Balsamic vinegar is prized in Modena, Italy. It can be used for many things. It’s not a vinegar. A vinegar. It shouldn’t be vinegar at all. Not if it is made in Modena, the traditional and time-tested method.
Here’s how it works: Vinegar is made from fermenting liquids like wine and apple cider. The grapes can’t be fully fermented into wine to make traditional balsamic vinigar the way Modena does. This is because the grapes don’t have to be.
Instead, white Trebbiano di Castelvetro grapes are pressed. The “must” is the resulting liquid. It’s boiled down to a fraction of its original volume. The liquid is then poured into barrels, which have been rinsed with boiling water and allowed to age for one year. The syrupy liquid is then put into wooden kegs at the end of the year. The vinegar is then put in wooden kegs for another year. This happens when it has thickened and reduced further. Balsamic vinegar’s unique flavor and character is due to the wood used: chestnut, ash, juniper.
The liquid is monitored by an acetaio, who checks it periodically. When the liquid is ready, the organization responsible to regulating balsamic vinegar’s quality will evaluate it. Balsamic vinegar is only allowed to age for 12 years. It can also age for 35 years.
What is the result? The result is a highly concentrated vinegar that’s extremely fragrant, sweet…and delicious. Balsamic vinegar is an exquisite product due to its unique flavor and the lengthy process and expertise involved.
However, most balsamic vinegar that you will find in your local grocery store didn’t go through this process. Balsamic vinegar is becoming more popular outside of Italy and producers have found ways around this. Some producers make a blend of wine vinegar concentrate and age the mixture for three to four years. If you want it to be cheap and mass-produced, mix vinegar with grape concentrate, acetic acid, sugar, and artificial wood flavoring. (Yuck).
These vinegar aren’t as traditional or nearly as delicious! Modena is the only place to find authentic, traditional balsamic vinegar, just as Campania’s unique characteristics give mozzarella de bufala din Campania an exceptional flavor. Modena’s balsamic vinegar is made from white Trebbiano di Castelvetro grapes. It goes through all the steps and is therefore the most expensive balsamic vinegar around. It’s also the “only” balsamic vinigar according to foodies and purists. It’s protected by DOP status, just like Campania’s buffalo mozzarella.
You don’t want to use aceto balsamico de Modena if you have it. It only takes a few drops and is great on salads, steaks, Parmesan cheese, and vanilla ice cream.