If you have ever seen or used authentic balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy, you know that it is much different from what passes for the same product in the United States. That’s not to say that all products labeled as such are not authentic, but for true results in Italian recipes that call for this ingredient, it must be processed according to the traditional methods. Modena has been making balsamic vinegar for some 900 years now, so they certainly know what they’re doing!
First off, balsamic isn’t even a vinegar. The latter is made by fermenting wine or apple cider. Authentic balsamic vinegar made in Modena begins with pressing Trebbiano di Castelvetro grapes into one-half or one-third of their original volume. The resulting liquid, called must, goes into barrels rinsed with boiling vinegar where it remains for a year. At the end of that time, the liquid, now the consistency of syrup, is placed into wooden kegs. This process occurs on an annual basis, with the balsamic reducing and thickening every year. From juniper to ash to chestnut, the type of wood used for the barrels gives the balsamic vinegar a specific taste and character.
Aging To Perfection
Balsamic vinegar must age for at least 12 years and a maximum of 35 years. The liquid is checked by an acetaio, which then he or she decides if it is ready to move on to the next step. When it is deemed ready for consumption, the liquid is checked by Consortium of the Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. It is then designated DOC or Denominazione di orgine controllata, numbered and given a seal of guarantee that shows the product to be traditional and “true” balsamic vinegar. The result is an amazing liquid that’s highly fragrant with a sweet unique flavor.
Most balsamic vinegar found in American grocery stores has not gone through this traditional process. As balsamic has gained in popularity, producers have cut corners, with many aging it for only a few years and cutting it with red wine vinegar. Some very cheaply made brands simply mix it with undesirable ingredients such as sugar, grape concentrate and artificial flavorings.
Although some manufacturers may try to mimic the manufacturing process, food purists say that this truly authentic balsamic vinegar is solely made with white Trebbiano di Castelvetro grapes in Modena. Many gourmet food stores stock traditional balsamic vinegar. There are also some websites that carry a wide variety of aged balsamics from many of the top producers in Italy. If you are ever lucky enough to have a bottle of this aceto balsamico di Modena, know that a little goes a long way! It’s perfect to use on steak, salads, with different varieties of veggies, on chunks of Parmesan cheese, and even one of my very favorites…vanilla ice cream! What Is Your Favorite Way To Use Balsamic Vinegar?