The Poetry of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
We wrote an article on Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in the bilingual Italian-English magazine Borghi Magazine for their March edition. We want to share it here too because the way Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made is pure poetry, pure romance!
(Photo by Acetaia Sarti di Modena)
Every drop of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar treasures centuries of history. From the Ancient Romans that cooked grape must for preservation and to flavor food, to the 19th-century aristocracy where women proudly carried this precious condiment as a dowry into married life. History also narrates how many families from Modena would celebrate the birth of a newborn with a new batteria, a sequence of progressively smaller barrels made from different woods through which the cooked grape must would gradually, very very slowly, turn into balsamic vinegar.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is the legacy of traditions, of a territory, and of the skills mastered throughout the centuries. It is protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system and follows its strict rules and regulations and two different designations have been granted: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia. The slow-paced production process uses grapes harvested within the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia only which are transformed into cooked must and aged for at least 12 years.
Five or more barrels of decreasing size make up a batteria for traditional balsamic vinegar and each barrel is made using different woods. Each wood releases its distinctive trait into the vinegar: chestnut is rich in tannins and will darken the vinegar, mulberry will speed the concentration process, juniper will release its resinous features, cherry will provide sweetness, oak will add a vanilla aroma.
Through a special refilling procedure called rincalzo, the first and largest barrel, the one where the new cooked and acetified must is poured into, is partially emptied into the second barrel and refilled with the new cooked must. The second barrel is then partially emptied into the third and refilled with the content of the previous barrel. As the process continues from one barrel to another, the content gradually concentrates until it reaches its distinct flavors and aromas.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO, which can exclusively be packaged in a bulb-shaped bottle with a square base created by designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, comes in two varieties: ‘Affinato’, aged at least 12 years, and ‘Extravecchio’, aged at least 25 years. Three different colored labels are used for the inverted tulip-shaped bottles of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO which indicate the minimum number of years it has aged for: Red Label for 12 years, Silver Label from 12 to 25 years, and Gold Label for over 25 years.
If you really miss seeing the beauty of Italy and it’s small local towns, we really recommend subscribing to the digital edition of Borghi Magazine. It’s all about Italy!