The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP from Modena & Reggio Emilia is an Italian excellence.
Everyone knows it but not everyone knows how it is produced. And it is even more difficult to understand why there is such a large price difference. If you want to find out more you can not miss this article on one of the most loved and sought after condiments in the world.
It’s easy to say balsamic vinegar.
Credited with great detoxifying abilities, balsamic vinegar would be a real elixir of health and youth. If not, we could always console ourselves thanks to its magnificent taste. First of all, vinegar comes from wine, and what better country than Italy can host this magical transformation? Vinegar is, surely, as a condiment, but useful in many ways. To balance the taste of too fatty sauces and to give liveliness to slightly weak dishes. Needless to say, Italy is the number one producer of vinegar. But, as often happens with other products, one of the smaller consumers.
There are many vinegars but some are really special
The first fundamental difference that must be made is that between the balsamic vinegar of Modena and aromatico and the traditional balsamic. However, traditional balsamic vinegar comes from the must in the first phase of fermentation. Let’s talk here, only about the finest of vinegars. Since 2000 both Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia are PDO marks (DOP in Italian). The making of starts from the fermentation of cooked must for both. Aging time lasts, at least, 12 years in wooden barrels. For the wording Extravecchio instead, you have to wait at least 25 years.
Another magic by wood
The barrels must be of different sizes and different wood to accommodate, year after year, the transfer of the fermented must. Year after year, therefore, vinegar evaporates. Decreasing in the volume of the product, vinegar passes to another barrel. The wood varies and therefore different scents, color, flavors change the product. Which becomes more dense and viscous from year to year, but increasingly richness in aroma and flavor. Imagine all these barrels lying in the Emilian and Romagna attics. Barrels of cherry, oak, chestnut, mulberry, ash and juniper, all working for us. Together with time and temperature range, they prepare, almost by magic, the most regal of the vinegars. With aging, the must becomes darker, while on the palate it is sumptuous, sweet and sour and very persistent.
A historical heritage.
Balsamic vinegar making is an ancient tradition that dates back centuries. A product much appreciated by the nobility who handed down secrets and recipes from generation to generation. During the Renaissance this vinegar experienced incredible success, even internationally. We find it celebrated in poems by exceptional writers and protagonist of meetings between the crowned heads of the time. Balsamic vinegar was so precious that it was the dowry of rich girls. Also considered a balsamo (a balm), that is, indeed, a medicine. Indispensable in every home. The real traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is today, as then, an elixir of life. A very expensive joy for the palate. It is not a vinegar to dress the salad. You will never find it in bottles with spray dispenser. And above all, an authentic traditional balsamic vinegar can never cost less than a hundred euros for a small ampoule.
How it is produced
The grapes are crushed to obtain the must which goes in vats. After a period that serves to bring out the marc, they filter it and cook it over low heat. Cooking time is slow, for about 14 hours, then the must rests until spring. With the rise in temperature, in fact, fermentation begins again in spring. With the transformation of sugars into alcohol. When reaching 6-7- degrees of alcohol stop with an acetobacter. At this point the liquid is passed to the barrels. Which must be at least three, but, usually, those are more. The first year the must is aged in a chestnut barrel, which begins to release dark color. Then we move on to the cherry tree that leaves sweeter scents, and so on, each wood has a different property. Every year the reinforcement is carried out, that is, new must is added in the first of the barrels and so on to have a continuous production. The last barrel, the oak one, has a size of about 10 liters.
The approval of the Consortium, a very tough test
After all those aging years, little remains from evaporation. Maybe the producer waited 12 years to get this precious nectar. At this point it is not over. In fact, the heroic producer of traditional balsamic vinegar must pass the examination of the panel of experts of the consortium. They will be the ones who approve or not the vinegar to gain the label and the official bottle for the Tradional vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia PDO. Only the Consortium can say the word. The official bottle can only contain 100 ml of vinegar. It has a unique and inimitable shape, designed by the great designer Giugiaro. If the vinegar do not pass the organoleptic test, it doesn’t gain the DOP certificate, but it can still be sold. Named differently, downgraded, good anyway, but not excellent.
But then all the other “balsamic” vinegars?
If there is no wording, the seal of the Consortium, the bottle by Giugiaro, unfortunately we are not talking about the traditional vinegar. Other vinegars that do not bear the traditional wording, can be, however, level products. But at the supermarket it is difficult to find them. What you find is, often and unfortunately, a miserable copy. Industrial products obtained, without a doubt, with other processes and materials. For example the color, without the magic of the wood, it is intensified with the addition of dyes such as caramel. Those are just condiments and sauces. However, they like them, especially to those who have not had the opportunity to taste the real one. They like them due to the large amount of sugar, often added. Their cost varies from a few euros to a few tens of euros. But we are talking about another playing field, another championship, or rather another sport.
Balsamic vinegar and pairing
A few drops of balsamic vinegar in a dish can change the taste bringing it to the stars. It should be used wisely and in moderation. Unlike common wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar lends itself to pairing with wine. He wants a soft and round wine that can accompany its marked softness. A particular combination of balsamic vinegar is with strawberries. But also with a saffron risotto. Excellent with the classic summer dish of figs and ham. With all the recipes containing Parmigiano Reggiano. On meat tartare of excellent quality. In Rome it is loved on straccetti with rocket and parmesan, a typical quick recipe to prepare. In winter in the soups of potatoes, pumpkin, chickpeas give a touch of great Chef.