“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” – Paul Prudhomme
Nowhere does that ring any truer than in Italy or is any more apparent than at Italy’s magnificent food markets. Visiting the markets wherever we happen to be visiting is always at the top of our To Do list! Those in Bolzano, Verona, Venice, Bologna, and Florence stand out in my memory…and I must now add the Albinelli Market in Modena as another stand out. It is hard to imagine anyone living in the center of town NOT shopping there. In fact, 88% of all those who live within “the walls” shop at least weekly, with 25% who shop there everyday! The atmosphere was so festive that we thought there was a celebration of some kind. “No”, one of the stand owners replied, “it is just a normal Friday”.
There are records dating from 1100 that mention the daily food market in the Piazza Grande. It wasn’t until 1931 that a Liberty Style permanent structure was built, just steps from the Piazza. The wrought iron work is massive and remarkable. The locals refer to the Market as the heart and soul and Modena.
Many of the stands have been continuously owned and managed since 1931 by members/generations of the same family. Even though some of the produce stands are very similar / almost identical in their offerings and prices, customers are loyal to “their” stands. There are strolling musicians, barbershop quartets and choral groups who perform regularly: the atmosphere is that of a “happening” with warm greetings, waving across the aisles and various chit-chats floating through the festive air. Questions were gladly answered, exhaustive explanations were willingly offered, samples were provided, and collaboration between stands was apparent!
The highlight for us was a visit to stand 36-37, specializing in cheeses and the amazing balsamic vinegar of Modena. The kind couple has worked there daily (except Sundays) for 21 years. In spite of a rather long line of their regular customers, they spent a good amount of time with us, explaining the different types of parmigiano and the fundamental difference between IGP and DOP versions of the Modena Balsamic vinegars. I plan on dedicating a blog entry on this heavenly gourmet product and on the types of parmigiano...so please check back to learn more.
Speaking of collaboration among the stands, the day we left Modena for home, we returned to the Market for some purchases. The woman selling this amazing fish sauce rushed to the fish monger (from which she had bought earlier that morning the fish to cook) for a large scoop of ice and a freezer bag to ensure our sauce would travel safely for the 4 hour trip home. The third generation fish monger then came over to her stand to make sure, as she was packing the bag, that she had enough ice. He inspected, approved…and said we were “good to go”.
Maurizio was excited to find dandelion greens to put in the sandwiches we made ourselves by visiting several stalls for the freshest bread, the best Modena prosciutto, slices of a fresh local cheese AND a drizzle of heavenly DOP aceto balsamico. For dessert, we had a couple slices of a beyond-delicious mixed wild berries cheesecake (see the photo above). We topped off this simple but fun / delicious lunch with an 85% dark chocolate layered espresso at Cafè Concerto on the Piazza Grande. What fun it was to watch the dynamics among the people and even see a dog “smelling” the flowers. I was lucky to happen upon this photo below on the Internet since I wasn’t quick enough to get my camera out to capture the similar scene!
Another delight in Modena: the Albinelli Market!