“Black Gold”: Historical documents

Although the adjective “balsamic” appeared for the first time only in 1747 on a stock list for the cellars of the ducal family of Este, this product has no doubt more distant origins.

Lawyer Francesco Aggazzotti clearly explained what can only be meant by Balsamic Vinegar when, in 1862, he firmly stated that only cooked grape-must is to be used. He went on to say then that the maturation and ageing processes must take place in a set of barrels. The lack of ancient documents to this regard is probably due to the fact that the production of Balsamic Vinegar was secretively private within families who used it as a precious dressing for their own meals or to make few exclusive gifts.

The long time needed for its maturation, the small quantities obtained following an extremely slow reduction, and the nearly curative powers of its aromas are the main factors to be held responsible for that sacredness surrounding the “acetaia”, whose access was forbidden to almost anyone.

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Once a year a vinegar collection is made from the smallest cask, the level reduction of which is immediately made up for by pouring in the vinegar contained in the barrel standing just before in line. The same process is repeated all along the row of barrels one by one and each one before the next up to the last cask on the line which is then refilled with the grape-must cooked for the current year, year after year.

The tools needed to do this are very simple and they reflect mere necessity as a typical feature of the rural world where the objects used are mended, fitted and adapted, yet never the result of casualness. Models and typologies last for decades and sometimes for centuries, marking the rhythm of the slow evolution of rural works.

A tool called “tragno” is a typical case in point. It is where the Balsamic Vinegar used to be kept at the end of the collection process or decanting until the next one would take place. Its shape is that of a typical pilgrim’s flask they used during the Renaissance period, or rather that of a straw-covered wineskin made of glass, or it probably resembles a terracotta bottle for the same purpose. acetaia-vecchia dispensa-balsamico-aceto-3

 The copper pails and funnels used for decanting Balsamic Vinegar and for the cask collections are the same as those used for making wine, i.e. blown-glass pumpkins, bottles and funnels. The very thin bottles used for Balsamic Vinegar gift-packs are more refined and sophisticated instead, and so is the glass little pipe called “alzavino” or “saàz” used for light repeated tasting. Some of these tools such as the “tragno” and the “alzavino” stand now as a symbolic image to mark the tradition of the Balsamic Vinegar.

Besides, they embody the original traits typical of the local craftsmanship in the Modena district area. We must finally point out how technological innovations have improved and refined work in the “acetaia”, so that the detection of the degrees of sugar concentration and the acidity level by means of a hydrometer, for instance, is very precise.

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(Text Source: Museo del  Balsamico Tradizionale – Spilamberto)