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It is not only a food condiment or a cooking ingredient, and you cannot call it just ‘vinegar’: it would be like calling caviar ‘fish eggs’. Evidence of the use of vinegars have been dated back to the third millennium B.C. in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, and later in Greece and Rome. Balsamic vinegar may have been made back then but the ones we know have been developed in the Emilia Romagna region during the 1700s. Before that, the first person to mention a precious vinegar produced in the area of Modena and Reggio Emilia is the monk Donizo of Canossa in a poem written in the 12th century. The adjective "balsamic" was not mentioned; the word comes from the Latin balsamum, and the Greek balsamon, meaning "balsam-like" in the sense of "restorative" or "curative", since vinegar was often used as a medicine. The first testimonies clearly speaking about "balsamic vinegar" appear in a 1747 record of the Estense (House of Este) ducal cellar; in this record it is reported the order of the Duke to remove the vinegar from a secret cellar to the lawn room, historical place of the balsamic, located in the west tower of the façade of the Ducal Palace.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) is the best balsamic vinegar produced in Italy. Unlike "Balsamic Vinegar of Modena" (BVM), its less expensive cousin, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (TBV) is produced from cooked grape must, aged at least 12 years, and is protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. It is made of a blend of vinegars of different composition and age due to the traditional making procedure; vinegar masters squeeze fresh grapes; cook the grape must in open vessels directly heated by fire for 12 – 24 hours reducing the volume of about 50%; ferment it with yeasts, and they achieve oxidation by natural indigenous acetic acid bacteria and slow aging within a barrel set (a series of five wooden casks that are arranged according to a decreasing size scale.

Casks may be of different wood types, i.e. oak, mulberry, ash, chestnut, cherry, juniper, and acacia and the smallest cask volume ranges from 15 to 25 liters. Each cask has an hole on the top, the so-called cocchiume, facilitating the inspection and maintenance activities. The barrel set behaves essentially as a device for vinegar concentration due to the water loss through the staves. Every year, they withdraw a part of the vinegar from the smallest cask and top it with the vinegar coming from the next cask along with the barrel set, and so on. The biggest cask receives new cooked and acetified must.

Try a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar by themselves and you will understand why is considered an elixir more than a vinegar. It is pure harmony.




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