Summer menu in Modena and surroundings: Food in the Terre di Castelli
Tips for a summer to taste
Some tips on the dishes to try if you are in or around Modena, especially the Terre di Castelli, renowned for its good food
Modena is the custodian of a centuries-old food and wine culture, handed down from generation to generation, with a variety of specialties to be tasted at least once in life. It is a truly "blessed" territory from a gastronomic point of view. Each town and village has its own delicacies: dishes which are often the protagonists in the menus of family-run trattorias or festivals. The Terre di Castelli - the territory that extends from the plains south of Modena to the first slopes of the Apennines - are the ideal place to savor a generous summer menu, away from the city heat.
Castelnuovo is par excellence the city of salami and sausages, not by chance in the main square of the city there is the bronze statue of a cheerful little pig .
The city is home to numerous cured-meat shops in which, every year, cotechini, zamponi, salami and the renowned ham Prosciutto di Modena DOP are made. The ham ‘Crudo di Modena’ is produced in the valley of the river Panaro according to strict guidelines, with great care and passion. To learn more you can visit the MuSa in Castelnuovo Rangone, a museum dedicated to the subject.
Curing the ham starts with a process that lasts more than 90 days of salting and maturation, then comes the aging process of about 14 months which makes the meat flavoursome, but not salty, with a sweet yet intense fragrance. Excellent with fruits such as figs and melon, a combination to perfectly complement your summer menu, perhaps with a good glass of wine such as Lambrusco Grasparossa.
Spilamberto and Savignano sul Panaro
A few kilometers away, we find Spilamberto, the homeland of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, the "black gold of Emilia", not to be confused with the industrial Aceto di Modena IGP. In the territory of the Terre di Castelli the culture of Balsamic Vinegar is so deeply rooted that in Spilamberto there is the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena dedicated to it, designed and set up to reveal some of the secrets and history of this beloved and inimitable product, inextricably linked to this territory and its family traditions.
In fact, in Modena and surroundings, the wooden barrels for the production of Balsamic Vinegar are practically a dowry, a family gift to be inherited together with the techniques to produce an excellent Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
The city of Spilamberto, moreover, is home to another important food and wine institution, which is the Order of the Nocino Modenese that deals with the protection and promotion of Nocino, a liqueur made with walnuts husks, strictly picked during the night of San Giovanni, on June 24th.
The same applies to Savignano sul Panaro where you can taste Vinegar, Nocino and many delicaciesfrom the hills and plains cuisine. In fact, this is one of the best areas to eat in the province of Modena in the summer, thanks to its tendentially cooler climate, to the numerous events on offer and the many restaurants and farms that, especially on the gentle hills behind the town, are a welcome alternative to the summer heat.
In addition, the surroundings of Savignano host numerous vineyards cultivated with eleven different grape varieties, many of which are DOC (Controlled Origin Denomination) wines, particularly the red Lambrusco Grasparossa and the sparkling white Pignoletto - perfect for a summer evening! Furthermore, in the Terre di Castelli only Savignano sul Panaro falls within the DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination) production area of "Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto," an excellent product of Emilia that is appreciated throughout the world.
Vignola is renowned for its production of cherries, IGP certified since 2012, and every year it celebrates this small fruit that boasts a host of admirers. First Vignola is pink with cherry blossoms, between March and April, making the landscape a beautiful postcard; then it becomes red as the fruit appears, at the beginning of summer, when exhibitions and events bring the city alive. If you pass through Vignola in June, stop at the first roadside stall to buy a basket of freshly-picked cherries, choosing among the most precious native varieties like the typical Moretta cherry. It's worth it!
And it's worth it because in Vignola, and in the Terre di Castelli in general, respect for the traditions and the environment is the order of the day. This is why the Condotta Slow Food Vignola e Valle del Panaro was established with the aim of promoting production methods in harmony with the environment and increasing consumer awareness through conferences and events.
While we are in town, why not take the chance to taste another typical Vignola product? You will surely have heard of it for its history and its particularity: the Torta Barozzi, a special cake made with chocolate and coffee, with a soft consistency and a full-bodied taste. A registered trademark, the entire recipe is a closely-guarded secret of craftsmanship and family, and belongs to the Gollini family which, has been handed down from generation to generation, from the progenitor Eugenio. The delicious cake can be found in the family’s historic pastry shop in the shadow of the Rocca di Vignola
Castelvetro di Modena and Marano sul Panaro
A few minutes away we come to the village of Castelvetro di Modena, lying on the gentle hills of Emilia which, season after season, transform in colour and perfume.
In summer the surrounding countryside fills with flowers and comes alive with thousands of visitors who find relief from the city heat. In autumn the vineyards offer a wonderful chromatic spectacle thanks to the foliage that illuminates the vines, in the weeks following the harvest. In short, there are colours and fragrances for every season, with a single common theme: the Lambrusco Grasparossa wine.
In fact, this variety of full-bodied dark red Lambrusco is produced in this area. It is excellent with typical Modenese dishes such as fried gnocco and crescentine, two very convivial bread specialties.
If, instead, you like your beer - and a nice cool glass is perfect in the summer - you can always opt for a craft beer made with Italian hops like the native variety of Marano sul Panaro! In this case, you can not miss the Festival of the Wild Hop of Marano in July, during which you can see the first harvest from 100% Italian hops.
Guiglia and Zocca
If you are looking for special places where you can enjoy a summer menu in the surroundings of Modena, head towards the first Apennine mountains. In the villages of Guiglia and Zocca there are numerous places where you can taste delicacies such as IL gnocco, as the true Emilians say, and the crescentine, mistakenly called tigelle by the name of the mold that was once used to cook them.
These specialties belong to the so-called peasant foods, since they are made from a mixture of water, flour and little else. It is the filling that make the difference: and here the variations are many, from cured meats and cheeses to jams, lard with rosemary and garlic, and more.
No less important are the borlenghi, similar to crepes but different in consistency and taste. They are prepared with a mixture of water, flour, salt and sometimes eggs, and are cooked in a very slow and special way: the dough is cooked on large hot pans to make them dry and crunchy, then filled with bacon, lard, herbs, spices and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, perhaps the mountain one typical of this area, produced by the Rosola Dairy which uses white cow's milk from Modena.
You can sample these true delights in the Terre di Castelli, especially if you come here in the months of May and June when there is the Festival of Borlengo in Guiglia and the Festival of crescentina and mountain food in Zocca.
Now that you better understand the typical products of Modena, you just have to decide what to eat.
Ideas for a summer menu in the Terre di Castelli, Modena
Menu of Tradition
Mountain Borlenghi with cunza (rosemary-garlic lard) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese DOP
Fried gnocco and crescentine with cured meats and Modenese pesto
Custard ice cream with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena with Vignola cherries IGP and crumbled Amaretti biscuits
A simple yet substantial menu, made with excellent ingredients.
What better way to start a meal than with a borlengo! This very thin and crispy pastry is stuffed with a mixture of lard, rosemary, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano. One may not be enough, you will almost certainly want more!
The main course consists of fried gnocco, crescentine and a lot of filling. We start with traditional cured meats, including ham (Prosciutto di Modena), Coppa di Testa, Mortadella Bologna IGP and Modenese pesto, a mixture of lard, bacon, garlic and rosemary. For cheese lovers, there is stracchino (a soft creamy cheese) and Parmigiano Reggiano.
In addition, it is customary for gnocco and tigelle to be combined with sauces such as chicken and rabbit cacciatora, sausage stew and so on. Onions in traditional balsamic vinegar, mustard and various jams complete the dish. A specialty not to be missed is the crescentina with fresh ricotta cheese and sour black cherries, a true Modena experience.
The menu concludes with artisanal custard ice cream topped with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar for a more determined and unusual taste, together with Vignola cherries IGP and Amaretti, typical biscuits made with almonds.
Parmigiano Reggiano DOP cheese in three ages with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Handmade tagliatelle with Prosciutto di Modena DOP and peas
Barozzi cake with mascarpone cream
This menu includes several typical products to taste during a visit to the Terre di Castelli.
The tasting begins with a 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the second aging of this excellent product of the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma and, in part, Bologna and Mantua. After this we try the decisive favour and character of the 30-month Parmigiano, slightly more aged. Finally we end with the 48-month one, intense and sometimes pungent, yet with a unique softness.
In all of this, the mellow Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, aged over 25 years, exalts and enhances the flavour in a perfect union.
After a nice sip of Lambrusco Grasparossa we can move to the next course, homemade tagliatelle from the expert hands of a Rezdora, a cook and housewife who jealously guards recipes and traditions.
A generous portion of egg pasta, as tradition demands, topped with a ragù of Prosciutto Crudo di Modena and peas. If you wish, you can place the Prosciutto crudo directly on to the dish, to enhance its aroma and freshness, or gently fry it for a few minutes in a pan with fresh peas to give a toasted note. The dish of tagliatelle can not leave the kitchen without a generous sprinkle of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
The second course is an ancient specialty and the name itself represents the type of cooking. Cacciatora means cooking something in tomato sauce with garlic, rosemary, onion and wine/vinegar. It is a very tasty dish, and an ideal companion for crescentine or mountain bread, without salt. To prepare it, you gently fry chicken pieces, add the classic combination of onion, celery, carrot, garlic and herbs such as rosemary and sage. You simmer it with a good dose of red wine, maybe Lambrusco, and tomato sauce.
The Rezdora recommends preparing it the day before for an optimal, even tastier result.
Finally, the meal ends with the Barozzi cake, typical of Vignola, with mascarpone cream to complete its intense taste and its full-bodied texture.
Fresh mushroom pie witha creamy Parmigiano Reggiano DOP sauce
Tortelloni with ricotta and spinach seasoned with butter and sage
Roast pork with onions with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
The mushroom pie, prepared with fresh porcini mushrooms picked from our Apennines, accompanied with a creamy Parmigiano Reggiano di Montagna sauce. The latter is a typical product of the foothills of Modena and is characterized by fresh, herby scents, thanks to the meadow grazing of cows. It is a product that you absolutely must try in Modena in the summer months, the best time to experience its aromas.
The Parmigiano Reggiano DOP aged 30 months, then, gives flavor and roundness to the overall taste.
Next come the tortelloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach, a classic from Emilia, seasoned with a simple butter-sage sauce.
The tortelloni are also excellent served with meat sauce or fried bacon.
For the main course, there is slow-roast pork cooked in white wine, served with onions cooked in Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. A specialty not to miss.
Finally, the Zuppa inglese, a cake that has always been fought over between Emilia and Tuscany, made up of layers of custard, chocolate and savoiardi biscuits soaked in Alchermes liqueur.
For each menu a good wine to drink is Lambrusco Grasparossa or alternatively a craft beer from one of the local breweries and, why not, made with the native hop of Marano.