Despite all the work, I know it is important to find time to take in all of the wonderful cultural, culinary, and historic sights in the country, and so on Friday I got up very early to catch a train to the city of Modena, roughly 2 hours south-east of Milan. The region around Modena is famous for three things: cars, wine and food, and I wanted to get my fill of all three.
Centrale station was as always, a resplendent monument of architecture, painted tiles and columns astride platforms with bleary eyed travellers still waking up.
On the upside, I was in Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory as well as their main museum. Fans of the marque from over the world flocked here to pay homage. Businesses next door to the museum offered test drives in Ferraris (for a cost starting at €80 for 10 minutes), which were very popular. Every second car seemed to bear the prancing horse symbol.
We went through the whole process, from tasting the grapes still on the vine (the harvest is late this season), all the way to the final product, with a personal tasting of their selection. Naturally I picked up a couple of bottles to take home.
In the main piazza there was an old antiques market, selling strange and eclectic artefacts, from old swords through to chairs made from tusks and leather. I climbed the tower of the Duomo and looked out over the rooftops of the city in the early morning light. On the way to catch the bus, I stopped in at an exhibition on Michelangelo, his drawings being shown alongside modern interpretations of his works by Yves Klein and Robert Mapplethorpe.
The final stop for the tour was at a “factory” for perhaps the most famous product of Modena, balsamic vinegar, the rich purple syrup that adorns salads and strawberries alike. I arrived (again, by myself) at the door of a modern house that looked nothing like a factory, to be greeted by a lovely tour guide who immediately took me to a bar inside for a tasting. I sampled five different varieties of the product, increasing in age up to an thick and rich 25 year old vinegar, which was complex and flavourful, much like a good whiskey.
We moved upstairs into the “factory”, a beautiful attic with dark barrels of different sizes, the tops of each barrel covered with a cloth to let air permeate and keep dust out. The guide showed me how the slow process of vinegar making was undertaken, with the product being moved annually in small proportions to ever smaller barrels as it became more concentrated, taking on the flavours of the different woods in each barrel. The barrels themselves dated back as far as the year 1730, and were worth alone up to €40,000 each. The guide let me smell the aroma of the oldest barrel, filled with their 80 year old vintage vinegar, of which only a few bottles are made each year.