There are many reasons to stop over for a night or three in Modena, Italy. The city has history, art, music, fancy cars and more. And if this is Emilia Romagna, there is good food.

For me, the little city’s fame as the epicenter of traditional balsamic vinegar was enough to put Modena on my bucket list. Once I got looking, though, I found more than enough food-centric action to keep me entertained for quite a while: besides the vinegar (which  lived up to its reputation and then some), there were markets, vineyards, cheese-making, regional pasta specialties, and restaurants serving pocketbooks big or small.

Passionate producers

Lead producer at the Super Zampone festival, Castelnuovo

A key ingredient in any local food product is the devotion of the producer, and that is just as true in Emilia Romagna as anywhere else. The passion of the magicians who turn out the small quantities of aceto balsamico traditional di Modena came through from the moment I entered the acetaia. And the heart-plus-knowledge of our guide to the creation of the cheese that earns the name Parmigiano Reggiano was wonderful to experience.

As if that were not enough, several times a year, food festivals showcase Modena’s many contributions to regional and world gastronomy. While I was in Emilia Romagna, I was invited to the Super Zampone festival in nearby Castelnuovo, and while there, even interviewed for local television!

Castelnuovo, near Modena, is the scene for the annual Super Zampone festival. On a Sunday in November, the town turns out to celebrate the spicy minced pork product for which Castelnuovo is known.
The 2013 super zampone weighed in at over 900 kilos. Twenty or so producers cooked the mega trotter for several days, and used a hydraulic lift to hoist lunch for 2,000 from its oversize boiling pan onto a viewing platform beneath Castelnuovo’s medieval tower.

Local knowledge & enthusiasm

A special treat was the opportunity for some hands-on in a restaurant kitchen with Elena Gramegna, chef at La Piazzetta del Gusto (I) in Nonantola.

The willingness of a young chef to share her knowledge—and some lore—with me on a busy kitchen prep day was admirable.

Enjoyable dining all around town

From the piadina vendor down the street from my hotel, to the trattorias suggested by a fellow we met in a coffee shop, to a family lunch place I found online—all lived up to advance billing. Modena even went one better, and gave me and my husband a Michelin-starred evening to remember, at the renowned Osteria Francescana.

Our completely subjective trial of the city’s dining scene was a resounding success!

A really good piadina is superb walking-around-town food, followed by a stop for espresso.
Sublime finish, the Oops! dessert at Osteria Francescana in Modena

Read more on Boomer Women Travelers

I was recently asked to share my suggestions with readers of Boomer Women Travelers. For a look-see, read Five Foodie Reasons to visit Modena, Italy.

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Emilia Romagna Tourism hosted my stay in Modena, and helped me learn about making cheese and vinegar, as well as how to roll decent pasta. Restaurant choices, visits and opinions were on my own.

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