In the Emilia area, balsamic vinegar is synonymous with culture and culinary tradition, handed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom.
Today, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is protected by the PDO certification, which it was given in 2000, and is produced under two different names which refer to the province it was made in: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia. What these two varieties have in common is most certainly the fermentation process, which lasts for at least 12 months, and the ingredient used to make them: cooked and reduced grape must.
These balsamic vinegar varieties should not be confused with another well-known speciality from the area, PGI Aceto Balsamico di Modena, which also contains wine vinegar.
In 1598, the Este court moved from Ferrara to Modena and vinegar-making quarters were established in the attic space of the ducal palace. From this well-hidden, protected place came a very special product, which was given the name "balsamic vinegar" in 1747.
The Museo dell'Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena in Spilamberto will take you through the history of the production process and techniques used to make this delicacy, and you’ll also be given the opportunity to take a tour of the museum’s own vinegar factory.
The production process behind Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is much like going on a journey. The cooked, reduced must from hand-picked grapes is first transferred to a “mother” barrel, before being poured into and aged in a batch of at least five barrels made out of specific wood, such as durmast, chestnut, mulberry or juniper, arranged in order from largest to smallest. Some of the balsamic vinegar that comes from this process is extracted from the smallest barrel and poured into each of the other barrels.
Once fermentation has finished, the product is put on the market in two varieties: affinato (refined), where it has been left to age for at least 12 years, and extravecchio (extra old), where the ageing process lasts for at least 25 years, as specified by the Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena DOP consortium. This balsamic vinegar is delicious drizzled over risottos, escalopes, and roast and pan-fried meat, and also works beautifully with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, strawberries and egg cream gelato.
Before becoming a condiment to enjoy with our food, traditional balsamic vinegar undergoes a series of strict controls. In Reggio Emilia, the Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia consortium tests the quality of the product and classifies it as either Aragosta (bright orange), Argento (silver) or Oro (gold) depending on how long the vinegar has been aged for.
Just like balsamic vinegar from Modena, Reggio Emilia’s traditional balsamic vinegar is well-suited to traditional dishes such as roast pork, risottos and salads, as well as strawberries and ice cream. Each of these three categories also has its own specific pairings with food.
Balsamic vinegar in the Aragosta category, the least aged and therefore the most “vinegary” of the three, works beautifully with meat and fish carpaccio and crudités when used as a condiment, or with red meat and shellfish when added during cooking.
Balsamic vinegar in the Argento category, which has been aged for six to seven years more than the Aragosta category, is more sweet and sour on the palate owing to its more concentrated form: when used as a condiment, it is delicious with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It can also be used to flavour risottos or a fillet of beef.
Lastly, there’s the Oro category. Aged for at least 25 years, balsamic vinegar in this league should only be used as a condiment (i.e. not added during cooking), either on its own or with strong-flavoured, spicy cheeses, or with chocolate or egg-cream based desserts.