Thailand Tatler was recently invited on a tour of Italy that was too unique to pass up. No historical sites of Rome, urban excitement of Milan nor iconic canals of Venice. Instead, we would be starting from the city of Modena and concluding at Trivero, with a pitstop in Sarnico in Lombardy land midway through. Oh, and did we mention that we would only be driving Maserati cars to get from one point to the next?
If the peculiarity of this itinerary or the chance to travel with nice cars doesn’t get you, perhaps a logical explanation will: we would be tracing the histories of very specific, very Italian crafts to gain a deeper understanding and ultimately appreciation of what it means in the global consumer market for something to be “made in Italy”. Here’s a look into what it’s like to tour Italy, driven by craft:
Day 0: Carpe Diem
After a 15-hour journey from Bangkok, we arrived in the peaceful city of Modena a day ahead of the agenda, in preparation. But what we love about the Italian way is how they don’t allow formality to stand in the way of seizing the day—or the Latin, carpe diem. We spared the time to visit the home-turned-museum of the late Luciano Pavarotti, a Modena native who is easily the most important opera artist of the 21st Century. Apart from a few installations of personal items, such as handwritten notes of self-critique and copious fan mail—including those penned by celebrities—the charming house remains largely unaltered from the days Pavarotti spent in it, serving as a window to the simple man Pavarotti was despite his great fame and fortune.
Day 1: Slow Food & Fast Cars
Bright and early the next day, our first official stop on this “Drive By Craft” trip was to pick up our sweet rides, of course, at the Maserati HQ in Modena. Over the next three days, we would be driving three different Maserati models: the executive sedan Ghibli, the luxury SUV Levante and Maserati’s flagship sedan Quattroporte. Out of greatest familiarity, we selected the Ghibli as our first day’s car and off we were to our next stop: the Panini Motor Museum.
Modena’s famed Panini family owns the most complete collection of Maseratis in the world, including race cars and bikes, which was the lifelong passion of Italian entreprenuer Umberto Panini (1930-2013). Impressively, Umberto is also remembered for another huge legacy from this part of Italy. The Panini family produces one of the world’s finest cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, on Umberto's Hombre farm next to the car museum. Only 4,000 wheels of the stuff are produced annually, selling for about US$500 each. What makes this cheese the "King of Cheese" in the world of gourmet? Among many nuanced treatments, the fact that it can take anywhere from 12 to 30 months to arrive to flavour.
Continuing on the topic of deliciously aged Italian food products, our next stop was to the Acetaia Villa San Donnino, where another local heritage product, traditional balsamic vinegar, is produced. We were personally greeted by Davide Lonardi, the third generation producer of San Donnino traditional balsamic vinegar, who first showed us around his family’s private estate, a century-old villa full of art which, by the way, was featured in the 1976 Italian film 1900 starring Robert De Niro.
You know you're in the balsamic vinegar producing part of the house when the smell hits you. Grape “must”, traditional balsamic vinegar’s only ingredient, has an incredibly pungent smell—enough to make one dizzy if unused to odor—and authentic traditional balsamic vinegar, like the kind produced at Acetaia Villa San Donnino, certifies at least of 12 years of barrel fermentation. The estate also produces “extra-aged”, which indicates a minimum of 25 years. Best understood through taste, we were treated to a balsamic vinegar tasting of all of San Donnino's product range, which only ended up spoiling us for life.