Balsamic Vinegar: history, info, interesting facts


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Balsamic Vinegar: history, information, interesting facts

THE HISTORY OF BALSAMIC VINEGAR, INFO AND INTERESTING FACTS. LET’FIND OUT HOW IT’S MADE. LET’S SAVOR ITS CHARM BY VISITING ITS PLACES, MEETING ITS PEOPLE AND LISTENING TO ITS MUSIC. LET’S ENJOY ITS AUTHENTIC FLAVOR THANKS TO ITS MOST TRADITIONAL PRODUCERS.

Balsamic vinegar is one of the Italian gastronomic specialties most appreciated by gourmets all over the world. Part of its value is related to the fascinating events characterizing its past, when it was considered an elixir worthy of a king. Part derives from the quality of its grapes, the fruit of a specific territory, located between the ancient cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Part is due to the skill of its artisans, custodians of an experience acquired over the centuries: it will be thanks to them that, in this article, we will learn about it and savor its most authentic taste.


Balsamic Vinegar: history, info, interesting facts (crt-01)

What is Balsamic Vinegar?

Balsamic Vinegar is a particular type of vinegar produced with grape must in two varieties:

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI:
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (crt-01) Made with grape must (cooked and / or concentrated), wine vinegar and, if required, a minimum percentage of caramel. Its aging in wooden barrels lasts from 60 days up to 3 years: if prolonged, the product gets the title of ‘Aged’ (‘Invecchiato’).
The specialty is protected by the European Union with the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) trademark. Its grapes come from 7 typical vines, listed in the Production Regulations. The mixing of its ingredients, its maturation and aging processes, as well as its final certification must take place in the territories of the Provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, whereas bottling can be carried out elsewhere.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO and Reggio Emilia PDO:
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO (crt-02) These specialties are prepared using only cooked must, made with grapes from the provinces, respectively, of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Both are characterized by a very long aging period, lasting from a minimum of 12 years, up to 25 for the extra-old type (‘extravecchio’).
They are protected by the European Union with the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) trademark. The entire production process, from the cultivation of grapes to bottling, must take place in the territory of the respective province.

In the past, the dark color and the great value of this delicacy have earned it the nickname of ‘black gold’ (‘oro nero’).

The origins of vinegar.

Balsamic Vinegar, bottle (crt-01)

Vinegar is a product of very ancient origins: suffice to say that its use for the preservation of food favored the development of agriculture and the resulting, progressive sedentarization of nomadic hunting communities. Its contribution to the birth and development of the first civilizations was, therefore, huge: archaeological finds show that it was already in use by the Egyptians and the Babylonians. Later on, it also spread among the Greeks and the Romans, who used it, among other things, as a condiment, medicine (*1), to sterilize water and in the preparation of drinks (*2).
It’s also important to remember that the process by which vinegar is formed was unknown to all these peoples: a mystery that lasted many centuries, until, in the Nineteenth Century, the French chemist Louis Pasteur formulated a complete scientific explanation (*3).

Notes:
*1: It was used, for example, to disinfect wounds.
*2: Like, for example, the Greek ‘Oxykraton’ and the Roman ‘Posca’.
*3: He understood the microbiological process transforming the sugars contained in grape juice into alcohol (the ‘fermentation’), and the subsequent formation of acetic acid following the oxidation of the alcohol itself.

The history of Balsamic Vinegar.

Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (img-01)

It’s possible that the Romans invented Balsamic Vinegar or, to be more precise, what by all means could be considered its ancestor, the ‘Sapa’ (or ‘Saba’) (*1): a dense and sweetish syrup with multiple uses (*2), prepared by cooking and reducing grape must (*3). Many are the ancient writers who refer to it in their works, including Virgil, Pliny the Elder and Ovid. Columella’s testimony is very interesting: in the ‘De re rustica’ he indicates the territories corresponding to the current provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia as particularly suited to its production (*4).

Vinegar, Tacuina sanitatis, XIV Secolo (img-02)

During the early Middle Ages, rumors spread about a ‘black gold’, characterized by qualities so legendary to become the object of the desire of a king: Henry II of Franconia (*5). This ‘black gold’, most likely, was nothing but the product currently known as Balsamic Vinegar, something considered so precious to be kept in small silver bottles.
The fame of the specialty grew further over the centuries, so much to be mentioned, at the end of the Renaissance, in a work (*6) by Bartolomeo Scappi, the ‘cook of the Popes’.
In the same period, the history of balsamic vinegar began to intertwine with that of the Dukes of Este, who had moved Modena, Ducal Palace (cc-02) to the city of Modena. During the expansion of the Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale), Francesco I d’Este commissioned the fitting of an ‘acetaia’ (a vinegar cellar) in the spaces of the Torre del Prato.
The first document associating the word ‘balsamico’ to the vinegar from Modena is the Register of Ducal cellars (1747): in addition to ‘common vinegar’ (‘aceto comune’), it refers to the ‘balsamic medium’ (‘mezzo balsamico’) and to the ‘fine balsamic’ (‘balsamico fine’). It’s believed that the use of this term could be related to the medicinal qualities (‘balsamic’) of the product and to its aroma.

Napoleon Bonaparte (img-03)

The arrival of the Napoleonic troops in Modena in 1796 marked an epochal change for Balsamic Vinegar. Its economic value was immediately recognized by the French and the Ducal ‘acetaia’ was sold at auction: some wealthy bourgeois families took advantage of the situation by purchasing its ancient barrels. The commercial regulations issued by the newly formed Cisalpine Republic favored trades and Balsamic Vinegar, no longer prerogative of aristocratic families, was released to the market.
After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, the producers of the ‘Balsamico’ began to participate to the recurring International Exhibitions: of particular importance was the International Exhibition of Paris in 1878, where it was definitely sanctioned the value of the specialty, recognizing its uniqueness in terms of taste and aroma.
The great success led to a differentiation in the production processes and the commercialization of a bittersweet and fragrant vinegar, more affordable and suitable for daily use. Two products emerged, known today as the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI and the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar PDO (of Modena and Reggio Emilia), protected by the EU and promoted by their respective Consortia.

Notes:
*1: Also known as ‘defrutum’ or ‘caraenum’, depending on the density of the liquid.
*2: It was used, among other things, as a condiment (often mixed with the ‘Garum’, a sauce made with macerated fish) or as wine (thanks to the addition of water).
*3: Thanks to the reduction, must could no longer ferment and could withstand long journeys without altering.
*4: Columella points out that, sometimes, must fermented giving life to a specialty that, once aged, was very appetizing (the writer was unknowingly talking about the delicacy covered by this article).
*5: The chronicles of the time narrate that, in 1046, Boniface of Canossa (father of the famous Matilde), to get in good with King Henry, gave him a barrel of ‘defrutum’.
*6: ‘Opera. Dell’arte del cucinare’ (1570) by Bartolomeo Scappi, ‘secret cook’ of the Popes Pius IV and Pius IV.

Aceto Balsamico: le zone di produzione.

Emilia, the region of ‘Balsamico’.

The original Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (from Modena and from Reggio Emilia), must meet a series of requisites (*1). Among these, their respective production areas:
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI: according to Article 3 of the product specification of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI, its production “must be carried out in the administrative territory of the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia”. According to Article 5, “the production stages that must take place in the geographical area of origin are the assembly of the raw materials, the processing, the refinement and/or the aging in wooden containers”. The other stages, such as bottling, can take place outside these territories.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO: According to Article 3 of the product specification of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO, the grapes used to make it “must be produced in the traditional territory of the Province of Modena”. According to Article 5, “the processing, mandatory aging and bottling operations” must also take place in the same territory.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO: According to Article 3 of the product specification of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO, the grapes used to make it “must be produced in the traditional territory of the Province of Reggio Emilia”. According to Article 5, “the processing, mandatory aging and bottling operations” must also take place in the same territory.

Note:
*1: These requisites can be found in their product specifications documents.

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The most traditional specialties, the historic producers.

The original ‘Balsamico’.

Balsamic Vinegar, barrels (crt-01)

Although in many countries around the world companies are trying to make their own ‘Balsamic Vinegar’, history itself shows that the only true heirs of its ancient tradition are the Emilian producers represented by the three ‘Balsamic’ Consortia:
The Consortium of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI;
The Consortium of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO;
The Consortium of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO;
Due to its great commercial success, during the time the ‘Balsamic’ has been subject to many imitation attempts: the assignment of the PGI and PDO Designations of Origin by the European Union was intended as a form of protection.
But what really guarantees its unique characteristics is the centuries-old experience of its makers and the strict observance of the product specification.

How Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is made?

Here follow the steps to make Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI:


The grapes for Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01) The grapes for Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01))

01. Harvest of the grapes produced from the seven authorized and certified vines.


The right must density for Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01) The right must density for Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01)

02. ‘Pressing’: the grapes are pressed to get the ‘must’. This is cooked and/or concentrated until the density established in the specification is reached.


The must is mixed with wine vinegar (crt-01) The must is mixed with wine vinegar (crt-01)

03. The must is mixed with wine vinegar (min. 10%), and with some other vinegar aged at least 10 years (*1). Thanks to selected bacterial colonies, acetification takes place. (*2)


The ‘refinement’ and ‘aging’ of Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01) The ‘refinement’ and ‘aging’ of Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01)

04. The mixture of raw materials is ready for ‘refinement’ (min. 60 days) and, eventually, ‘aging’ (*3): these steps take place barrels made of fine woods such as oak, chestnut, juniper and mulberry.


The certification of Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01) The certification of Balsamic Vinegar (crt-01)

05. The product undergoes extensive laboratory tests to get the ‘certification’ attesting its quality.


The ‘bottling’ of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (crt-01) The ‘bottling’ of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (crt-01)

06. The vinegar is ready for the last step, the ‘bottling’.



Notes:
*1: It’s also possible to add a small quantity of caramel as a colorant.
*2: Grafting of acetobacteria colonies useful in the maturation and aging processes.
*3: If aging lasts at least three years, the product is considered ‘aged’.


Hippocrates (img-04) Hippocrates (img-04)

Vinegar, ancient medicine.

During its many centuries of history, vinegar has been used not only for cooking but also as a drug. It is said that Hippocrates, universally considered the father of medicine and author of the famous oath, used it to treat wounds and respiratory problems. In ancient Rome, the ‘Posca’ (or ‘Pasca’), a mixture of vinegar and water, was considered, among other things, an excellent remedy for dysentery.


Legionario romano (cc-01) Legionario romano (cc-01)

‘Posca’, the drink of legionaries.

The ancient Romans used vinegar in one of the most famous drinks of their time, the ‘Posca’ (or ‘Pasca’). Cato the Elder (famous general, politician and writer), has handed down precious information about this preparation, whose qualities were, apparently, particularly appreciated by the legionaries, who used it not only to quench their thirst but also as a medicine and even to wash!


Barrels in the ‘Acetaia’ (crt-01)

crown

THE MOST TRADITIONAL PRODUCERS

The ‘Balsamic’ Consortia (crt-01; crt-02;)

This article is the fruit of the collaboration between WebFoodCulture, the Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and the Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, the organizations bringing together the most traditional producers of the dairy specialty. The information provided illustrate the actual characteristics of the product.

The lands of ‘Balsamico’.

The provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia have been for centuries the cradles of ‘Balsamic’ Vinegar. They are both located in Emilia, the western part of the Italian Region of Emilia-Romagna.

The grapes for ‘Balsamico’.

The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO and that of Reggio Emilia are produced with must from the grapes of the most famous local vines: Trebbiano and Lambrusco above all. To produce Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI, grapes from only seven vines are used, that is, in addition to Lambrusco and Trebbiano, Sangiovese, Ancellotta, Fortana, Montuni and Albana.

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ONLY THE MOST TYPICAL AND TRADITIONAL SPECIALTIES

The origins of the word ‘vinegar’.

The origins of the word ‘vinegar’.

The word ‘vinegar’ derives from the composition of two Latin words: ‘vinum’ (‘wine’) and ‘acre’ (‘acid’). The French ‘vinaigre’ derives from the same words.
In this regard, it’s interesting to note that the Italian term ‘aceto’ comes from ‘acetum’: name for the condiment already used at the time of ancient Rome.

Balsamic Vinegar: calories and nutritional values (crt-01)

Balsamic Vinegar: calories and nutritional values.

Fifteen grams of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (one portion) contains about twenty-two calories. Continue.

The same quantity of Traditional PDO Balsamic Vinegar (from Modena or Reggio Emilia) contains almost twice as much.
In addition to water, this specialty contains carbohydrates, proteins and mineral salts. Fat is not present.

Pavarotti’s music for the ‘Balsamico’.

The great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, born in the city of Modena, was notoriously a great lover of good food. Continue.

As you can easily imagine, he had a particular passion for the specialties from his native land: among these, obviously, the ‘Balsamico’.
Here follow a short selection of some of his best musical performances to accompany the reading of the article:

Note: join Spotify (free service) and listen to the full songs.

The Paris International Exposition of 1878 and the ‘Balsamico’.

The International Exhibitions organized at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were particularly important to advertise the ‘Balsamico’ of Modena and Reggio Emilia outside the Italian national borders. The image above shows a coin celebrating the event held in Paris in 1878.

The bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO can be marketed exclusively in a particular type of bottle, designed in 1987 by the famous Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro to become a distinctive element of the product. Bottling can only take place in a center authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The ‘balsamic sauces’ (crt-01)

The ‘balsamic sauces’.

There are some condiments on the market that, although cannot be considered Balsamic Vinegar, are prepared with a similar technique. Continue.

These are generally sauces made from cooked must and, as such, called ‘balsamic sauces’. In this regard, it should be remembered that the name ‘Balsamico’ can be used only for the vinegar produced by the Consortia of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

The PDO and PGI geographical indications (crt-01; crt-02)

The PDO and PGI geographical indications.

Over the years, the European Union has recognized the qualities and uniqueness of the Balsamic Vinegar produced in the area of the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Continue.

This recognition led to the assignment of the PDO mark to the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and to the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia (2000), and of the PGI mark to the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (2009). These assignments are of particular importance since they provide the Emilian ‘Balsamico’ (among other things) with valuable legal protection.

Recommended reading: Il Balsamico, the black gold of Modena.

To deepen the knowledge of Balsamic Vinegar finding out all its charm, we recommend reading the book ‘Il Balsamico, the black gold of Modena’, patronized by both the Protection Consortia. It will be possible to buy it shortly on the Artioli Editore 1899 website.

The ‘Balsamic’ Consortia: contacts.

Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI, logo (crt-01)
Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI
Address: Via Ganaceto, 113
41121 Modena (Italy)
Website: www.consorziobalsamico.it
Mail: [email protected]
Tel.: +39 059 208621
Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO, logo (crt-02)
Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO
Address: Viale Virgilio 55
41123 Modena (Italy)
Website: www.balsamicotradizionale.it
Mail: [email protected]
Tel.: +39 059 208604

Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO
Address: Via Josip Broz Tito n. 11/C-E
42123 Reggio Emilia (Italy)
Website: www.acetobalsamicotradizionale.it
Mail: [email protected]




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img-01 (*) – Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (Wikipedia Link) {PD-Art} {PD-US}
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cc-01 – Roman legionary. Image property of Medium69 (Wikipedia Link)

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cc-02 – Modena, Ducal Palace. Image owner Mfran22 (Wikipedia Link)
cc-03 – Luciano Pavarotti. Image owner Mariomanias (Wikipedia Link)

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