A Food Tour of Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic Vinegar in Modena, Italy
As foodies we had two food tours we knew we had to do – parmigiano reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar! The best and only place in Italy to enjoy these food tours is in the region of Emilia Romagna. After this post we hope you will be sold on going on these tours yourself! We definitely consider it a “must do” while visiting Italy.
Choosing Your Dairy
If you want to skip out on purchasing an overpriced tour with a group of people, then look into the official site of Parmigiano Reggiano, where it lists all the cheese dairy farms and producers in Emilia Romagna. It is a very user friendly site that breaks down everything for you, making your research easy! The list is on an interactive map and when you click on each pinpoint it brings up the name of the dairy, its hours, languages offered for the tour, form of payment they accept, contact information and sometimes even a direct link to the site – see we told you, they do everything for you! For the direct link to find your cheese tour click here.
Antica Latteria Ducale
We chose to do our Parmigiano Reggiano Tour with Di Lino of Antica Latteria Ducale and could not have been more happy with our choice. Di Lino was always quick to respond to my emails and provide us with all the information we needed to select Antica Latteria Ducale for our tour, he even helped set up our balsamic vinegar tour that they partner with.
We instantly were delighted that we chose to find our own cheese tour when Di Lino, the owner himself, was the one to take us on our private tour. We learned that Di Lino and his family have been taking care of this dairy farm for generations and he has a true passion for what he does. The first thing we learned and that everyone should know, Parmigiano Reggiano MUST be produced in the Emilia Romagna region. Otherwise, it cannot be called Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – this is the Italian law! Once we got the very basic knowledge down, we learned that making Parmigiano Reggiano is no small feat, it takes a lot of work and special care and knowledge. For example, we learned that the different kinds of hay the cows eat can effect the flavor of the cheese. The type of cow also has a huge effect for taste and texture, therefore Antica Latteria Ducale uses two different types of cows. Since this farm has been passed down in the family for generations, Di Lino told us how they have had trial and errors figuring out the right types of cows to have and what hay they need to eat. It is all in the details!
Our tour began in the order of steps it takes to make a wheel of cheese. The first one was a large room with copper vats, which cooks the milk that will turn into cheese. One large vat will make two large parmesan wheels, only two!
Step two is placing the cheese in a container, so it may rest and form the shape of the wheel. This takes up to three days.
The third step is placing the printing label around the cheese wheel – this is also an Italian law that must be upheld by the producers.
Once the wheel has been imprinted with the label, it is moved to the salt brine room (a salt bath). The cheese wheels are kept in the salt brine for a month, this enhances the flavor and is what creates that cheesy smell.
The cheese wheels are then placed in a metal mold where they are left to dry out and preserve its shape.
Once dry the cheese wheels are moved to the ripening room and kept there to mature for at least 18 months. The longer the cheese matures, the darker and more bold the cheese wheel becomes. During this time every cheese wheel must be turned every two weeks to prevent mold. Cheese masters will also test the cheese wheels by banging them with their tool to listen for the correct sound. If the cheese wheel is not perfect it gets thrown away.
At last, after careful production the delicious Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheel is complete and ready to eat!
What better way to really learn this process and understand the difference and importance of maturing the cheese wheel, than by eating it?!!? At the end of our tour we were able to sample three different Parmgiano Reggiano cheeses – 18+ months, 22+ months and 30+ months. Our favorite was 22+ months, it had a lot of flavor and a nice texture. The young cheese was more soft and not as bold, whereas the oldest cheese was very bold and hard.
Our tour with Di Lino was more than amazing! We learned and saw so much behind the scenes. Now when we eat Parmiganno Reggiano cheese we have a finer appreciation for it. We are still looking and hoping to find Antica Latteria Ducale’s cheese in a store in the U.S.. If you are looking for a cheese tour, look no further than Anitca Latteria Ducale!
As we stated earlier, Antica Latteria Ducale has a partnership with Acetaia Leonardi, a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena, Italy. Their farmhouse was only ten minutes away from Anitca Latteria Ducale and when we saw their property we instantly fell in love. Their property has that Italian charm with their brick buildings, antique truck, vineyard and more. Our tour group was only six people and again, we loved having our intimate tour groups rather than the larger ones.
Our tour started with some education on the history of Leonardi and their balsamic vinegars. Like the parmigiano reggiano, true traditional and by law, balsamic vinegar must be produced in Modena, Italy. The typical varieties of Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes are grown in the Leonardi’s vineyards to create the juices that are the basic ingredients for the Leonardi Balsamic Vinegars. Leonardi has several different types of balsamic vinegars based on their age, type of barrel used, flavors and more. During the tour we were able to taste Leonardi’s variety of balsamic vinegars. From the vineyards, to the processing of the balsamic vinegar and even the bottling – it is all done on property and we were able to learn and see a lot of the process during the tour.
We learned that after the grapes are ripened and picked, they get crushed to obtain the juice and then boiled until half of the juice is reduced. Once the juice has been boiled properly it is poured into a barrel to finish fermenting for about 6 months. The important and tedious part is a domino effect of pouring a large barrel into the next smallest one until the very smallest barrels is filled. This process is called “a Solera” and is done once every five years. The smallest barrel that was filled with the balsamic vinegar is then ready for bottling to be sold to consumers, a.k.a. us.
Learning the process was fairly quick and fun, but the real fun was when we walked to one of the buildings and saw a room full of barrels. This is where we got our first taste of a 30 year old balsamic vinegar – it was delicious! The viscosity of the balsamic vinegar was unreal and tasted so sweet! We could have enjoyed this balsamic vinegar by the spoonfuls, no cheese or fruits needed!
The tour only got better…. we were also able to taste same age balsamic vinegars, but with different wooden barrels. It was incredible how we could taste the difference and the type of barrel used. We really enjoyed the cherry wood barrel balsamic vinegar. We were told it is great on desserts – sold! Then the tour got even better… we went to another building, which had even larger rooms full of wooden barrels that included a 100 year old barrel! We were able to taste a 100 year old balsamic vinegar – it was like candy!
The tour did not stop there, after we toured the different buildings containing all the wooden barrels of balsamic vinegar, we went to their tasting room and had a luxurious balsamic tasting. They treated us to cheese, wine and several different balsamic vinegars. We were in heaven! Did we mention that this tour cost us €6 per person- what a steal!!!!
We ended up buying one bottle of our favorite balsamic vinegar that we had tried – a 15 year old balsamic vinegar. We wanted to buy so much more, especially because the prices are inexpensive here than in the stores in the United States, but we had no room in our luggage. Luckily, we have already found Leonardi Balsamic Vinegars online that ship to the United States!
If you are interested in a balsamic vinegar tour in Modena, Italy, look no further because Leonardi has it all!
Basic Tour: (20 – 35 mins) guided tour + tasting of balsamic vinegars – €5 per person
Typical Tour: (30 – 45 mins) guided tour + tasting of balsamic vinegars with parmigiano reggiano cheese and Lambrusco wine – €6 per person
Greedy Tour: (45 – 60 mins) guided tour + tasting of balsamic vinegars + buffet lunch with typical products – €12 person