09 Jul 2019 – Tuesday.
Flo and I reached Modena around 1.30pm, too early for us to check into our BnB. So we left our luggage there and drove as near to the centre as we could. Do note that if you’re driving in Italy, almost every town and city has restricted zones where only residents with a pass can drive into and park. Yes, even driving in is not permitted.
I loved the cobbled streets! Modena Old Town was quite sleepy when we arrived. Most of the restaurants were closing for the afternoon, and it was getting quiet. Flo and I quickly legged it to Trattoria Aldina for lunch. I had it penned down as a place that’s supposed to serve really good food.
It was a little hidden away and when we arrived at the door leading to the second floor where the eatery is situated, I had second doubts because I imagined that going up would either reveal to us a place that was exorbitant and snotty, or humble and casual. Thankfully, it was the latter.
They supposedly close at 2.30pm for the day, but were happy to accommodate us even though we arrived just before. The trattoria was simple and very homely; the service warm and inviting.
Flo and I decided to share a primi consisting of these delightfully plump pumpkin filled tortellini with balsamic vinegar. I wasn’t expecting much, and even wondered if I’d made the right choice with the vinegar. The kitchen staff kindly portioned our tortellonis onto two plates so we each got three. This was honestly enough to fill me.
I took one bite into these glorious little packages and found myself grinning with utmost satisfaction. They were possibly the best things I’d ever eaten. Smooth, creamy, sweet pumpkin filling against perfectly cooked, thin wrappings of pasta dough and the balsamic vinegar was like no other I’d ever tasted.
It was sweet and tart and spicy all together and sang harmoniously with the flavours of the tortelloni. This, was without a doubt, one of the best dishes we had over our entire trip. It was affordable, and impeccably executed. I would have loved to have returned for more of Trattoria Aldina’s dishes but sadly, we didn’t have enough meals there.
As a secondi, Flo and I shared the pork tenderloin in a balsamic gravy. I’m not a fan of pork in general but babies needed protein and as Flo always says, you won’t know whether you really like something unless you try it.
I have to admit that a bite of one of this slices of pork had me putting my fork down in order to savour its tenderness. The meat was flavoursome, hardly porky and the sauce had a wonderful depth that complemented the savoury meat so well. Still, the tortelloni…
We had a side of spinach because I found myself lacking a lot of fibre while we were in Zurich and Hamburg. The portion was generous. It was simply cooked, tossed in some salt and olive oil, and still tasted amazing. Perhaps the lack of veggies in my system made it taste more impressive that it really was.
Still, Trattoria Aldina impressed both Florian and I in her givings. It was not only the delicious food made with heart that we thoroughly enjoyed, but also the friendly service that put us at ease the minute we stepped in.
If we ever head back to Modena, and I hope we do, then I pray to the food gods that Trattoria Aldina will still be around, waiting for our return.
After lunch, we wandered around the deserted streets of Modena before checking in at our B&B – B&B Igea 50. It was just as well because it started to rain off and on as we walked.
Our home for the next three nights was situated a short 8min drive out of the Old Town, and of all the places we stayed at around Italy, this was by far my favourite. The bed was comfy and plush, and the room on the whole felt so homely.
It’s not a very big B&B – there were two other rooms, and a common living area where we could chill and flick through magazines, or even watch tv.
Every morning, we were treated to a sumptuous spread laid out by Gianna. She’s like a typical Italian nonna fussing over us, ensuring we were well fed before we left for the day. She personally baked all the morning cakes, and cookies. Italians generally seem to lean towards sweeter breakfasts.
Gianna also provided fresh cut fruit salads, a range of yogurts, savoury items, cold cuts and cheese, as well as breads, some of which she baked herself. Needless to say, we were spoiled.
This is lovely Gianna. She was such an amazing host, generously sharing with us the best places to visit if we wanted to see where Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar were being made; happily dispensing to us the best restaurants and eateries to visit depending on which area we were heading to do the day; keeping us company for breakfasts and listening to our stories about what we had been up to the day before.
This was her sharing with us a bit about how balsamic vinegar is made. She had these little bread ‘barrels’ made for her specially by her neighbour, and that little bottle held 25 years old vinegar which she happily poured out for Flo and I to try.
Gianna definitely left the deepest impression on me. I loved how she was so excited upon hearing we were pregnant with triplets, and how she asked us to keep in touch after. It’s not often you come across people who by their very nature, is able to touch your life. And for some reason, without much effort, she has made herself unforgettable to me. I really hope that our paths will cross once more in the near future, and many times more after that.
10 Jul 2019 – Wednesday.
We started the day with me donning on a pair of sturdy Birkenstocks that dear hubs bought for me the day before because my shoes were threatening to fall apart.
Then, it was off to Parma!
As with most Italian Old Towns, I loved Parma’s buildings, especially their arches.
Cobbled streets and brick buildings certainly highlighted the history of each town and how far back it must go. A huge contrast to the white-washed concrete walls of Singapore.
There is also a tradition for buildings to be painted in terracotta colours. Personally, I feel it worked in some areas, while for others, especially in the drier, hotter regions of Italy, it made the town look washed out and tired.
There was supposed to be a market going on. I was so excited imaging grocers showing off their fresh vegetables and butchers yelling out to those looking for meat. Sadly, it looked to be a flea market for clothes. We did find this indoor market though, which helped perk me right up.
Look at those hunky legs of prosciutto!
And glorious chunks of cheese!
This was when my belly had just started to pop, although it was easily mistaken as a food baby rather than three babies. Right at the beginning of our trip, the presence of a bump was hardly noticeable. You’ll see as we travel through Italy how all the food went straight to my belly and I returned with an obvious baby bump!
As with every town, Parma’s piazza.
We had a quick lunch of nothing particularly extraordinary, before going to visit Cattedrale di Parma.
It was magnificent! The moment I stepped in and looked up, the beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings took my breath away.
Every painting, sculpture and carving told a story, but against some of the gruesome, heart-wrenching scenes depicted in the artworks, there was such peace and tranquility within the cathedral.
After having our fill of Parma, we scooted off to 4 Madonna Caseificio dell’ Emilia, one of the highlights of our trip.
Flo and I discussed against joining an expensive tour, choosing instead to go to a Parmegiano Reggiano factory highly recommended by Gianna, where we were blessed enough to walk in just in time for an English tour beginning at 4pm. We had a half hour to spare so we browsed the cheese shop, rehydrated ourselves and had a short rest.
We were first taken through the various steps that go into making a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. Sadly, we weren’t able to see work in motion because most of their production is done in the morning. Our disappointment was more than made up upon entering this room filled from floor to ceiling with beautiful wheels of cheese!
Flo and I were in cheese heaven and let me tell you, the sharp aroma of the Parmigiano filled our noses and I swear, we wouldn’t have minded living right there amongst the giant wheels of nutty, savoury, gritty goodness!
We could have stayed in here forever.
But as luck would have it, we were eventually ushered out for a little cheese tasting. We got to try some freshly churned butter on baguette, fresh ricotta, 3-day fresh, unsalted Parmigiano (aka Tosone), 12-months, 18-months, 24-months and 30 months old Parmigiano with some jams and balsamic to go with.
My favourite was actually the 24-months aged Parmigiano Reggiano because while not quite as complex as the 30-month old one, it was still bang full of flavour and I liked that it wasn’t as gritty and dry.
That’s us with the golden hammer, used to check on how the wheels of cheese are ageing. The hammerman (I make this name up), will usually be so accustomed to knowing what sounds to look for, that he’ll be able to tell whether the wheel is ageing well, or not so well.
With great reluctance, it was time for us to say goodbye to the beautiful world of cheese and head back to Modena in time for dinner.
Upon Gianna’s recommendation, we dined at Danilo Ristorante, known specially for their boiled meats and tortellini in brodo. As their boiled meats dished consisted of many parts Flo and I were not daring enough to try, we stuck to the tortellini, had a side of grilled greens to share (mostly eaten by me), and a mushroom crepe.
The veggies were decent. Nothing to moan nor to shout about.
We were both surprised when the crepe came because it wasn’t what we pictured it to be. In our minds, we were obviously thinking of something more akin to the French-style of crepe where the mushroom filling sits within. This was more like a parcel, almost lasagne like, with layers of creamy mushroom within and a generous portions of melty, gooey cheese on top and around. Needless to say, it was extremely rich and quite on the salty side; quite tasty for the first few mouthfuls, then it gets a little too cloying.
The tortellini in broth looked like such a simple dish. Each tortellini is handmade, usually around the pinky so they are really small. They’re filled with a mix of veal (sometimes pork), prosciutto and parmesan cheese. The clear broth in which they were served in looked nothing spectacular. The portion below, by the way, was half a portion as Flo and I ordered this to share and the restaurant kindly portioned them out for us before serving.
This spoon with the two plump, petite pieces of dumplings comprised my first real taste of tortellini. I wasn’t expected much by their looks but it was a total flavour bomb as soon as I bit into them. An explosion of meatiness balanced nicely with some saltiness from the cheese and prosciutto, as well as the sweetness of the veal totally blew my mind. The broth, though light in looks, was wholesome and would warm the coldest of hearts.
How one little dumpling is able hold so much punch is beyond me! But there you go – the Italians managed to master that art. The only reason why tortellini in brodo doesn’t trump the pumpkin tortelloni I had at Trattoria Aldina is merely because, I’m biased towards vegetables. Honestly though, if you’re ever in Modena, I highly recommend trying this dish once.
To end, Flo decided he needed some good, authentic Tiramisu.
Unlike most tiramisu we find back home, the cream on this one came a gorgeous shade of yellow from the egg yolks, and the fingers below were heavily soaked in coffee and booze. I did have a taste and it was pretty spectacular. It was rich without being overwhelming, so Flo had no trouble licking his bowl clean without much help from me.
It was a sweet ending to a wonderful day. Next up, Bologna!