“Black Gold”: Places and gestures

The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is now part of the history of the territory of Modena and, above all, of its families.

It is produced in the “acetaia” (the vinegar room in the attic), a profoundly symbolic place where miscellaneous stories of several generations contributing to its birth are condensed. It is through the Balsamic Vinegar that these families stated their identity along the centuries.

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Although after a research in the history of the Balsamic Vinegar it can almost certainly be said to have first appeared at the end of the 17th century, the scientific validity of the methods used for its preparation dates back to the 19th century only: Giorgio Gallesio and Francesco Aggazzotti were the first to state clearly how to transform the cooked grape-must.

Tradition allows only for typical grapes of this territory, i.e. Trebbiano di Spagna, Trebbiano Modenese, Lambrusco or Ancellotta, all of them picked up and collected with delicacy. The pressing of grapes is made in the evening and the grape-must, which is tapped the following morning, is cooked over the fire in the open air with a temperature ranging from 90° to 95°C.

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It is then placed into the biggest cask or barrel of a set of vessels. The barrels must be chosen with extreme care, they must be of different sizes and they are made of various precious woods. The set must be made of at least 5 vessels up to a perfection of 10 to 12 barrels.

The fermentation and acetic bio-oxidation take place in the biggest casks (or head of the set), the maturation process occurs in the mid-ones (during this stage the flavours and fragrances start to build up) and the last line of barrels, the smallest one in particular, is the right place for the ageing process during which the Balsamic Vinegar miracle is performed and a perfect balance between scent, taste and flavour creates.

100 kg of grapes that after 25 years have turned into just 2 extremely precious litres of Balsamic Vinegar have gathered the fragrance and flavours conferred by cherry wood, the colour of chestnut and the vanilla aroma of oak. Hard woods are preferable for the smaller casks because of their tendency to limit evaporation and to slacken the concentration of the liquid, whereas tender woods are to be used for the barrels at the beginning of the line for their capacity to favour fermentation and evaporation.

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Balsamic vinegar should be ideally kept in the attic (the vinegar room called “acetaia”) where the high summer temperatures help transformations, and cold weather in winter causes the liquid to decant thus making it smooth  and clear.

Peasants’ wisdom oblige: They say the reappearance of a persistent and peculiar fragrance all along the stairs when spring is about to come back, and a harsh winter is over, is the right time to start again work in the “acetaia”.

Full of history and rich of popular wisdom, the Balsamic Vinegar finally reaches the table where its harmony, as we define its noble property of balancing the contrast between sweet and sour in a most perfect way, is extolled.

(Text Source: Museo del  Balsamico Tradizionale – Spilamberto)