What to eat in Modena? Discover the Modena food specialities you absolutely must try!
modena cosa mangiare

Come with me on this guide through the flavours of Modenese cuisine.


Did you know that in the middle of the Po Valley lies the famous “Food Valley”? This territory, comprising the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena, is known worldwide for the excellence of its food and wine. In fact, Emilia Romagna has a long gastronomic tradition, ranging from land-based dishes to seafood. This enormous culinary wealth is mainly due to its physical conformation, which is so vast that it includes a great variety of territories.

Today I would like to tell you about the cuisine of Modena, the second province in the region with the highest number of PDO and PGI products (preceded only by Bologna). Modena’s typical specialities are also greatly appreciated by tourists, who often prefer to take home some of the flavours of this land, instead of a trivial souvenir.

And it is thanks to travellers that these food and wine traditions have been exported outside the region’s borders, thus spreading its main products such as traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena PDO, tortellini and Modena ham PDO. However, the region has also engaged in a strong tourism promotion, creating real itineraries and places entirely dedicated to typical Modenese dishes: examples are the Borlengo Museum in Modena and the Balsamic Vinegar Museum in Spilamberto.


modena food specialities
flickr, Steelite International


Also adding to the popularity of Modenese cuisine are personalities such as Chef Massimo Bottura, owner of “Osteria Francescana”, voted “best restaurant in the world” in 2016 and 2018.

Are you hungry yet? Then follow me, because in this article I’ll tell you everything you need to know about typical Modena dishes – also street food – that you absolutely must try during your holiday.


🧳 Travel and taste Modena, with Italia Delight!


The most famous Modena food delicacies

Here are some tips on what to eat in Modena, a city full of trattorias and farms that will help you discover the flavours of this land. And who knows, you might even decide to try a fun cookery course: the best way to take the secrets of Modenese cuisine with you! 👇


1. Crescentine

modena italy food
flickr, fugzu


You may already know this type of bread from Modena, but probably by another name. In fact, outside their area of origin, these small discs of dough are improperly called tigelle. These, in fact, were the ancient terracotta discs that were used to bake this very famous dish of the Modenese Apennines. Prepared with flour, water, yeast and salt, crescentine originated as a convivial meal, which allowed the cooks to spend time with their guests and everyone took part in both the preparation and consumption; each person choosing their own filling.

Typically, they are served with Cunza, also known as Pesto di Modena, a mixture of minced lard, rosemary, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; but today they are also served with cured meats and typical cheeses: such as Modena PDO ham. Their size, small and round, makes them perfect for a tasting experience or as a tasty street-snack.


2. Fried gnocco

Modenese cuisine
flickr, Amber Hoffman


This typical recipe from Modena most likely originates from the Lombard domination of the area. This is because the traditional version makes an extensive use of lard, which was spread by this very Germanic population. The recipe calls for these to be made only with fat, flour, salt and carbonated water, and absolutely no yeast is added.

The gnocchi, should only rise due to the air incorporated in the dough and should be served hot, just as they come out of the boiling lard in which they are fried. The fried gnocco is, therefore, an excellent accompaniment to cold meats and cheeses, eaten as an appetiser or street food and even at breakfast, together with cappuccino.


3. Borlenghi

This crispy crêpe, to which a museum has even been dedicated, has been prepared for centuries with an incredibly simple mixture of flour, water and salt. The resulting “glue” is then cooked in different ways, which distinguish the varieties. The borlenghi ciacci are cooked between two iron plates, the “cotte”; while the zampanelle are cooked and filled on special frying pans, hold on special tripods and rotated continuously. Generally, this typical dish from Modena and the surrounding area is seasoned with Cunza, but it can also be enjoyed with vegetarian and sweet variants!


4. Tortellini and tortelloni

what to eat in modena
flickr, Cottage Vineyards


Speaking of typical Modenese cuisine, it is impossible not to mention fresh pasta, which originates precisely in the Food Valley. The inhabitants’ imagination has allowed them to create, starting from a simple sheet of flour and eggs, infinite shapes, fillings and condiments, of which these two formats are excellent examples. Tortellini, filled with pork loin, raw ham, mortadella di Bologna and Parmigiano Reggiano, are served strictly in the typical capon broth; while tortelloni are stuffed with ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano and spinach and are served with tomato sauce or the classic butter and sage.


5. Macaroni al pettine

Another example of Modenese pasta-making art is maccheroni al pettine, so called because of their peculiar preparation. Once rectangles of pasta dought have been cut, they are rolled onto a wooden stick and “swiped” over a weaving comb, which gives them their wrinkled appearance. This latter tool was once the same comb found in the loom of many Modenese housewives, used precisely to weave linen or hemp.


6. Modena rosettes

Among the typical Modena recipes, rosette is certainly one of the tastiest. This type of baked pasta is prepared by rolling a pre-boiled layer of pasta dought with Vignola ham and sliced provola cheese. Once cut and arranged vertically in a baking dish, the rosettes are garnished with plenty of béchamel sauce, butter and Parmigiano reggiano. Don’t miss out on this cheesy first course!


7. Cotechino di Modena IGP and Zampone di Modena IGP

These two typical Modenese dishes belong to the category of sausages and are both derived from pork. The substantial difference between the two lies in the casing that is used: for cotechino a normal gut is used, while for zampone the animal’s own paw is used. Typical of the Christmas festivities, the former is usually accompanied by lentils; while, the latter by stewed white Spanish beans.


8. Balsamic vinegar of Modena PDO and PGI

modena dishes


A fundamental ingredient of Modenese cuisine is, without a doubt, balsamic vinegar, which comes in both PDO and PGI versions.

The former is also known as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and involves the use of only must from grapes grown within the province. Moreover, the exclusively artisanal production is based on the continuous topping up of the barrels, which become smaller and smaller from year to year and are filled with the product of the previous barrel. This production method, in battery, thus constitutes a cyclical process, whereby each year the smaller barrel is emptied of the finished product and the larger barrel is filled with the new must. The entire process takes a minimum of 12 years.

The PGI label, on the other hand, allows the use of wine vinegar and caramel, in varying percentages, and requires ageing, in a single wooden container, for at least 60 days.


9. Parmigiano Reggiano

modenese dishes
flickr, Marcus Kwan


Another ingredient, almost omnipresent in typical Modenese dishes, is Parmigiano Reggiano. This PDO has been produced for centuries in the territories of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Bologna and is the third largest Italian cheese production.

Parmigiano is made from raw, partially skimmed cow’s milk from breeds reared exclusively in the production area. Of these, the most widely used today is the Frisona cow, used for its high production capacity but, originally, the breeds used were the Rossa reggiana and Bianca modenese.

The latter is now protected by both a Slow Food presidium and the FAO, as it is considered at risk of extinction. This is why a consortium of breeders was created to protect the breed and the production of pure Parmigiano Reggiano: made exclusively with its milk.


10. Bollito misto alla modenese

As you can imagine, the particularity of this boiled meat consists in the meat used: among ox, veal and chicken, the cotechino certainly stands out; added to the broth at a later stage. It is important, in fact, to cook the latter separately, so that it can release its fat without weighing down the other cuts too much.


11. San Felice salami

During your Modenese hors d’oeuvres, don’t miss the opportunity to try this excellent salami, characterised by its sweet flavour and bright red colour. The latter is due to the use of a special ingredient: red wine, strictly Lambrusco.


12. Nocino modenese and Anicione

Always protected by an aura of mystery, this liqueur made from walnut hulls -the outer part that wraps around the kernel-, was associated with witches and spells: in fact, it was the woman considered to be the most expert who picked the nuts, climbing up the tree barefoot and without using tools. Even today, this liqueur is still protected by women, thanks to the foundation of the Order of Modenese Nocino, an organisation committed to enhancing, protecting and spreading the ancient folk tradition.

Also among the typical Modenese liqueurs is Anicione, a spirit drink made from green aniseed and star anise. Tradition has it that one should drink a small glass on 8th December, together with the famous Jewish cake.


13. Calzagatti

Another typical Modena dish is Calzagatti, originating from the peasant tradition. This dish consists of polenta accompanied by a bean sauce, which was used to replace meat. Its peculiarity lies in its preparation: the polenta must be cooked in the same water used for the beans! Today, you can enjoy Calzagatti al piatto, or fried, after the polenta has been cooked with the beans and cut into slices.


14. Puff pastry or Jewish cake

Becoming famous after a member of the Jewish community converted to Christianity, this savoury millefeuille has since been prepared with large quantities of lard -a food forbidden by the Jewish religion-, used to flake the thin layers of puff pastry. And even in this typical Modena dish, an abundant sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano cannot be missing.


15. Bensone

modena recipes
Jesse Loughborough


The Bensone is perhaps the oldest cake in the city of Modena. This oval-shaped doughnut, originally prepared with just flour, milk, eggs, butter and sugar, is today filled in all sorts of ways. The real taste, the one you should not miss, however, is the one with Lambrusco: the typical Modenese wine where you can dip the slices of this traditional cake.


16. The Barozzi cake

Described by Michele Serra (an Italian journalist) as “a clod of earth”, the recipe for this historic cake made with almonds, peanuts, cocoa and coffee still remains a secret. Protected by the Gollini family, heirs of the inventor, this cake is widespread throughout the Modena area, which desperately tries to imitate the original version. Its goodness is certainly worth a stop in the centre of Vignola, home of the historic Pasticceria Gollini.


17. Vignola IGP cherries

Grown between Bologna and Modena, these cherries with excellent organoleptic qualities are named after the homonymous Modenese town. Famous for their firm flesh and dark red colour, Vignola IGP cherries are harvested entirely by hand, from late May to early July.


18. Artisan crisp from Frignano

This hand-made almond brittle, made from the fruits of the Frignano Apennines – almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts – has always been associated with moments of joy, such as births and weddings. In fact, the custom of having the bride break the croccante at the end of the wedding meal is very deep-rooted. From the way this is broken, it is still used today to make predictions about the couple.


19. Amaretti di Modena

And to end this guide to what to eat in Modena on a sweet note, try some fragrant amaretto biscuits! These small disks, 6-8 cm in diameter, perfectly represent the Modenese custom of making almond-based sweets. Originating in Spilamberto, where each family kept its recipe, they gradually spread to the shops of the city, where you can still buy them today.


Enjoy Modena wines!

Do you want to know how to pair all the typical Modenese dishes? Don’t worry, this province offers a great variety of high-quality wines: first and foremost the DOC Lambrusco di Modena, a denomination widely known both in Italy and abroad.

Within this denomination there are no less than 7 types of wine, 6 of which are produced in the province of Modena. These are: Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa, Lambrusco salamino di Santa Croce, Lambrusco Reggiano and Modena DOC.

And for those who prefer white? Try the Bianco di Castelfranco Emilia IGT, a true excellence of the territory between Modena and Bologna.


Events to get to know the typical Modena cuisine

modena foods
flickr, Alan Spedding


If you want to know even more about Modenese cuisine, here are some not-to-be-missed food and wine events:

  • Nocinopoli, the city of nocino“, an event organised by the nocino order where other typical products are also present: such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar and Modena PDO ham;
  • The Guinness World Record for the world’s largest zampone, organised in Castelnuovo Rangone;


And now that you know all the typical Modenese dishes, book your next holiday with Italia Delight and set out to discover the flavours of Emilia Romagna! 😋


Cover photo: nik-f-unsplash

Featured photo: mert-erbil-unsplash

About Author

Marco Campana
Ciao! Sono Marco, un pasticcere un po’ pasticcione; attualmente laureando in Scienze e Cultura della Gastronomia a Padova. Da 21 anni cerco di portare a casa da ogni mio viaggio un piatto, un dolce o anche solo una tecnica nuova; di connettermi il più possibile con il paese in cui mi trovo. Il mondo è pieno di prodotti tipici, ricette ed ingredienti sconosciuti: non sarebbe un peccato farseli sfuggire?


20 September 2023
Thank you for such an informative article! Visiting Modena in a few days.

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