modena: balsamic vinegar
Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy are the only two cities in the world that make a special kind of balsamic vinegar known as “tradizionale,” which dates back to the 11th century.
Regulations exists to safeguard the process of making tradizionale. For example, the thick syrup must be made with local sweet white grapes, the vinegar must be aged in traditional woods a minimum of 12 years, and the final product must be packaged in either an onion-shaped or inverted tulip-shaped bottle and sealed with the relevant consortium certification. Only 3,000 gallons of tradizionale are produced each year.
An acetaio keeps checking the liquid, before it is evaluated by the organization responsible for regulating balsamic vinegar quality. The shortest amount of time that balsamic vinegar can age for is 12 years, the most, 35.
Most balsamic vinegar you’ll find in your grocery store back home, though, didn’t go through that process. Instead, as balsamic vinegar has become more and more popular outside of Italy, producers have found ways to cut corners. Some make a mixture of wine vinegar and concentrate, and age the mixture for just three or four years. Those who want to make it in truly mass amounts, and cheaply, just mix vinegar with acetic acid, grape concentrate, sugar and artificial flavouring.
Modena the “only” place for real, traditional balsamic vinegar. The balsamic vinegar from Modena that uses white Trebbiano di Castelvetro grapes and goes through the whole process is, therefore, the best, and most expensive, balsamic vinegar around. The way in which Campania’s buffalo mozzarella, it’s also protected with DOP status.
Among the Reggio Emilia vinegars, choose the lobster-orange label for those aged at least 12 years, which have a clear vinegary note (great on meat and fish carpaccio); the silver label for those aged at least 18 years, which have an intensely sweet and sour taste (perfect on grilled fillet); or the gold one, for those aged at least 25 years, which have the richest flavour (try them on strong cheese, ice cream, custard, chocolate desserts or even drink them on their own at the end of a meal). Among the Modena ones, those with the white cap are aged for at least 12 years, whereas those with the gold cap are aged at least 25 years.
Bologna and Modena are day trips from Florence, if you want a 3 day Tuscan whirlwind treat for the tastebuds.