No divas, only deliciousness. You’ll find Opera|02 di Ca’ Montanari a short drive outside the city of Modena. This is the Emilia-Romagna region. What some consider to be the gastronomic heart of Italy. Home to Parmigiano Reggiano, real balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and Chef Massimo Bottura (more about him soon!). It’s also the home of Pavarotti, Maserati, and Ferrari – you get the idea. The best of the best.
Over the next several posts I will continue to share the best parts of a three-week grand tour taken in February 2020. Just before Italy and the world took an extended time out. As it turns out, that was, indeed, a once in a lifetime journey. This is the second of a multi-part series. If you missed it, Orvieto was part one.
I hope you’ll be inspired to wander along with me. And don’t forget to share your own stories of personal grand tours in the comments below!
What is Opera|02 di Ca’ Montanari?
- Are you interested in learning how traditional balsamic vinegar is made (and tasting a few)?
- How about a flight of the region’s most famous wine – Lambrusco?
- Then you’ll be hungry. Looking for a great restaurant featuring local specialties?
- And, of course, a beautiful place to stay – to take in the beauty of the rolling hills and vineyards?
It’s all here. And if you only have a short time in the area, you can cover a lot of ground in one day – we did!
The Montanari family purchased this agricultural estate in 2002 – hence the 02 in the name. (Note: in Italy, you say zehro dué.) In a short few years it went from 5 to 45 hectares of organic vineyards. For wine, they grow Lambrusco. For the precious Aceto Balsamico, the requisite Trebbiano di Modena.
It is now the home of a traditional vinegar house, organic winery, and Michelin-recognized resort and restaurant. The eco-conscious structures blend aesthetically with the landscape. The generous hospitality and exceptional attention to detail elevate the experience to the highest standards.
How to Spend a Day Outside Modena
Ten years ago, I attended the event “Mondo Lambrusco” that featured thirteen producers from the various Lambrusco DOCs. This was my first time tasting a Lambrusco that was not the soda-pop style of the 70s and 80s. It was a game-changer. Opera|02 was one of my favorites.
Flash forward to February 2020. On our third and final day in Modena, we moved from the city center to Casa Maria Luigia (more on that visit in a future post). The concierge made a reservation for us to visit a local winemaker and vinegar producer and sent us on our way. As fate would have it, I would have a chance to revisit an old favorite.
There’s a lot to learn about Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. For starters, it’s not your average balsamic vinegar. This is in a class by itself.
The production of ABTM (for short) is highly regulated. There are two types. The traditional has at least 12 years aging and has a red seal. The extravecchio (extra old) must age for at least 25 years and has a gold seal. Even the size and shape of the bottles are regulated. Producers may not list the actual age on the label. Most will be happy to tell you, though. The Opera|02 traditional is 20 years and the extravecchio is 51 years old.
You taste ABTM from a small spoon. A little goes a long way. Viscous, almost syrupy, a bit sweet, deeply flavored, an aromatic finish that goes on for minutes. You may experience aromas of fruits, wood, caramel, and more, with a pleasant backbone of natural acidity.
Opera|02 also makes aged balsamic condiments. These are more familiar. Still delicious when tasted by the spoonful. The difference? Added acidification. Still, even the youngest, at 6 years, is better than what most of us know as balsamic vinegar.
You want to know about the wines, right? That is what we came for…
OperaRosa, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP
OperaRosa is a rosé style. Rosato in Italian. That means the juice sat on the skins long enough to extract some color and texture, then it’s fermented alone. The aromas and flavors here are all about fruit and flowers. Strawberries, raspberries, violets, and roses spill from this dry sparkling wine. Try OperaRosa with tortellini in brodo, seafood (sushi?), or with fresh fruit desserts.
OperaPura, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP
OperaPura is from the same 100% varietal grapes as the OperaRosa but it is fully red. The difference? In red wine making, the juice and skins remain in contact throughout the fermentation process. This means all the color, as well as tannins and other phenolic compounds, get extracted. That gives flavor and texture.
The color of OperaPura is deep purple with ruby-red foam. On the nose you’ll find some funky (in a good way) floral, herbal, and berry notes. On the palate, there’s a zingy burst red raspberries, strawberries, and sweet-tart red cherries. This smooths out to include pomegranate and rose. The mousse is voluptuous. And there are some pretty strong tannins and bone-dry finish.
Like other full-bodied red wines, this will be happiest if there’s some meat served with it. At home, I served it with barbecue ribs.
Opera Secco, Lambrusco di Modena DOP
This wine is more widely available than the others. Because of that, I was able to feature it as Wine of the Week on July 17, 2020 (click through for the full review). At the time of writing, I found it available online from two places in New York. You can also order direct from Opera|02. See the review on Eat Something Sexy for purchasing information.
Bubbly wines do a great job of cleansing your palate in a way that still wines just can’t do. That means you’re ready for another bite and another sip faster – make sure they’re good ones!
Speaking of Another Bite…
This place is not only a winery, or a vinegar cellar. It’s a resort. Eight guest suites, a sophisticated restaurant for dinner, and a chic bistro for lunch. Both specialize local specialties, elevating the traditional cuisine to Michelin standards.
Lunch was a selection of some of the regional specialties, including one I’d never tasted. Gnocco fritto is also known as crescentina it’s a light, crispy alternative to bread. The dough is made from flour, salt, yeast, lard, and water. It’s rolled very thin, cut into rectangles, then fried crisp. It’s served with soft cheese and Prosciutto or salami. Ours was served with a very special DOP Prosciutto di Modena.
Emilia-Romagna is also the home of tortellini and tortelloni. In the markets you’ll find them so beautiful they are works of art. Here, we had both. First, the traditional tortellini in brodo with Parmigiano Reggiano cream. Next, tortelloni with the house balsamico.
Another regional specialty we’d seen in the market in Modena was Passatelli. This is a rough looking pasta. Long, rather thick, and rough textured. I thought that was from the type of extrusion used, but it turns out it’s the dough. It’s made with breadcrumbs instead of flour! No waste in this culture. And with delicious results. Besides th breadcrumbs, the dough includes eggs and grated Parmigiano Reggiano (of course). The chef at Opera|02 kicked this cucina povera up a few notches with a pile of fresh shaved truffles.
Dessert was the most decadent zabaglione gelato. It came drizzled liberally with the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The perfect end to a “light” lunch.
The world has changed a great deal since my February visit. The good news is that Opera|02 and so many other favorite places in Italy are open again. They’re making the most of the new service requirements with their natural warmth and generosity.
Unfortunately, Americans are not allowed to visit for the time being. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to travel in Europe right now, make sure you visit.
And then, tell me all about it in the comments below!