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Osteria di Rubbiara - A Hidden Gem near Modena

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For years I drove by the exit for Modena and  never stopped because I was either en route to another city or was on my way back home to Munich. Each time I saw the sign, I thought "I really must stop there and buy some vinegar." Last fall, I planned a trip to dine at Osteria Francescana, (which is a lovely story for another time) using Modena as my base for the long weekend. While researching the area for restaurants, shopping and new experiences I came across Osteria di Rubbiara, a centuries old family owned and run acetaia  (vinegar cellar), where the Pedroni family has been producing balsamic vinegar since 1862. The family home, vinegar production and osteria are located on a narrow country road about a 20 minute drive from Modena.


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I had called ahead and asked if it would be possible to have a tour and explanation of the vinegar production and Fabrizia who has been working with the family for years was kind enough to oblige us.  We arrived shortly before our noon lunch reservation and our tour began. The operation is quite small and enocmpasses several buildings on the property. We saw the large containers where the grape juice is cooked slowly over a gas flame before entering one of the storage and aging buildings. There is a slight acidic aroma in the air as you enter and much like wineries, one sees rows and rows of small wooden casks comprised of oak, juniper and chestnut. Most interesting and probably the most prized is the cask containing the “Mother Vinegar.” Much like bread “starters,” some of the mother vinegar is placed into each new barrel which is then aged and reduced over the years. Each barrel is labeled and tracked by the official consortium to ensure authenticity and quality. A rectangular hole is cut into the top of each barrel. During the summer months, this section of the barrel is left open and allowed to evaporate thus concentraing the vinegar and proudcing the deep, rich flavor we have all come to love. During the other months, a cloth is placed on top of the cut-out with the stopper gently resting on top. Smelling the vinegar in various stages of the aging process made us quite eager for the tasting and also for lunch.

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After our tour we walked next door to the osteria where we were met by Mr. Italo Pedroni, the Pedroni patriarch who greets diners and still oversees much of the work.  Italo speaks no English but has a smile that can light up a room and still manages to communicate with visitors from near and far. Upon entering the dining room, Italo pointed to a large wooden cubbyhole hanging on the wall. Each slot was numbered with a lock and key. Carved into the box were the words "Depository for Mobile Telephones ~ For the Tranquility of all," written in Italian of course but you get the idea. The small act of asking us to leave our mobile phones at the door endeared me to Italo, as if I wasn't already.  Before taking our seats we could smell the most amazing aromas wafting from the kitchen, wetting our appetites for what was yet to come. But first, we had a vinegar tasting at our table. We were presented with 3 aged vinegars, a slightly younger one (great for salad dressings) and a balsamic vinegar jam. We tasted the amazing elixors pure, from small plastic spoons, in order to really taste the differences in flavor. Between tastings, we cleaned our palattes with small pieces of bread. The vinegars are named after various family patriarchs (Umberto, Italo, Claudio etc.), which is a lovely personal touch. The differences between the various bottles was astounding. And each one comes with a recommeded use. The tasting notes ranged from light and acidic to rich, sweet and sryupy. Afterward, we got down to the business at hand...lunch! There are no menus and lunch is served as a set course at Osteria Rubbiara.  They simply bring you the best, fresh, local food prepared that day. And so we began:  tortellini in brodo (broth), a classic from the Emiglia Romagna area. The most delicate folds of pasta containing the perfect balance of cheese to ham arrived floating in a sea of flavorful broth. This was followed by strichetti with Ragù, another regional classic. Tender fresh pasta topped with a rich and savory meat sauce. One bite and you knew the sauce had been carefully crafted building flavors slowly and deliberately over hours. Next up was a plate of beautifully roasted meats: pork, beef and guinea fowl slow roasted and seasoned to perfection which were served alongside oven roasted potatoes. A 12 year old bottle of balsamic vinegar was placed on the table with the recommendation to enjoy it over the potatoes.  It was a culinary highlight to taste the difference the vinegar makes when paird with various dishes. It adds a whole new dimension of flavor and brings out subtleties in the foods that might have been missed otherwise. Sounds delicious doesn't it? But we're not done yet. Our next course was the famous, Pedroni secret recipe Chicken cooked in Lambrusco (yes the family makes their own wine too) served alongside a balsamic vinegar pickled onion. This dish also came with a small bottle of the Pedroni's Lambrusco The piece of chicken was enveloped in a deep burgundy glaze of Lambrusco and other secret ingredients. The crunchy, pickled onion was the perfect accompaniment.

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For dessert, we were given a special treat. Vanilla ice cream topped with an aged balsamic vinegar - pure heaven - I promise! During our vinegar tasting, I mentioned to Fabrizia that I had eaten this simple and yet exquisite dessert on a culinary visit to Bologna many years ago. She immediately asked Italo if there was any ice cream in the kitchen and then offered it to us in lieu of the traditional dessert of various baked cookies. Two heaping bowls of vanilla ice cream arrived at our table and Italo placed a bottle of the Pedroni family prized “Giuseppe” vinegar between the two of us. This vinegar, named after the family founder is aged for over 25 years. The sweet and creamy dessert was taken to a whole new level with the addition of the rich, syrupy vinegar with just the right notes of acidity. A few nearby tables saw the look of delight on our faces and inquired about our special dessert. I wonder if they put it on the menu? You know, it's small acts like this that make Osteria di Rubbiara special, a place where food is prepared from the heart and everyone is treated like family. After dessert Giuseppe, Italo's son, offered us coffee.  Espresso - Si  Espresso Macchiato? Non - They stick to tradition here at Osteria Rubbiara and that is part of the charm. Before our check came,  Italo appeared with 4 bottles of various digestives and 2 glasses. Two grappas and 2 liqueurs or bitters for us to try. Take as many, as much or as little as you like. My favorite was a house made walnut liqueur. It was rich, thick and slight sweet. Somewhat similar to Amaro but better. Our time spent with the Pedroni family was so lovely that we hated for it to end. There aren't any Michelin Stars at the entrance to Osteria Rubbiara but I can truthfully say, this was one of my all time favorite meals. The rustic charm of the dining room, the honest food prepared with love from traditional recipes and the hospitality of the Pedroni family make Osteria Rubbiaria a diamond in my book.

Az. Agr. Pedroni:  Via Risaia, 4 - Rubbiara di Nonantola, 41015, Modena, Italy


Virginia Anne Newton

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