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EMILIA-ROMAGNA FOOD: BALSAMIC VINEGAR OF MODENA
HISTORY AND PRODUCTION OF THE BLACK GOLD FROM MODENA
The Balsamic vinegar of Modena is one of the most beloved condiments in the world. This statement is backed up by numbers: balsamic vinegar is exported to more than a hundred countries. The black gold from Modena is a brownish, syrupy and aromatic liquid which does not contain any colouring agents or preservatives. It is a specialty from Emilia-Romagna, which is deeply tied to its production territory.
Today’s Balsamic vinegar of Modena in numbers
72 vinegar cellars
92% of Balsamic vinegar of Modena is exported
120 countries worldwide, where this vinegar is sold
(data from the consortium)
Balsamic vinegar of Modena: PDO or PGI?
Let’s try to give a clear answer to this legitimate question. Let’s start by saying that both of these vinegars exist: there is the PGI balsamic vinegar of Modena and the PDO balsamic vinegar of Modena (since 2000). If neither of these exact names is written on the bottle, it means that it is not the original balsamic vinegar of Modena.
To obtain these two protection seals, production must strictly follow what the product specifications and the consortium state. Each production step must be carried out very carefully and only expert tasters can assess whether products are valid and authentic. One of the most important details of both PGI and PDO vinegars is that they do not contain preservatives, such as the infamous E150D, which is also contained in a very famous American soda.
Supermarket shelves are full of brown bottles, but only few of them are authentic. As we always say, the first thing to do is checking the label: it is the ID of a product and, even more so, of its producer. That’s what food selectors - like us - are for.
PDO Balsamic vinegar of Modena
Traditional balsamic vinegar is a very refined product, an excellent world-renowned Italian specialty. It only has one ingredient: acetified cooked grape must. The must is produced between the months of September and October after the grape harvest, using local grape varieties: Lambrusco, Trebbiano, Sauvignon and Ancellotta.
Vinegar is aged in durmast, chestnut, cherry wood, ash, mulberry or juniper barrels placed in vinegar cellars called acetaie; these aging premises have a perfect humidity level which triggers the aging period. All the aromas of the wood used for the barrels, which are built by expert coopers, are soaked by the black gold of Modena, full of unique, refined and exceptional flavours. A perfect example is the balsamic vinegar by Officinae Defrutum.
PDO traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena refines for at least 12 years. During this time the liquid is gradually poured from a bigger barrel to a smaller one, and so on. As the vinegar is poured over and over, the amount of liquid decreases due to the natural processes of fermentation and evaporation. The vinegar becomes more reduced and aromatic.
Once it has finished aging, in order to comply with the specifications, the traditional balsamic vinegar must have a deep dark colour, a syrupy texture, an intense scent and an extremely aromatic sweet-and-sour flavour.
Lastly, when expert tasters state that the traditional balsamic vinegar has reached perfect maturity, it can be bottled. Even the bottling process must follow specific rules: PDO specifications indicate that specific little bottles made of heavy transparent glass, round-shaped with a square base and with an embedded serial number, must be used.
PGI Balsamic vinegar of Modena
More than just must
Here lies the first difference with the PDO balsamic vinegar: PGI Balsamic vinegar of Modena is made of fermented or concentrated cooked must and wine vinegar, together with vinegar aged at least ten years, in precise amounts as stated in the specifications. Grapes always come from local vineyards.
Balsamic vinegar rests in wooden barrels for at least 60 days, while it reaches an acidity level of at least 6%. Through the expert tasters’ analysis, the end product can be certified as Balsamic vinegar of Modena and continue to age, if necessary. In order to be designated as “aged” balsamic vinegar of Modena, vinegar must age for at least three years.
According to product specifications, all manufacturing steps, except packaging of finished products, must be carried out exclusively in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The Balsamic vinegar of Modena can be sold in glass, wood, ceramic or terracotta bottles.
We have selected a very special PGI Balsamic vinegar of Modena by I Solai di San Giorgio. The name reveals its uniqueness: Allambrusco, a balsamic vinegar only made with the Lambrusco grape variety. It cannot get more local than that!
Let’s start by talking about the territory: Modena. Romans discovered the high-quality of this soil in which grapes particularly high in sugar would grow. The modern grape varieties of Lambrusco and Trebbiano - the most important grapes for the production of cooked must for balsamic vinegar - come from those vineyards domesticated back in the third century BC.
Must production also originated in this territory which is very hot in the summer time and cold in the winter, which is ideal to prevent wine aging. So must started to be boiled right after the grape pressing.
Once it had cooled down, it could either become the so-called saba, an actual syrup made of only cooked grapes, or it was left to age in wooden barrels. It is not surprising that Romans, who loved intense flavours, were fan of this product.
Over time production techniques developed and a family-owned vinegar cellar became more and more valuable. The name balsamic vinegar appeared for the first time in the middle of the 18th century - in 1747 - in register logs of the Este family’s ducal cellar. Since then its fame spread far and wide and all its production steps were codified.
In 1967, a lot more recently, the Consortium of the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena was founded and one single production method was codified, as well as a list of parameters to follow in order to obtain a high-quality
And what about today? As I said, you can find balsamic vinegar of any sort. There are shameless bad copies everywhere, maybe because the PDO traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is one of the five Italian PDO labels with the highest production levels?
Many consumers think that as long as it’s called balsamic vinegar, then it’s legit, but it is not the case. A product whose work requires more than a decade cannot be cheap!
The Balsamic vinegar of Modena in the kitchen
The balsamic vinegar can be paired with meat dishes, such as the beef fillet with balsamic vinegar or beef strips with some rocket salad and Parmigiano reggiano cheese.
In the regional cuisine from Emilia-Romagna, the Balsamic vinegar of Modena is also combined with many pasta dishes and fresh pasta, such as Tortelli with a pumpkin filling, in which the balsamic vinegar perfectly complements the sweet notes and spices the taste up with its acid and aromatic flavour.
It cannot be defined as a dish of the Emilia-Romagna cuisine in itself, but it certainly represents what this region can offer: a shaving of Parmigiano cheese with some drops of Balsamic vinegar on top.