Milan and Modena are two culinary gems, located just a 3 hour drive from each other – perfect for a long weekend for food lovers. From the simple yet divine ‘Italian colazione’ consisting of a coffee and freshly baked ‘cornetto’ at pastry institution Pave, to aperitivo at Terrazza Aperol and homemade food deliciousness courtesy of EatWith, Milan is full of culinary wonders to prepare you for one of the most incredible food journeys – a tasting menu at Osteria Francescana in Modena, currently ranked as the second best restaurant in the world after Noma.
Breakfast in Milan can be a bit underwhelming – most Italians won’t eat more than a croissant, which they call ‘cornetto’ and a coffee before noon. That’s why if you want to follow the Italian way, you should go to the best bakery and coffeeshop in Milan – Pave.
This place is a pastry lover’s paradise – when entering the shop you can see and smell the baking process through a window behind the counter where they serve a sublime range of breakfast favourites from Treccia al Caffe, a coffee braided pastry, to Focaccina dolce, a sweet version of the famous focaccia bread.
To experience a real Milanese moment, go for aperitivo at Terrazza Aperol and indulge in a drink on the terrace, which has one of the best views of the city onto the Duomo. Featuring a range of delicious cocktails using Aperol as a base, waiters come and surprise you with a range of gourmet little tapas dishes, to get your taste buds going for dinner.
I suggest going for the classic Aperol Spritz – it just tastes so superior when you have it in Milan – the proportions are decided by the barman: if he’s from Padova, expect a “shot” of Aperol, if you’re in Treviso or Venice, it will more likely be a “squirt”.
Gluten-free fine dining with Valentina
Restaurants are great, but sometimes all you want when travelling is a homemade meal. There is also no better way to get a true understanding of the way people eat in a city like Milan, than to enjoy a dinner cooked by a local chef at his/her home.
EatWith offers a range of such experiences in Milan from Marcello & Hana’s Sardinian food workshop to an Italian dinner with design lover Valentina. I tried Valentina’s gluten-free feast which was a beautiful experience – for once you don’t come out of an Italian meal with a food coma, but rather light and satisfied with having sampled lots of new and unusual flavours. Valentina is a design writer for Vogue and food lover – she can arrange all kinds of experiences in Milan including a food and architecture tour.
Osteria Francescana is the ultimate gastronomic experience you could have in Italy, and, some would argue, in the world. Make sure to book months in advance – this restaurant tends to get fully booked 30 seconds after booking lines open. If you watched Chef’s table or Master of None, you would be familiar with Massimo Bottura’s creative approach to reinventing traditional Italian cuisine.
Each plate is a work of art – let’s take ‘Five different ages of parmigiano reggiano in five different textures and temperatures’ as an example. In Massimo Bottura’s words, this dish has two ingredients: parmigiano and time. You also get to try the famous ‘Oops! I dropped the lemon tart’ dessert which is a representation of how culinary accidents can turn into the tastiest discoveries.
Balsamic vinegar tasting
The Modena region also happens to be the home of balsamic vinegar. For many centuries, the production of balsamic vinegar (in dry vinegar farms in the attics inherited from one generation to the next) was the prerogative of many families in the region.
I visited this kind of attic in Massa Finalese at the workshop of Giorgio Boschetti (known around town as Bosco) in the province of Modena on via 14 Galli Amintore. You get to try various different balsamic vinegars, some of them so cherished that they are named after family members. Watch out though, it gets very hot in these attics in the summer! Ask your host to get you to try gelato with balsamic vinegar, it’s delicious!