We drove to Modena, Italy and visited the Ferrari Museum and factory. With such an emphasis on Formula 1 races, Ferrari’s goal is to build the fastest cars in the world. Gastronomically, Emilia-Romagna’s focus is on slow food, preserving traditional cuisine and striving for a local ecosystem of plants and livestock. Flavors are developed over time with no shortcuts — regional specialties such as ham and cheese are aged anywhere from 2 to 4 years for example.
Modena is also home to Italy’s latest 3 Michelin starred and #5 ranked restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana. Chef Massimo Bottura has worked with other great chefs such as Ferran Adria and Alain Ducasse. He uses his modernist cuisine experience to give a new twist to the traditional food from his home region. Chef Bottura also gets inspiration from unlikely sources such as jazz and modern art and translates that experience into his food.
With such accolades and the ability to seat only 28 diners per evening, we were very thankful to secure a reservation just one week in advance (which is just about the time we decided to go to Italy). The restaurant offers a la carte and 3 different tasting menus: traditional, classic and ‘experiments from the kitchen.’ What made this an exemplary experience for us was that the same tasting menu did not have to be chosen by the entire table. With this in mind, we selected the traditional and classic menus, which provided at least 16 different tastes for our 4 hour dining experience. This post covers the traditional menu, with the classic menu covered in a separete post (click to view).
It is really unfortunate that most of us Americans know Mortadella as a packaged, pre-sliced pink meat studded with pistachios and/or olives that may be stuffed with pimentos. The Memory of Mortadella Sandwich here is served pâté style with a piece of focaccia bread. Flavored with bits of pistachios, this was definitely better than our childhood memory of this sandwich, but then again we didn’t grow up in Emilia-Romagna:
The next dish featured a tasting of regional hams: 42 month old Culatello made by Massimo Spigaroli and a 30 month aged Prosciutto de Modena. A subject for a future post, The Culatello with its special aging process and fattier, richer taste slightly edged out the more familiar prosciutto. A bit of mostarda, candied fruit mustard, offered a little bit of heat as a condiment:
They provide a serious bread service where a wheat bun and grissini (breadsticks) were served first. Then, the first 2 courses were served with their own special bread. In addition, a basket of warm bread is brought to the table which was refreshed with a completely new basket halfway through the meal even though we had barely touched it:
The very mini tortellini, filled with a prosciutto and mortadella mixture, were served with a very rich but flavorful Parmigiana cream sauce:
The egg tagliatelli with ragù modenese (likely the same as bolognese) was probably the most traditional dish we ate all evening. Eggs in Italy have a much more orange yolk which is reflected in the bright yellow color of the pasta:
The Sommelier helped us select a couple of bottles of local wines to drink with our meal. We started with the slightly fizzy Leclisse Lambrusco which was very dry; this may have been the best Lambrusco we have ever tried. We selected an Aglianico as a second bottle, but the Sommelier thought we would like the local Barbera instead. It was decent enough, but no where near as good as the Barberas from Piemonte:
The shortribs were glazed with Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that Chef Bottura also produces. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and the sweet taste of the vinegar flavored the beef nicely. A very fine potato purée and jus of black truffle completed the dish:
The Zuppa Inglese dessert featured a hot and cold side to the local interpretation of the English trifle. The entire dish was covered with a gel made with Alchermes, a local aromatic Italian herb liqueur (which gets its bright red color from the Kermes insect). The cold side featured a frozen egg custard flavored with lemon zest, and the hot side was a chocolate creme:
The traditional menu kept to the regional flavors with a few modern updates. This menu was a great introduction to Osteria Francescana and the local specialties of Modena. Click here to view the post about the classic menu.
Osteria Francescana Reinterprets the Classics (Nov. 27, 2012)
Culatello: The Finest Ham and a Michelin Star at Antica Corte Pallavicina (Nov. 29, 2012)
Franceschetta 58: Bistro with a Pedigree (Nov. 28, 2012)
Note: The BarFlys are vacationing in Italy. SF posts will return soon; in the meantime, please enjoy these travel-related posts.