A Taste of Modena Cuisine

By: Nicole Dickerson / Last updated: April 11, 2024

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes


Tortelloni in Modena
Tortelloni in Modena

Guide to Emilia-Romagna Gastronomy and Cuisine: Read more

Regional Cuisine:

Bologna, Ferrara, Forlí-Cesena, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio Emilia, Rimini


For street food in Modena beyond the previously mentioned tigelle, look to borlenghi. Borlenghi are skinny pancakes made from a simple flour, salt, milk, and egg batter. These pancakes originated in peasant cooking, but today, they are more of a monstrous snack, sometimes topped with grated cheese, bacon fat, garlic, rosemary, lard, and a sprinkle of Parmigiano (everything in little quantity) is the traditional seasoning.

Cotechino in Galera

Don’t leave Modena without trying cotechino in Galera (in prison). Cotechino is a fresh pork sausage that includes cotica and pork skin and is boiled in water to cook. The cooked sausage is then wrapped in beef, covered in pancetta, and tied together with twine, hence the name cotechino in galera. Next, this combination of meat is marinated and slowly cooked in red wine, butter, beef broth, carrots, onion, and celery. Finally, to serve, the cotechino in Galera is sliced and topped with the sauce from cooking.

Tortelloni in Modena

Modena is also renowned for its tortelloni, a similarly shaped pasta to tortellini. Except the tortelloni are filled with ricotta, spinach, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Typically, they are garnished with savory butter and sage sauce. Yet they’re also often served with ragù or tomato sauce. Furthermore, Modena offers tortelloni di zucca with a decadent pumpkin filling.


Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is famous for its irresistibly sweet and sour flavor. This is the world’s highest grade of balsamic vinegar and requires a strict production process. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM) must be produced within Modena. There is also an Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia (ABTRE), which must be made within Reggio Emilia.

In addition to production location, there are two significant regulations for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. First, the vinegar must be made from Ancellotta, Berzemino, Lambrusco, Occhio di Gatta, Sauvignon, Sgavetta, or Trebbiano grapes grown in Modena or Reggio Emilia. Secondly, the vinegar must age for at least twelve years before release for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and at least 25 years for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Extravecchio.

The grapes are pressed to make Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, and the juice is cooked. The sugars in the juice caramelize while cooking, which gives the vinegar its signature dark color. Then, this syrupy must is aged in a series of oak barrels for years, imparting further flavors and complexities throughout the barrel aging process.

There are two seasons for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar:  the “war” season, during which microbiological transformations occur and water evaporates, leading to greater concentration, and the “cool” season, fostering rest and decanting.

The decanting involves transferring small quantities from the top (approximately 10%) of the larger cask to the next smaller cask at the end of the winter every year. Each cask receives vinegar from the previous cask to restore its level.

A consortium verifies all Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena production. Only balsamic vinegar, which meets the strict production standards, can be labeled as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and bottled in specific 100ml size bottles.

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Then, there’s bensone for a classic sweet taste of Modena. The Modenese have been making this bread-like cake for centuries. Originally, bensone was made from a simple batter with flour, eggs, butter, milk, and honey. Today, Nutella or jam are often used as a filling, though the traditional recipe does not include a filler.

Torta Barozzi

For a tasty dessert in Modena, grab a slice of torta barozzi. In 1907, Eugenio Gollini, a talented pastry chef and proprietor of Pasticceria Gollini, invented this cake to celebrate Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, the famous 16th-century architect. Torta barozzi has almond, cocoa, rum, and coffee flavors. Yet, the authentic recipe is a secret only known to the bakers at Gollini.


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Nicole Dickerson

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