Edible Art: The Fresh Market of Modena, Italy

In some ways, the Mercato Albinelli in Modena, Italy is less like a covered market and more like a gallery showcasing fine art. One artist exhibits his prize, plump strawberries; another her handmade golden tortelloni; while another puts the finishing touches on links of sausage.

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” 

George Bernard Shaw

During our shopping missions at this fresh market in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region so renowned for its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Ferraris and Maserati motors, everyone seemed to be plain cheery. Bakers dished out free samples of thick, braided breadsticks to hungry children. Merchants’ wide, genuine smiles squished their faces in such a fashion that their eyes were nearly concealed. And a wooly, brown and white dog even took time to smell the flowers.

The atmosphere was undeniably happy. An outgoing baker named Enzo welcomed Shawn with a complimentary, lightly-sweetened Tortelli Forno. As I snapped a picture of an overflowing basket of luscious sun-dried tomatoes, another friendly gentleman stopped by. Initially worried that he thought I was trying to covertly capture him in the frame, the man pointed to himself playfully, insisting that I do include him. He was proud to tell us that he was in his nineties.

The market’s presentation was pristine. Bouquets of flowers were interspersed between bottles of bubbly. Hand-lettered price tags showcased fanciful flourishes, and stands brimmed with beautifully-arranged mounds of hand-made pasta, vibrant fruits and vegetables, and countless types of cheese.

Opened in 1931, the Mercato Albinelli is itself a work of art. From rod-iron trimmings, to a statue of a young girl with a basket on her hip, the market’s offerings are all just a moment’s walk from the city’s main square, the Piazza Grande. Lovely black & white imagery from the 1930s shows that while its presentation may have changed, the market has retained its classic charmIt’s a testament to the Slow Food Movement that was born in Italy, and a must-savor experience when in Modena.

Do you have a favorite market that you’ve savored at home or during your travels? Please share the details in the comments below.

Modena Market

Italian strawberries Emilia-Romagna
Plump, luscious strawberries, known in Italian as fragole. We picked up a few hundred grams and enjoyed them during a picnic. They were .60 Euro cents per 100 grams, or etto.
Enzo Bakery Mercato Albinelli Modena
Wide grins at Enzo’s Panetteria (bakery). Enzo was such a friendly fellow, instantly welcoming Shawn to the market by giving him a complimentary Tortelli Forno sweet treat. It’s no surprise that we returned the next day so that Shawn could buy some bread from Enzo.
Tortelli Forno Mercato Albinelli Modena

Modena Market Italy
The entrance to the market and the remains of Shawn’s much-enjoyed Tortelli Forno treat.
Enzo Panettaria Mercato Albinelli Modena

Fresh Tortelloni Italy
Hand-made perfection: A tray of tortelloni, nicknamed the belly button or ombelico pasta. Tortelloni originate from Emilia, Italy.
Italian Cakes Mercato Albinelli Modena

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf
Modena Market Shoppers
I was trying to unobtrusively snap this basket of overflowing sun-dried tomatoes when the gentleman in the background playfully pointed to himself, insisting that he be included in the frame. The friendly shopper told us that he was in his 90s.
Modena Market Shoppers Italy
Beautiful artichokes (carciofi) and further evidence that Modena’s market vendors are incredibly adept at the art of sales. I think almost every child I spotted was holding a complimentary twisted bread stick or crispy breadroll in their hand.
Modena Market Tortellini Tomatoes Italy
Homemade tortellini and brilliant-red, sun-dried tomatoes swimming in olive oil.
Dog smelling flowers Mercato Albinelli Modena
With wide grins on our faces we watched as this dog enthusiastically pulled in the direction of this flower stand. He was especially smitten with these yellow blooms.
Pasta Mercato Albinelli Modena

Italian Vegetables Mercato Albinelli Modena
So many beautiful pomodori (tomatoes)!
Mercato Albinelli Modena

“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”

Paul Prudhomme
Italian Cheese Mercato Albinelli Modena

Parmigiano Reggiano Modena Market
My version of a Parmigiano-Reggiano snow woman, and a timid dog awaiting his owner by the market’s entrance. Each cheese wheel weighs about 38 kg (roughly 80 pounds).
Italian Cheese Mercato Albinelli Modena

Italian sausage Emilia-Romagna

Artichoke and Fruit Modena Market Italy

Mercato Albinelli Modena

Asparagus Modena Market Italy

Seafood Modena Market Italy

Fish Market Mercato Albinelli Modena

Parma Ham Mercato Albinelli Modena
Prosciutto (dry-cured ham) from the nearby city of Parma.
Modena Market Italy
A butcher puts the finishing touches on sausage links; and artichokes, asparagus, and golden zucchini flowers mingle.
Sausage Maker Mercato Albinelli Modena

Italian Fruit Vegetables Mercato Albinelli Modena

Our Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Albinelli Market is located at Via Luigi Albinelli, 13, just a moment’s walk from Modena’s main square, the Piazza Grande. Check the market’s official website for opening hours and a handy map which shows where the various categories of culinary goodies can be found. I was delighted that there is even a stall devoted to gluten-free pasta and bread. Look for the stall #29 and the name Senza Glutine (without gluten).
  • We spent 3 nights at the elegant, historic, and centrally-located Hotel Canalgrande (affiliate link). One of our favorite memories from Modena, in fact, was sitting out on our hotel room balcony just before sunset, looking out over Modena’s rooftops, while enjoying goodies that we’d procured at the Albinelli Market earlier in the day.
  • Peruse the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board website for more details about this region’s rich offerings. Also, they’ve just recently released a free e-book that chronicles Emilia-Romagna’s Art Cities. I wish it’d been published when we were in the region, yet it’s since presented even more excuses to return to this stunning part of Italy.
  • If you’d also like to “eat, feel and live local in Italy” as we did in Modena, check out the BlogVille project website.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Italy.

Disclosure & Thanks:

Our Modena visit was supported by the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board, to which we extend thanks.

An extra special thank you to Nick and Francesca for coordinating all the details and making us feel so welcome in Emilia-Romagna.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

35 thoughts on “Edible Art: The Fresh Market of Modena, Italy

    1. Juliann, the quality of the food at this market was so impressive that we visited it three times in three days. Since we didn’t have a kitchen, we opted for picnic treats. Do you have a trip to Italy in the works?

    1. Virginia, that makes two of us! Alas, since we didn’t have a kitchen in which to do most of these ingredients justice, we focused on picnic treats – strawberries & balsamic vinegar, a peppery, Sicilian cheese; a crispy baguette, Pesto Genovese, and some sweet pastries for Shawn. No wonder why the residents of this town seemed to exude such happiness!

    1. MM, I’m glad the photo essay was effective in tempting your tastebuds. :-) Undoubtedly, you’d find a lot of inspiration for your sketchbook with all the different pasta varieties!

    1. Anda, it is, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Having previously focused on the usual suspects (Rome, Florence, Venice, etc.) it was a joy to have a peek at Emilia-Romagna. There’s much to call us back! What are your personal favorites in Italy?

  1. Farmer’s markets are the best places to wander, to meet locals, and get free tastings! We used to love heading to the Cours Saleya while we were in Nice, France. Besides all the fresh fruits and vegetables they also have gorgeous flower markets there.

    1. Bespoke Traveler, I think I might have stopped by that same market when I was in Nice in July of 2003 or 2004… I left it, or one of the markets along the Côte d’Azur, with a sizable bouquet of lavender, which provided a wonderful aroma on our train ride back home. :) Did you previously live in Nice?

  2. Il mercato Albinelli e’ come la tavolozza del pittore……e’ una gioia per lo spirito visitarlo…. Ti riempie il cuore e la mente di bellezza e serenità .

    1. Ciao Carla, e grazie per il tuo commento. “Come la tavolozza del pittore” – mi piace.

      Parlo un po ‘di francese e tedesco, ma sto usando Google Translator per scriverti. Ti prego di perdonarmi se la mia risposta è piena di errori. :)

    1. Dorothy, they absolutely are. The selection of cheese alone at the Modena market could have held my attention for a long time. Are there certain European markets that have been especially memorable to you? I’ve also immensely enjoyed Santiago de Compostela’s in Spain, as well as Budapest’s.

    1. Carol, the quality of the food that we purchased was just as good as this market’s pristine presentation. Does your part of Australia have an abundance of fresh, farmers’ markets too?

  3. Excellent shots, Tricia! I love the small details you share with us, like the dog sniffing the flowers. I visited a market in Alberobello once, and one of my fondest memories is of the vendors shouting out to the patrons, hawking their wares. “Fresh tomatoes!” ;)

    1. Ruth, the dog ‘taking time to smell the flowers’ brought a smile to my face that morning. Actually, the smile never really left because we kept getting engaged by passersby, and the mood was so cheerful. I’m guessing you had the same type of experience in Alberobello.

      I think it was your post of Alberobello that introduced me to the town, and made me want to go there. It’s the one with the trulli buildings, right? This is a silly question perhaps, but were the market’s stalls housed in similar structures?

      1. Travel does have a way of adding to one’s must-see list. So much of what made Modena enjoyable for us was that it wasn’t overly touristic. I wish I could reunite with the pesto from the Mercato Albinelli right now. :)

    1. Stefania, the Mercato Albinelli was indeed one of our favorite experiences in Modena. Since you go there rather regularly, please tell Enzo (at the panetteria of the same name) hello. My husband, Shawn, still thinks about the Tortelli Forno from his shop!

  4. Tricia,
    As always, your intricate descriptions allow me to almost taste the delicacies! Whenever this pandemic yields to allow safe travel, we may have to visit Italy!
    I hope you and Shawn are well, friend!

    1. Ciao Sarah, and do I ever wish I could taste some of these market goodies right now. The pesto Genovese is actually top-of-mind. :) It would be great fun if our paths crossed again — perhaps in Europe. Let me know if you’re headed this way post-pandemic. Stay well, and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

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