From Trebbiano grapes to high-quality balsamic vinegar from Modena
February 01, 2022
As a gourmet of Italian cuisine, you are certainly familiar with the balsamic vinegar from Modena – or the Aceto Balsamico di Modena, as it is called in Italy. Aceto Balsamico di Modena is the most traditional spice on the table in Italy. In this article, you’ll learn everything about this precious concentrate, from its production to the best culinary combinations.
What is Aceto Balsamico di Modena?
Aceto Balsamico di Modena is a balsamic vinegar from the Emilia-Romagna region. It is one of Italy’s best-known seasonings, and every gourmand must try the original.
In order to maintain the highest quality level – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – the product must be produced in a specific way. It must be produced from a specific grape variety, in a specific region of Italy, with a specific maturation time in a specific type of cask.
Besides Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamico di Modena is another culinary highlight of the region.
History, origin and tradition of balsamic vinegar
Modena, the small town in Emilia-Romagna, where families continue the age-old tradition of balsamic vinegar production in the attics of their homes. It is almost criminal to call this high-quality traditional Italian food ‘simple’ vinegar. Instead, the decades of maturation process transforms the balsamic vinegar into a sweet, thick syrup that lends a sublime flavour to many traditional Italian dishes and famous dishes.
Balsamic vinegar from Modena is similar in popularity and region to soy sauce from Asia, spicy Pico de Gallo and salsa from Mexico and ketchup from the USA. All traditional and popular seasonings that tell a story of the local culinary culture.
The history of balsamic vinegar
Emilia-Romagna is a region of northern Italy that has a favourable summer with a warm and humid climate and a cold winter. This climate favours the production of their Trebbiano, Lambrusco and Ancellotta vines. The origins of balsamic vinegar date back to Julius Caesar, who described balsamic vinegar as a medicinal disinfectant.
The ‘happiness’ of Aceto Balsamico began in the Renaissance and is linked to the noble Este family. In the 16th century, the Este families were forced to leave Rome and move to Modena, the new capital of the Duchy. At the end of the 16th century, the family began to produce products very similar to Aceto Balsamico di Modena.
From there, families in Modena passed on the heritage of balsamic vinegar production and made it the pride of the country. In fact, the balsamic vinegar produced by each family was generally not sold. Each family produced it and kept it in their barrels to give it to valuable people or to use it to enrich their daughters’ dowry.
It was not until 1989 that legislators decided the difference between Modena balsamic vinegar and Tradizionale di Modena balsamic vinegar. The latter is the flavouring that received the European DOP recognition in 2000. It may only be produced in the province of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Concentrated grape must (‘mosto cotto’) is fermented and must then mature in small wooden barrels for at least 12 years. The Trebbiano grape variety is predominantly used, but other varieties from the Emilia-Romagna region such as Ancelotta, Albana, Fortana, Lambrusco, Montuni and Sangiovese are also used in different bottles and qualities.
The production of balsamic vinegar in Modena
Refining white wine vinegar and grape must
One tonne of Trebbiano grapes yield around 70 litres of must, which is slowly cooked in copper or steel pots. Cooking takes place outdoors for several hours at a temperature of about 80°C in order to reach the desired sugar concentration. During this step, the must concentrates by slow evaporation and condenses in terms of the sugar content – glucose and fructose. After cooking, which lasts about 10 to 12 hours, you get almost 30 litres of thickened must.
When the outside temperature is around 20°C, the cooked must begins its natural fermentation. The must is liquid and contains a high sugar content. Thanks to the presence of microorganisms known as yeast and vinegar bacteria, it is ideal for triggering fermentation and vinegar processes.
The typical scents and aromas of the traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena are produced during this phase by two slow must transformations, first in glass jugs or steel containers (alcoholic fermentation) and then in wooden barrels (vinegar oxidation) where acetobacteria live. These acetobacteria are the main actors in the slow maturation and transformation of the must into traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Aging in oak barrels
The Aceto Balsamic Vinegar from Modena is aged in a series of progressive barrels made of different woods (mulberry, oak, cherry, chestnut, juniper, ash), each of which gives the vinegar a special aroma. The different barrels (batteria) consist of five to seven barrels, from the largest with a capacity of about 60–70 litres to the smallest with a capacity of 10 litres. Sometimes the volume of the smallest keg can be as low as five litres.
During the first 12 years of maturation, the level of vinegar in the barrels must be kept constant (about 2/3 of the capacity) and each barrel is filled with the contents of the next one. The first deduction can only be made in the 13th year.
After maturing for 12 or 25 years, the balsamic vinegar obtains the excellent balance of taste and aroma that is guaranteed by the Protected Designation of Origin (PGI) = Protected Geographical Indication).
Bottling of Aceto Balsamico
The consortium then bottles them into special 100 ml bottles designed by renowned design studio Giugiaro. Each bottle bears the ABTM quality seal and the filling number.
There are only two classifications for the traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena. The ‘Vecchio,’ which has matured for at least 12 years. The other is the ‘Extravecchio,’ which has matured for at least 25 years. ‘Extravecchio’ is labelled with a gold capsule on the bottles.
White balsamic vinegar Bianco and red balsamic vinegar – a comparison
White balsamic vinegar (Condimento)
White balsamic vinegar has a sour, subtle flavour and a pure colour. This vinegar is mainly used in marinades, salad dressings and light sauces. After the harvest, the Trebbiano grapes are pressed and part of the must (30%) becomes wine vinegar. The other part is cooked at low temperature and high pressure. At a low temperature, it prevents the sugar from caramelising. This would darken the balsamic vinegar and give it a more intense flavour. This manufacturing process sets it apart from the classic dark balsamic vinegar. This keeps the white balsamic vinegar clearer, finer and fresher.
Every white or light balsamic vinegar undergoes oxidation over time. This natural process leads to a darkening of the vinegar from gold to a deep amber colour. However, this process does not affect the taste of the balsamic vinegar in any way. Its aroma is sweeter and the consistency more syrupy.
Red vinegar balsamic vinegar
Dark balsamic vinegar is considered the real balsamic vinegar and is the most commonly used vinegar. It has a thicker consistency than white balsamic vinegar. This makes it more intense, denser and has a high acidity, which is balanced by the sweetness. Original balsamic vinegar ages for at least 12 years in different wooden barrels. Its colour comes from the tannins in the wood into the vinegar.
Much of the flavour comes from caramelisation over an open wood fire in copper kettles or steel pots and from the old wooden barrels in which older batches of balsamic vinegar were previously stored. These barrels, like wine barrels, are made of different woods such as oak, chestnut, acacia, cherry, mulberry, ash and juniper, giving the vinegar its character and colour. This density of flavours makes it distinct from white balsamic vinegar.
Various varieties of balsamic vinegar from Modena
Balsamic Condimento may be made from the same grape must and in the same barrels as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale DOP di Modena.
The difference is that it has no regulations on what ingredients are used and it has a higher percentage of concentrated grape must, which is combined with aged red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar forwhite balsamic) and reduces the acidity to 4%.
Above all, white balsamic vinegar in particular is generally referred to as condimento. Balsamic condimenti are generally cheaper than Aceto Balsamico di Modena, as they are not subject to the same strict controls.
Organic Balsamico Bio Mela is also available in condimento quality. The apple cider vinegar, apple cider and grape must are processed into high-quality apple cider vinegar, which captivates with itscombination of fruity sweetness and concentrated aromatic acidity.
Aceto Balsamicico di Modena IGP
IGP Aceto Balsamic Vinegar is made from a combination of wine vinegar and grape must. The grapes used for the IGP vinegar may come from all over the world, but must be processed in Modena to receive the quality seal.
Pay attention to the letters PGI on the label that stand for ‘protected geographical indication’. It means that the vinegar was produced and bottled in Modena. Although the rules for quality production are not as strict as those for the traditional DOP Aceto Balsamico, the minimum geographical designation guarantees a certain, controlled quality standard.
To buy a goodAceto Balsamico di Modena IGP, look out for the list of ingredients. It should contain only two ingredients: grape must and wine vinegar. In addition, an acetic acid content of 6% is mandatory for IGP certification.
Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP Organic Invecchiato
TheAceto Balsamico di Modena IGP Bio Invecchiato is also produced by cooking the partially fermented must (at least 20%) from Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana and Montuni grapes, with the addition of at least 10% wine vinegar, as well as wine and matured balsamic vinegar. After acidification, the balsamic vinegar is refined for at least 60 days and stored for different periods at the discretion of the manufacturer. After three years it can be called ‘invecchiato’. The certification guarantees that the entire production and processing process (fermentation, acidification and maturation) takes place in the provinces of Modena or Reggio Emilia.
Traditional Balsamic Aceto DOP di Modena
The most expensive balsamic vinegar is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale DOP, which is only produced in Modena. Traditional, matured Aceto Balsamico DOP has a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), which is regulated by the Italian government and the European Union and sets the highest quality standards for food production.
This real aceto balsamic vinegar is made from boiled grape must and stored in barrels for at least 12 years; it contains no ingredients other than grape must. The colour of the shrink capsule indicates the minimum ageing level: Red means 12 years, silver means 18 years and gold means 25 years or more.
The long maturation of the balsamic vinegar produces a thick and smooth syrup that is so sweet that even a spoonful tastes delicious. Depending on the type of barrels used for ageing, the vinegar has notes of oak, cherry or other wood.
The 100 ml bottle shape of DOP Balsamic Vinegar is also unmistakable and a sign that you are buying a high-quality Italian food product.
The ‘Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ for compliance with legal requirements
The Consortium for the Protection of Modena Balsamic Vinegar, which was founded in 1993, has supported the registration of the name as a protected geographical indication from the outset, which was achieved in July 2009. In 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry officially entrusted the consortium with the protection of Modena balsamic vinegar.
The Consorzio Tutela (www.consorziobalsamico.it) is the guardian of the specifications and a privileged point of contact for all issues relating to the product at regulatory level. It is also the ‘voice’ of the product, as it promotes the knowledge and culture of Modena balsamic vinegar through dialogue with institutions, the media and the end consumer.
Today, the consortium comprises 51 companies in the sector and represents 80% of the certified annual production of Modena balsamic vinegar.
The use of balsamic vinegar in the kitchen
The real reason why you should have a bottle of good balsamic vinegar on the table is the exquisite touch it gives so many dishes:
On the finest Bourbon vanilla ice cream
On fresh strawberries
A few drops on a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano
In fine salads
In tomato sauce on Sunday with pasta – a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar in the sauce is perfect!
The dense sweet-sour taste is somewhat similar to high-quality red sweet wines or a very mature dark sherry: dark berry, fruity-sweet, smoky, nutty and with herbal flavours.
After all the craving for balsamic vinegar, we don’t want to deny you the high quality that we offer in our online shop. Browse through our small selection ofCondimento and IGP Aceto Balsamico from one of the best producers in Modena.
Frequently asked questions about balsamic vinegar
What is Aceto balsamic vinegar made from?
Aceto balsamico is traditionally made solely from grape must and wine vinegar. A high proportion of grape must (over 50%) is a sign of a high quality product. All other additives indicate a lower quality. In inexpensive products, you often find added sugar, artificial flavours and sulphites.
Does balsamic vinegar contain alcohol?
Aceto balsamico generally does not contain any alcohol, as the bacteria convert or break down the alcohol into acid and water during the production process. However, small amounts of alcohol may remain. However, these are so low that they do not have to be declared for food.
What grapes are used to make balsamic vinegar?
The grapes come exclusively from the Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana and Montuni grape varieties.
What quality grades are there?
Aceto Balsamicico di Modena IGP
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP
How healthy is Aceto Balsamico di Modena
Aceto Balsamico di Modena contains six percent acetic acid, which is slightly more than the acetic acid content in condimento balsamico.
Acetic acid has long been used medically and is now recognised as a potent antimicrobial agent. The main health benefits associated with the acetic acid in balsamic vinegar include the treatment of diabetes and the removal of bacteria.
How long does balsamic vinegar keep for?
Balsamic vinegar is itself a preservative, which is why it generally does not require a best-before date. When properly stored (protected from light at the same temperature), balsamic vinegars last for several years without any major loss of quality.
Why is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP so expensive?
Traditional balsamic vinegar undergoes a similar ageing process to a sherry like Pedro Ximénez – and it can be much more expensive. Aged balsamic vinegar from Modena is one of the most expensive vinegars in the world. For example, a 100 ml bottle can sometimes cost CHF 300 or more.
Balsamic aceto from Modena – order now from Di Bennardo’s online shop
If you’re curious about where to buy high-quality balsamic vinegar, then you should take a look at our online shop. Here you will find four balsamicos in different quality levels. In addition to Organic Bianco Balsamic Vinegar and Organic Balsamic Vinegar Mela in condiment quality, you will also find two classic IGP Vinegar Balsamicos. Treat your taste buds to something special and buy our Balsamic Aceto to enjoy a slice of authentic Italy at home.