegar and a Lambrusco zabaglione foam.  We loved every element of this dish – crunchy, meaty, savory, airy, tangy, and sweet!  Did I mention we really like Lambrusco?

Next was “Memory of a Mortadella” – a traditional mortadella sandwich transformed into a whipped mousse and served with toasted bread, pistachios, and a drop of sweet garlic cream. This was a really special dish…because when you think of cured meats, you wouldn’t think of light, creamy, and airy, would you?

The third course was a savory cappuccino served with mini croissants. This was my favorite course! The cream of potato soup is topped with a layer of onion foam and drops of 45 years aged balsamic vinegar. The balsamic vinegar added depth and balanced the richness of the creamy soups so nicely.

Then it was a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth tagliatelle with Bolognese ragu. Can’t go wrong!

Next to arrive was a transformation of bollito misto from head to toe! Bollito misto is an Italian stew with different cuts of meat. Here we have six cuts of pork and beef: head, tongue, cheek, belly, tail, and cotechino served with a pungent salsa verde.

Before dessert, we had a palate cleanser course: pumpkin ravioli in a “soup” flavored with citruses, bergamot, and wine vinegar. It was a refreshing bite after eating the two meat-heavy dishes.

Finally, we had a chocolate tart from Vignola, which consisted of chocolate biscuits, cherry compote, and cherry sorbet. This was our least favorite course because we both thought the cherry compote was too tart to be paired with the chocolate. A little bit more sweetness would have made it perfect.

The dessert was followed by a plate of petite fours.

Now after this amazing meal, we walked away with a sweet surprise (literally)! They gave us a bottle of balsamic vinegar from Villa Manadori. I can’t wait to use it in my recipes!


  1. Emily says

    Hi Karen,
    Love your blog, but many of the posts, when viewed initially in feedly, show the photo of Wild Mushroom Risotto. Not sure why, but it’s a little strange to click on a post about Italy and see the same risotta over and over. And oh my goodness those petit fours are making me hungry!

    • Karen says

      Hi Emily, thank you so much for letting me know! I think I fixed the problem – it should be showing the correct picture going forward. Fingers crossed!