Around 150,000 quintals of cherries of 150 different varieties are produced in Italy each year. However, only about twenty types are considered excellent and among these the top prize goes to the cherries from the city of Vignola near Modena. Here, you can find high quality cherries of various varieties (durone, mora…) for eating, making preserves and other culinary uses.
The cherries are grown in an area of about 1,000 hectares in the provinces of Modena, Bologna and, in addition to Vignola, 28 other communes at the base of the hills.
The fruit of the sweet cherry ripens in spring and the cherries are harvested from the end of May to the end of June. These sweet treats are rich in nutrients and their flesh contains mineral salts like potassium, calcium, iron and a good amount of vitamin A and C. Due to these compounds, the fruit is refreshing, diuretic and astringent. The cherries are picked by had and placed in baskets or containers according to strict rules so that the fruit is not damages during transport. They can be eaten fresh or used to make marmalade, jams, syrups to add to yogurt or milk, preserved in alcohol or candied. They are also used to make cherry brandy.
San Girolamo wrote that the cherry tree, originally from Asia, was brought to Rome in 68 AC by Lucullo from the city of Cerasonte. Cherries were not cultivated actively and would have disappeared during the Middle Ages had the monks not tended to their fruit gardens the way they did. Written tests on cultivation, fertilization and pruning techniques of the cherry tree did not appear until the 16th century. The tree was known not only for its fruit, but the quality of its wood, used to make cabinets and musical instruments like flutes and organ pipes.
During the 1800s, cherries were considered a niche product and limited to the wealthy. In the area of Vignola, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, mulberry was grown intensively for breeding silkworms. But due to the drop in price of silk caused by international competition, the local economy shifted to other types of cultivation and fruit trees replaced the mulberry. The cherry tree, in particular, had much success and became the predominant cultivated tree in the area. There are two important cherry festivals held in Vignola: one at the beginning of April called the “Festa dei Ciliegi in Fiore” (Cherry Blossom Festival) which lasts for three weeks, with a parade of allegorical carts; and the other at the beginning of June, called “Vignola: è tempo di Ciliegie” (Vignola: it is time for Cherries). The June festival is more of a cultural and gastronomic fair with a cherry market and food stands selling cherry-based dishes, from risotto to marmalades, to gelato and spirits.