Say cheese: Chef Massimo Bottura shares his foodie guide to Italy's Modena

The town is not only the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, but it has plenty of places to try delicious Parmigiano Reggiano

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 07:  Chef Massimo Bottura attends 'Che Tempo Che Fa' TV Show on March 7, 2015 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
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Massimo Bottura, the Italian restaurateur and Michelin-starred chef behind Torno Subito at W Dubai, The Palm, offers tips for visiting his hometown.

What is the first thing everyone should do when they get to Modena?

The first thing you have to do once you get to any place in the world is the easiest thing – check the market. The market in Modena is in the heart of the city and it’s been there since 1920, on the other side of Piazza Grande. You have the opportunity to walk into the market, understand the season and understand that the market is talking to you all the time. You understand the culture of that region, of that small town. Then you can have a nice tasting of all the products. 

Modena, Piazza Grande, Emilia Romagna. Italy. Sunset with the town Hall illuminated and cathedral and La Bonissima statue. Getty Images

Second, Modena is in the heart of a food valley. Three micro-companies produce Parmigiano Reggiano there, and the most important one is 10 minutes away by taxi, called Hombre. On the other side of the company is the most important collection of Maseratis in the world. You have the perfect expression there of slow food and fast cars. 

On the other side of Modena there is Spilamberto, the little, little, micro place where balsamic vinegar, the traditional one, was born. We’ve preserved the museum there and I donate my special barrels there. It is run by volunteers who have dedicated their life to Balsamic traditionale. In 2019, we’re still waiting 25 years before tasting the balsamic vinegar – it’s crazy!

Rounds of parmesan cheese aging on racks in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Getty Images

Where should you stay?

Casa Maria Luigia. It's a place in the countryside, an old farm from 1770 that we restored. It's a new concept of hospitality, so you are free to do whatever you want. Jump in the pool, open the refrigerator, eat whatever you want; no one will ever bother you. Breakfast is extremely traditional here; we focus on savoury over sweet. 

 What influence does your home town have on your cooking?

When I think about my youth, I think about my mum’s side, which comes from Modena, up in the mountains. The brother of my grandmother owned a small cheese company up there. In the north where my father owned land, it was all about fruit and vegetables and cured meat. I grew up in a place where food was always part of our DNA, and was part of our family’s heritage. I compress into edible bites my passion, music, art and those things that my mum transferred to me.

Italian chef Massimo Bottura in the kitchen of his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena. Courtesy AFP

What should you eat in Modena?

There are things that are very emotional [to me]. There's one thing with fried dough and cured meat, called gnocco fritto, with cured meats such as Culatello, prosciutto or mortadella, which I love. I love gnocco fritto with mortadella more than anything else. Or crunchy almond cake with a sausage called cotechino, which is one of the most traditional dishes since 500 years ago. And the handmade egg pasta. Noodle with porcini or white truffle – they're the most amazing things you can ever try.

Tortellini In Trays. Getty Images

What is the biggest mistake that a visitor to Modena can make?

In general, visiting without keeping eyes and ears open. Coming directly without ­understanding the incredibly deep culture we have about food and ingredients. 

Castelvetro, Modena, Italy, Europe.  Vineyards of Lambrusco Grasparossa in autumn at sunset. Getty Images

What do you love most about Modena?

It's a small town, we love people, we are very open-minded and it's a place that keeps me grounded all the time. I'm in New York, and the United Nations asks me to be an ambassador for them, but then I go back to my place and it keeps me very grounded. And I really love to see all the time these amazing cars – Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini.