The history behind balsamic vinegar stems from Henry III passing through Reggio Emilia and taking some with him to his coronation. This is the first and oldest instance of balsamic vinegar being mentioned outside of Italy. Now it is used in cooking all across the world. There is one thing to keep in mind, however. The balsamic vinegar you see on supermarket shelves in the US is not the pure one that can be found only on a Modena culinary tour.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
At the top of the totem pole of all balsamic vinegar is traditional balsamic vinegar. It is only made in Reggio Emilia and Modena. You can schedule a Modena culinary tour to get a glimpse at the process and potentially even try some. The process is overseen by a certification agency and is done using a traditional production method. Traditional balsamic vinegar is dark brown, glossy, and has a thicker, more viscous texture like syrup.
How Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is Made
The first and most essential element of the process is the grape must. ‘Must’ in this context is just another word for juice that comes from freshly smashed fruit. The grapes are whole pressed and are complete with juice, skin, stems, and even seeds. The must is then cooked over a direct flame. Once they are cooked, they are fermented for up to three weeks- just like wine! Next, they are matured for up to 12 years in barrels. The wood used to store and age the vinegar can lend a unique flavor profile to the finished product.
Each year the smallest cask will be bottled, and more vinegar will replace it. Barrels are never fully drained. Since it is very complicated to tell the exact age of the vinegar, there are no direct age labels placed on the vinegar. There is a tasting committee that will get together and determine a grade for the vinegar. The grades are as follows:
- Affinato (fine 12-year vintage)
- Vecchio (old 15-20 year vintage)
- Extra Vecchio (extra old 20-25 year vintage)
When on a Modena culinary tour, you will only encounter the Affinato or the Extra Vecchio.
Balsamic Vinegar in Modena
Traditional balsamic vinegar gets a special designation of DOP from the European Union. This also means that the price tag can get quite steep. In fact, you will be able to buy a gold label vinegar for about $200, and you will walk away with 3 ounces. A less expensive but more common vinegar is Balsamic of Modena. If there is an IGP label, then this vinegar has a protected geographical indication. So, this makes it perfect for everyday use, especially for cooking.
Balsamic vinegar is most often used to drizzle over a salad but can be used in cooking as well. It is most often used to cook meat, fish, and poultry. It has also been used to make a good marinade or veggie dip. No matter how balsamic vinegar is used, it takes dishes to the next level and leaves a lasting impression.
Schedule a Modena Culinary Tour Today
It takes up to 25 years to produce this special kind of vinegar which is why you must add balsamic vinegar as part of your Modena culinary tour. You should contact Italian Culinary Adventures at 1-818-438-2346 to book a culinary tour today for you and your travel companions.