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Time, tradition and passion - the production process of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena D.O.P.

A passion for balsamic vinegar is nothing new – in 1046 the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III was presented with a silver bottle of this precious nectar on the way to his coronation!

While these days balsamic vinegar is a lot more accessible, true balsamic continues to be a rare and wonderful condiment. The real “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” can only be made in the province of Modena and its production is strictly regulated and quality is controlled by a consortium. Every lot of balsamic must be submitted to a Consortium for tasting and approval before it can be sold and it must then be bottled in the approved 100ml, uniquely shaped bottles, labeled Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP.

So how is this very special liquid made? Well, you won’t find a factory churning out litres of traditional balsamic vinegar.

The process begins with the juice of the white Trebbiano grapes or the red Lambrusco grapes. The producer boils the juice over an open fire for 24 hours, to make mosto d’uva cotto (cooked grape juice) before pouring it into a large barrel for natural fermentation.

While this sounds straightforward so far, the process becomes a lot more complicated. After a period fermentation in the large wooden barrel, the liquid is transferred to batteries of barrels for longer fermentation. 

Barrels of balsamic vinegar

A battery of barrels at Villa San Donnino

Each producer has a number of “batteries”, a group of barrels consisting of between five and eight wooden barrels of diminishing size. They can only be made of one of six types of wood: oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry, juniper or ash. These barrels have a small opening on the top, allowing some evaporation.

The barrels are kept in the attic of the acetaia so that they experience the highs and lows of temperature that are essential for a good product. In summer, the barrels lose a quantity of liquid through evaporation. 

Each winter, the producer painstakingly tops-up each of the barrels in the battery. The smallest barrel is replenished with liquid from the second smallest barrel. The second smallest barrel is topped up from the third smallest barrel and so on. 

Production of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Once a year, the producer takes just one tenth of the liquid from the smallest barrel in each battery and presents it to a panel of experts at the consortium for a blind tasting. If approved (and not all of the balsamic presented is approved), the liquid is bottled and ready to be sold.  

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is matured in this way for at least twelve years while the Extra Vecchio  version is matured for a minimum of 25 years!

Quality and production is tightly controlled by the consortium and the result is an extremely high-quality product that is quite rare. The quantity produced each year is small; only about 20, 000 bottles are produced in Modena each year.

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