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Balsamic Vinegar Characteristics
Pronounced: ball-SAHM-ick VIN-uh-ger
Real Balsamic Vinegar requires at least 12 years to make, and some take 25 years! Modena, Italy, a town in the northern region of Italy between Milan and Bolgna, is thought of as the home of Balsamic Vinegar. Grapes, primarily the Trebbiano grape, are crushed to make a must just like the first step in making a wine. The must is filtered through a course sieve and transfered to open kettles and simmered between 180 and 195 degrees Farenheit for 24 to 42 hours until it is reduced about 30-50% to a fruity syrup. The must, now called mosto cotto (cooked must) is cooled and transferred to a 60-liter oak cask containing about 1/3 of the vinegar from the prior year.
Modena and Trebbiano Grapes:
Traditional Balsamic vinegar makers have a minimum of 5-6 different size casks (with a maximum of 10-12) made of different types of wood called a battery. The must is successively decanted in a process called rincalzo into casks of different woods, each progressively smaller. For example, the must may move from a 60-liter oak cask to a 50-liter chestnut cask to a 40-liter cherry wood cask to a 30-liter ash cask to a 20-liter mulberry cask. Each different type of wood contributes to the taste of the vinegar as it ages. The casks have a hole on the top which is partially covered to allow evaporation. As the must ages in each cask, evaporation reduces the volume and intensifies the flavor. As much as 85% of the volume is lost in evaporation. This means that in 12 years, the original 60-liters will be reduced to only 9-liters of vinegar!
True balsamic vinegar is tightly controlled by a consortia in Modena and Reggio Emilia that govern every aspect of how the vinegar is produced and aged (including the shape of the bottle and the foil used on the cap!). True balsamic vinegar wears the name Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or di Reggio Emilia on the label. Tradizionale is the key word. It must be aged for a minimum of twelve years in wooden casks and be approved by master tasters. Small bottles of tradizionale balsamic vinegar start at about $75 and go upwards of $400.
Vinegar makers who do not live in Modena or Reggio Emilia, or who don't want to endure the strict governace of the consortia, produce vinegar the same way, but may not age the vinegar for a minimum of 12-years. These vinegars are grouped under the name, condimento balsamico, and may be called salsa balsamica or salsa di mosto cotto.
|Aceto Balsamico di Modena
Then there is Aceto Balsamico di Modena which may or may not be aged in wood and it isn't aged for a long period of time. Sometimes it is a mixture of concentrated grape juice, strong vinegar and caramel coloring. Sometimes it is a mixture of red-wine vinegar and caramel. This is the type of balsamic vinegar probably makes up 75% of the balsamic vinegar found in grocery stores in the US.