Balsamic Vinegar, derived from the Latin word balsamum, has always been legendary around Italy. In fact, “balsamum” refers to, or is loosely translated as s “an aromatic resin capable of having healing properties.” This special resin is believed to have carried over to vinegar. Since the 11th century, this liquid has been produced in Italy. Namely, the Este family began producing vinegar in the Emilia Romagna region, which they ruled at the time. Later, in the 18th century, the family shifted to Modena. It was here that the vinegar became “balsamic” vinegar. Since this time, balsamic vinegar has achieved legendary status among Italians and other fans worldwide.
Artisan balsamic vinegar has not always been available to the public. In olden days, it was exclusive and reserved for royalty. It wasn’t available for purchase until the past century. In fact, Italian families had been known to perfect their vinegar over many years and pass their secrets on as heirlooms to later generations. Italians still consider balsamic vinegar a worthy gift for such notable occasions as weddings. Of course, only authentic balsamic vinegars come with a code distinguishing their province of origin: Modena or Reggio Emilia. These special liquids are aged in wood barrels for twelve to twenty-five years, providing a range of intense flavors and aromas.
Italian vinegars should not be cooked, for they will lose some of their intended essence. They are commonly served as a condiment over salads or meat. Some of the more renowned vinegars are simply sipped to fully enjoy their quality and artisanship. These delicacies are very expensive; a small bottle can range in price from $50 to $100.
Types of Balsamic Vinegar
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP – It is most likely that the ancient Romans used some of the same skills learned in cooking grape must, pressing dried grapes, and fermenting the liquids, to produce their first vinegars. In 1508, Alfonso I d’Este, the Duke of Modena, had a private vinegar facility. (This was also the first documentation of vinegar). Trebbiano, and a few select other varieties of grape are pressed softly; the liquid is concentrated by cooking the must over an open fire reaching temperatures of 155° F. Alcoholic fermentation and acetic oxidation occur in the spring, after the liquid has decanted throughout the winter months. The vinegar is filtered and placed into barrels for aging. The fermentation and maturation of the vinegar are carried out through a successive changing of barrels, varying in size and woodtype (cherry, mulberry, juniper, oak and chestnut). Vinegars that have aged for over twenty-five years can be categorized as extravecchio, but the most common maturation lengths range between twelve and twenty years. The final products are expensive due to the volume lost from evaporation. A maximum of three quarts of vinegar can be produced from an original 18.4 gallons of grape must. A strong, penetrating aroma comes with the dark brown color of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. The dense vinegar has an acidic, sweet, and sour flavor.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP – This centuries-old vinegar, like its neighbor from Modena, was not referred to as “balsamic” until recently. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena follows the same basic production process as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Experts maintain that the main difference between the two vinegars is that the Reggio-Emilia produced version is slightly more delicate and acidic. Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatta, Spergola, Berzemino and Lambrusco grapes are grown within the production zone of this vinegar. Sugars, glycerol, acetic, malic, and gluconic acids all increase with aging, but the acidity of the vinegar drops from a pH of 3 to 2.56. Unique to Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia is a rating system of good quality (aragosta), superior quality (argento), and exceptional quality (oro). The dark brown liquid has a strong fragrance that varies with the types of wood used for aging. The flavor is both sweet and sour.