Nectar from grapes, better than wine...

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Tuesday 9/6/11 time 4:37 PM - Laura Valvanne


People have many ideas of what is balsamic vinegar. This sweet product from Italy in my opinion is so good that I would say it’s even better than wine...and that’s said a lot!

Unfortunately there are as many products on the market as there are clients. Some of my clients want syrupy balsamic but are not willing to pay much for it because they have previously bought some from the supermarket for only a few Euros a bottle. Then there are clients who had to pay huge amounts on products that are not really worth that much. The prices are high merely because of an ignorant shop keeper.

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Here’s how it really goes:

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP

 These are the two areas that can officially produce and name the product aceto balsamico tradizionale, the real deal.  Both Modena and Reggio Emilia are situated in Northern Italy in the region of Emilia-Romagna.

 The story starts with the grapes grown it these areas. Reggio Emilia; Trebbiano, Occhio, Spergola, Berzemino, Marani, Salamino, Maestri, Montericco, Sorbara, Ancellotta. Modena: white Trebbiano. Other varieties such as the white Occio du Gatto, white Spergola, red Berzemino and Lambrusco grapes are also permitted. These grapes are pressed, put into vats, the seeds and stalks are taken out and the must is drawn off. Then the juice is filtered and boiled over low heat until it is reduced in half and becomes a sweet concentrate. 

 This unfermented juice is put into”batteria”,  a series of different size wooden barrels that are made out of different wood. Each wood gives the vinegar its characteristic taste. The woods used are oak, juniper and for ex.  chestnut t to enhance the dark colour, cherry wood to sweeten the flavour and mulberry to make the vinegar more concentrated. The juice goes through fermentation and ageing in the ”batteria”. It is moved from one barrel to another and the barrel size is smaller every time, from 100 litres to a last small barrel of 10 litres.

 These barrels are kept in the attic where they are exposed to different weather conditions; hot summers and cold winters. Unlike wine this is beneficial for balsamico. The barrels loose by evaporation and concentration 15-30 % of its volume each year and have to be topped up. This is done by a professional Master Vinegar Maker, who follows the flavours and aromas of each barrel. The vinegar can stay on these barrels and oldest barrels in the best houses can be over 100 years old.  According to Italian law it requires a minimum of 12 years of ageing before considered for approval and sold as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.

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 These houses make also a bit more affordable product: aceto balsamico di Modena IGP. The difference between these products with the tradizionale is that there around 40 % vinegar mixed with the concentrated grape juice. It goes through, like tradizionale, ageing in the “batteria” barrels. These vinegars you can find from very young, but I would personally take from  5 years old on. They have great flavours to everyday use: at the same time the acidity of the vinegar with the sweetness of the juice and strong flavours from all the different wood given to it through the ageing.

 This is clearly not a business for impatient people.  It could be the reason why they build the fastest cars in the world in this same region. The Ferrari factory is only a few steps away...

 Comparing to this extremely long and caring process of making the real aceto balsamico, the products we can find in the supermarkets, also called balsamic vinegars, are far from the original product.

These vinegars can be made hundreds of thousands of litres per day by mixing into vine vinegar some colorings, sugar or caramel and thickeners to imitate the sweet and syrupy texture of the real thing.  These imitations can of course be sold with a much lower price tag...

 Maybe these imitation products are needed in this modern world, I don’t know? We can definitely agree that if a very long time ago the balsamic vinegar was so respected that it was used as medicine for sore throats, for breathing difficulties, for indigestion and even to cure bites by poisonous animals...or as a powerful aphrodisiac, today we would not use the coloured imitation for any of that and surely not as aphrodisiac if we had romance in mind!

 Today the balsamic vinegar is loved by the chefs in all the best restaurants as well as home kitchens all over the world. I fell in love in the product when I had the chance to visit ”La Bonissima”  The house  of De Pietri family 2 years back.

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Franco and Donatella Di Pietri

We had the possibility to go through the process of making and after saw all the attics with old...older ...and really, really old barrels. At the end of the visit we had the extreme pleasure to taste the difference what the ageing does to the vinegar. When we went on and had even older ones in our spoons Donatella went and got the oldest one, the treasure, the “Il Centenario” on the table. It was over 100 years old. Imagine the life in 1909 and someone putting the juice in the barrels. Did they think that someone in 100-years time would taste it?

 

I did, I was sold and I was “afrodisitized”, totally!

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Excellent lunch in La Bonissima, with the real thing of cource

Keywords: balsamico, balsamic vinegar


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