The History of Balsamic Vinegar
Originating from the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy, balsamic vinegar has been a traditional condiment since the Middle Ages. The first historical reference about the production of balsamic vinegar has been mentioned in documents dating back to 1046. During the Italian Renaissance, it was enjoyed and appreciated by the House of Este, a noble family that governed Modena and Reggio during the 13th – 18th centuries. Other cultures through the ages used vinegar as a preservative and disinfectant. Today, vinegar is still used for its disinfectant properties as a natural household cleaner, but is also used for preserving, cooking, and seasoning.
Balsamic vinegar is produced from age-old family traditions and is considered a prized condiment. The aging process takes a minimum of 12 years and the deliciously sweet and thick syrup is meant to be savored. This is why true traditional balsamic vinegars yield higher prices.
Varieties of Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional vinegars of Modena and Reggio Emilia are both true traditional artisan balsamic vinegars that are legally produced with consortium supervision. These two traditional balsamic vinegars are the only ones that can be labeled and legally described as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. They are protected under the watchful eye of the Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin.
The production of balsamic vinegar starts with the juice of Trebbiano grapes that has been boiled down to create a thick reduction called must. The must is then placed into wooden barrels called casks, similar to those used in wine making, to start the aging process. The casks are stored in the attic, not a cellar, to keep the climate consistent with the time of year – hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Every year, the vinegar is transferred to new wood casks, decreasing in size due to the evaporation of liquid over the years. Different types of wood such as oak, cherry, chestnut, ash, and mulberry are used to enhance the flavors absorbed by the liquid during the years of aging. The longer the vinegar is aged, the more concentrated it becomes, intensifying the flavor. The aging period must be a minimum of 12 years to be labeled “Tradizionale” and consortium-sealed in a distinct bulb-shaped bottle. Prices start around $150.00 for a 100ml bottle. Balsamic vinegar is highly valued by chefs and is used sparingly. It is often drizzled over fresh mozzarella and tomatoes as an antipasto, mixed with extra virgin olive oil in droplets for dipping bread, and sprinkled over fresh strawberries or even ice cream.
Condimento balsamic vinegars, often labeled “Condimento Balsamico,” are also made the traditional way in Modena or Reggio Emilia. The difference between tradizionale and condimento grades is the length of time they are aged. Condimento grades are aged less than 12 years and without consortium supervision and approval, making it difficult to tell their true quality.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a commercial grade product made with additives such as coloring, thickeners, and artificial sweeteners to imitate the traditional products. There is no aging involved, so it can be produced every day. We typically see this product on our local grocery store shelves. It is widely available and less expensive than the traditional balsamics, with prices starting as low as $6.00. It is used for salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Infused Balsamic Vinegars – Bring a little fun to your cooking and recipes by adding balsamic vinegars that have been infused with a variety of ingredients. With so many choices, you can experiment with your recipes by substituting regular vinegar with an infused vinegar. Be creative! You may be pleasantly surprised at what you come up with! Or, visit our Recipe page for some ideas on how to pair the vinegars with different foods or infused olive oils to create delicious salad dressings. Some of the infused vinegars on the market today include:
- Citrus Infused – lemon, tangerine, blood orange, vanilla orange, and grapefruit.
- Fruit Infused – strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, pomegranate, apple, peach, pear, and fig.
- Specialty Vinegars – chocolate, vanilla, espresso, and caramel. Yum!
Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
Did you know that drinking a tiny glass of balsamic vinegar after a meal may help with digestion? See more benefits on our Health and Beauty page!