ACETO BALSAMICO di MODENA. We are so lucky in modern times. Foods and flavors that in the past were only for king and princes, are now available to (almost) any commoner who likes to enjoy life. As early as 1046, future emperor Henry III writes to Marquis Boniface, father of Mathilde of Canossa to ask a gift of of a bottle of ‘the old vinegar made to smell most beautiful and sweet’. Most likely this was the ancestor of balsamic vinegar. By the end of the XVI century, the Dukes of Ferrara and Modena graced their tables and those of their important friends with this aromatic (= balsamico) elixir.
Modern balsamic vinegar is still made like centuries ago, using cooked grape must in a battery of seven barrels of successively smaller sizes each made of different woods. The vinegar is aged for a minimum of 12 years and sold in round 10o ml bottles labelled as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The traditional balsamic is certified by the consortium of producers of Modena or of Reggio Emilia.
Why it’s so special? It’s an artisanal product, made in small amounts over a long time, the barrels are used by a producer for generations. The slow fermentation, the balance of grape varieties, the aging in a sequence of different woods imparts a complex aromatic flavor by which every traditional balsamic vinegar is unique and splendid. It is something to be used sparingly, by the drop and uncooked. It’s expensive, starting at 60 Euro for a 12 years old.
Only a traditional can be considered a true balsamic, but other products labelled as balsamic vinegars or balsamic condiments are easier on the budget and practical for use in larger amounts. The cheapest stuff is red wine vinegar sweetened with caramel and added with artificial flavors, please ignore.
Some uncertified balsamic it’s made like the traditional but is less aged and therefore less expensive, 25- 30 Euro a bottle. You need to buy it from a reputable dealer. It is delicious with aged cheese, roast red meat and used in dressing of special salads together with good extra virgin olive oil.
An everyday balsamic should be aged 3 or 4 years and sweetened with cooked grape must. It is acceptable for sauces, deglazing and reductions. It’s easy, it’s pleasant, but remember, it’s not the real thing.
Where to find good balsamic vinegar in the Assisi area:
Terra Umbra Antica, Via Patrono d’Italia 10/a, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi.