AUTHENTIC BALSAMIC VINEGAR: THE BLACK GOLD OF MODENA
A rose is a rose, but is not the same when it comes to Balsamic Vinegar. Talking about Modena Italy's balsamic vinegar is speaking about two different things.Ten to fifteen years ago, balsamic Vinegar was relatively unknown outside Italy. Now, due to the backing of celebrity chefs, exposure in gourmet food magazines, and countless appearances on television cooking programs, there is always a household with a bottle of balsamico in almosy every kitchen counter. Also called Black Gold, to highlight its prestige and a characteristic of its appearance (it has a very dark color), this condiment is now appreciated in every part of Italy and also in many other places in the rest of the world.
When did people start making balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic Vinegar originated in Italy, particularly in the Modena and Reggio Emilia areas. The production dates back to the Middle Ages, and traditional balsamic Vinegar has been produced for centuries.
The city of Modena is in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. While also the home of Ferrari and Lamborghini sport cars, Modena is best known for its aceto balsamico tradizionale in the culinary world.
Balsamic Vinegar is an essential part of life in Modena and Reggio Emilia, where making balsamic was seen as an art form, and its use was very symbolic.
A set of barrels was traditionally started when a child was born and gifted to the parents. The resulting Vinegar would be given to the son/daughter and their in-laws upon marriage later in life.
Families would cherish their reserve, passed down through generations, giving away century-old Vinegar only as a special gift to treasured friends, visiting dignitaries, and doctors. Safe in the attic, slowly maturing into liquid black gold despite the busy activity of life below, balsamic Vinegar came to be considered a symbol of peace. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance,
Also, the ruling class enjoyed such Vinegar as a refined drink, which they believed to be a remedy for the plague. All these traditions are part of Italian history.
Balsamic Vinegar for the masses
The Italian culture and traditions of Balsamic Vinegar is really fascinating. For hundreds of years, wealthy families in the small towns of Modena and Reggio Emilia, just west of Bologna in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, had been making balsamic Vinegar for their consumption. This is how it remained year after year until about 1980, when a few more enlightened chefs in Italy discovered that balsamic Vinegar's wonderfully intense flavors complemented modern Mediterranean cuisine so well. Awareness in Italy and abroad grew at a staggering pace. However, most of the bottles bought from a supermarket are not real balsamic, so most people have still yet to taste genuinely authentic balsamic Vinegar, or "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale," as it is known in Italian.
Authentic ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’:
Traditional balsamic Vinegar is made from only one ingredient, freshly crushed grape juice, called "must," which is aged in wooden barrels for an extended period, often 12 to 25 years. The aging process contributes to its complex flavor profile. The tradizionale DOP balsamic vinegar will go through this aging process, giving it a perfect balance of sweetness with a slight acidity.
To produce Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and the only certified DOP, the cooked must is the sole, exquisite ingredient added to the barrels and always kept in a loft space. The aging takes place in a series of five or seven small casks of different woods, arranged in decreasing order of capacity and, importantly, left open. This set of barrels is called a "battery" and forms a complete aging cycle that lasts a minimum of twelve and up to twenty-five years.
This precious Black Gold, which is submitted for the careful evaluation of the Master Tasters and Experts of the ABTM Consortium, is classed "Affinato" when aged for a minimum of 12 years and "Extravecchio" when it has been aged for at least 25 years. To be awarded the consortium seal vinegars it must have been made in the traditional, artisanal method, aged for a minimum of 12 years, and been produced in the provinces of Modena or Reggio Emilia. No wine vinegar or caramel can be added.
Producers must bring their Vinegar before a board of 5 expert tasters and pass tests for color, density, aroma, and taste. Only one-third of the Wines submitted ever win approval, which must be unanimous. Once the Vinegar has been accepted, it is bottled in the presence of the producer and consortium members into distinctive 100ml bottles bearing the producer's label and the consortium's guarantee seal.
Today traditional balsamic vinegar can be easily identified by the DOP insignia on the packaging and the bottle in which it is presented. You will always find traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena DOP in a small round flask with a solid rectangular bottom. If you’re making a dish where traditional balsamic is the star -- try it in panna cotta or vanilla ice cream topped with balsamic-macerated strawberries, by using the tradizionale version, You will taste the difference.
Wooden Barrel Aging:
The aging barrels are typically made from various types of wood, such as oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, and juniper. Each wood imparts distinct flavors to the Vinegar, creating a unique and nuanced final product.
As mentioned, traditional balsamic Vinegar is often aged in a series of barrels, each decreasing in size, with the Vinegar gradually thickening and intensifying in flavor over the years. This is what is called AGED TO PERFECTION.
IGP Balsamic Vinegar:
Traditional balsamic, time honored production process, creates a very expensive product that not everyone can afford. It left most, wanting to produce a balsamic vinegar with similar taste in much less time and more affordable. Fortunately, today we have IGP balsamic vinegar varieties intended for everyday use and one that can be found anywhere in the world.
While Traditional balsamic has only grape must, Authentic IGP Balsamic vinegar is made from a combination of two ingredients: wine vinegar and grape must. In general, the grapes in IGP vinegars can come from anywhere in the world, but must be processed and packed in Modena to earn the label. The variety in grapes gives a greater diversity of flavor and texture in IGP vinegar. Geographically protected, the IGP can also have a greater variety in ageing. The minimum for an Invecchiato IGP vinegar is 3 years, for example.
Superior quality wine vinegar and grape must from the region are what sets it apart from knockoffs and a designation of IGP status marked with its official brand assure a true balsamic vinegar of Modena.
Used in various ratios to determine the viscosity and flavor the grape must and wine vinegar are combined and aged in large barrels for a certain amount of time. The thinner, more liquid balsamic vinegar, the youger version, has more wine vinegar and less grape must. It will be more acidic and is most ideal for vinaigrettes and marinades. The more thicker and sweeter, aged longer, is most ideal to use as a condiment or finishing, in similar ways to tradizionale.
Also, the acidity and healthy bacteria used to produce balsamic vinegar make it a very healthy elixir for the body. The word balsamico itself comes from the Latin word for balm, meaning "health-giving." It was even used by Luciano Pavarotti to rinse his throat before singing, Balsamic is a digestive, which is why it makes such a good pairing for dessert.
Want a real Authentic Aceto Balsamico ?
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Today, Acetaia Marchi has multiple batteries for the maturation of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena P.G.I., Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena P.D.O. and more. Their products aim to make the true excellence of Modena known throughout the world.
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Cheap imitations of Balsamic Vinegar
The popularity of balsamic soared, and local families couldn't gear up production to meet the new demand. This came to be completed by new producers developing imitation versions. Within a few years, almost 1000 times cheaper commercial balsamic Vinegar was sold as the approved tradizionale. Today, Balsamic vinegar is one of the world’s most widely popular condiments, widely copied and reproduced in other countries. If you’re in the market for balsamic vinegar, you should probably pay close attention to the labels, seals, bottle shapes and even the wax-and-cork closures the next time you’re at the store. Not all balsamics are created equal. Many aren’t even balsamics. Authentic balsamics stem only from native-grown grapes in the regions where it originated: the Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Emilia Romagna, Italy.
The preparation must be natural, artisanal, and traditional. Not only does this type of product have to undergo a significant refining or aging process to offer its unmistakable flavor, but the market for balsamic vinegars offers various certifications and the quality varies significantly according to them. For example, for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO, the certification 'extravecchio 'guarantees aging of at least 25 years. There are three protected types of balsamic Vinegar: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP. Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP.
On the contrary, cheap supermarket balsamic vinegar with no IGP designation and eluding to be an authentic balsamic vinegar will contain inferior wine vinegar blended with low-quality grape must and other ingredients (including thickeners and coloring).
Tasting always makes a difference
An important test of authenticity is precisely the tasting: high-quality balsamic vinegar offers a complexity of flavors, including sweetness, acidity, and some special flavor notes triggered by aging inside wooden barrels. Cheap imitations may lack this richness of nuance. Therefore, to recognize authentic balsamic vinegar, it is always a good solution to taste the products carefully, looking for the balance between sweet and sour and a lingering aftertaste.
The tasting of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena should be done preferably in the morning, as the palate, unlike at different times of the day, is ready to welcome new flavors and this allows you to fully grasp all the nuances of the vinegar. It should also be pointed out that it should never be drunk as one would with a liqueur for example, but should be swirled around in small sips on the palate as one does with wine. Before tasting it, however, it is necessary to observe it well, in order to check whether it is clear, bright, has a particularly intense colour and its density. In fact, the denser the vinegar is bodied, the greater its yield in more sophisticated recipes, e.g. on juicy meat.
A more liquid product, on the other hand, is better suited to seasoning simple dishes such as salads. However, contrary to what one might think, density is not always synonymous with ageing: things do not necessarily go hand in hand, and a dense vinegar can also be younger than a more liquid one. Finally, an olfactory analysis is carried out to identify the different scents. Typically, a vinegar that is more syrupy will have grape flavours and aromas; a younger vinegar will have a cooked smell and an older one will allow the woody and fruity scents to be perceived.
Authentic aceto balsamico showcases its versatility by enhancing a variety of italian dishes. Whether used in salad dressings, as a finishing sauce for avocado, caprese, or grilled meats, or drizzled on desserts like strawberry parfait, balsamic vinegar elevates flavors to create a delightful culinary experience. Its ability to complement both sweet and savory dishes makes it a versatile and indispensable ingredient in any kitchen.