White as snow, red as…cherry
Bright, unmistakable, red as blood: when the two most common cultivars of the Vignola Cherry reach peak ripeness, they rival a Burgundy for colour. No other bunch of cherries is so highly prized. No other cherry conquers the eye, never mind the palate, with quite such panache, for no other is quite so brazenly fat, or has quite such seductive, provocative roundness.
But white, not red, is the colour that heralds its birth. The white of the cherry blossom, which in March begins to blanch the skyline of this town near Modena. It almost makes us believe that the plains are covered in the snow that now so rarely falls.
Botanically, the cherry flower is defined as being hermaphrodite. But let’s leave science to the scientists, and just let ourselves be intoxicated by that perfect crown of five white petals, cupped around a bright yellow stem. The calyx opens without a trace of shyness, basks in the sunlight and reflects it brighter still, like an irresistible lighthouse for the flocking, feasting bees.
The Vignola area stretches out around the striking Vignola Fortress, which first belonged to Contrari family and then to the House of Este. The land is largely given over to agriculture, mostly vineyards and mulberry trees, which at that time were often used as an integral part of housing. But structural backbone was only one of mulberry’s uses, as its leaves nourished and fostered a huge silkworm population, and silk was one of the area’s chief exports until the late nineteenth century. From then on, the mulberries gradually ceded to apples and cherries, which have become predominant in recent decades.
The cherry and mulberry roots go deep in the culture of the province of Modena, as they do at the extremes of Reggio Emilia. One more example of this is in the production of the highly-prized Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, which is always aged in barrels made of the timber from one of these two trees. Thus, cherry and mulberry play a decisive role in the complex array of aromas for which the vinegar is famed.
The eruption of the cherry blossom, therefore, really is a song of the earth, a song of its people and its history. And we get to enjoy its beauty, as our mouths water at the prospect of the fruits.