News of 04.10.23

5 curiosities about Aceto Balsamico


Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is nowadays a well-known and appreciated product even outside the borders of its province of birth. Most of us can tell the difference between Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP (PDO) and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP (PGI) as well as having some knowledge of how many years it takes to make traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. We also often hear about the benefits of Balsamic Vinegar and all the possible pairings of Balsamic Vinegar with the most disparate foods.

Nonetheless, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a food specialty full of history and secrets. The fact that it is so strongly linked to local weather, territory and family traditions makes it a one-of-a-kind product, source of countless curiosities.

Today we'll tell you a few of them to help you delve even deeper into the world of Balsamic Vinegar.

Do you know who the oxologist is?

You may not know that the balsamic vinegar expert has a name, just like the wine expert. The technician who patiently follows all the slow production phases of Balsamic Vinegar is the oxologist, from the Greek oxos, which means vinegar. The most famous one? Angelo Valentini, agronomist, oenologist, herbalist and oxologist who is still called upon to set up the vinegar attics and who has also written books on the subject.

You taste it on your hand

The most traditional method for tasting balsamic is to place a few drops on the back of your hand, between the thumb and the forefinger so that the neutral temperature of the skin enhances the taste. Today, however, tasters use a porcelain teaspoon since this material allows better to appreciate olfactory-taste features to the fullest. What matters is not using metal spoons to taste balsamic because it may cause vitamin C to react with oxygen, giving the product ferrous notes that alter its original properties.

On the palate, sensations such as fullness, intensity, harmony and acidity are evaluated, along with the flavours of gone times and of the woods in which it ages. Don't forget, however, that the tasting is not only gustatory but also visual and olfactory: before tasting it, pour it into a glass goblet and rotate it to see how the vinegar adheres to the walls, then look at it against the light of a candle: you will be able to appreciate its colour, density and clarity. By smell, however, you can appreciate the acidity, finesse, persistence, and intensity of the vinegar's aromas.

Why a stone is placed on the barrel?

If you have already visited a traditional vinegar farm or have seen some photographs of an artisanal vinegar factory you have probably noticed a stone placed on each wooden barrel. In fact, it was once a habit to close the barrels with a stone - traditionally taken from the Panaro or Secchia rivers - with the belief that without this measure the vinegar would not have been as good. The reason for this tradition is very simple: the irregular shape of the river stone lets a little air pass through which allows the vinegar to breathe and therefore oxygenate to ferment and be influenced by temperature variations. Over the years, the acid fumes of the vinegar even manage to corrode the stone. The gauze placed over the hole of the barrel serves to protect the hole from the entry of impurities. Today this tradition is not always followed but in each battery the closure of the barrels still maintains the correct conditions for preserving the vinegar by allowing the passage of air.

The Balsamic battery is female

Traditionally, the series of barrels (or batteries) in which the balsamic was left to mature were placed in the attics of houses, where the temperature range reaches up to 50. The battery generally has an odd number of barrels in decreasing order from the largest to smaller. Every year a quantity of balsamic vinegar is transferred from the largest barrel into the next smallest barrel, thus proceeding for the entire series of barrels. The whole process can last for several generations, obtaining with great patience balsamic vinegars with over a century of aging.

It is no coincidence that once upon a time Modena people used to have a new battery built and started upon the birth of a daughter who, once an adult, brought it as a dowry. Balsamic vinegar was in fact considered a rich family heritage. This explains why many batteries had a woman's name. The symbolism of the feminine is linked to the world of Balsamic in many ways. An example is given by the film of acetobacter that forms on the surface in the barrels which is called the "Mother of Vinegar" and is used as a graft into a new barrel. Then there is the Botte Madre (Mother barrel) or “Abbess”, a large barrel that feeds other batteries.

Vinegar has a large family

To identify the progenitors of Balsamic Vinegar is quite difficult as the first evidence of the grape must cooking dates back to ancient Rome, in Virgil's texts. However, it was the doctor Antonio Vallisnièri who made it the object of study and described its characteristics, noting in the 18th century that already in 1288, when Obizzo II of Este was invested with the Lordship of Modena, there were barrels of vinegar at the court.

The recipe underlying the production process as per the actual specifications dates back to 1862 and was described by the agronomist and oenologist Francesco Aggazzotti. Perhaps we can consider him as the father of Balsamic Vinegar, because he spoke about it in a letter to the lawyer Pio Fabriani and subsequently published the writing, showing his desire to make the product known on a national level. Another important figure was the chemist Fausto Sestini, who carried out in 1863 the first scientific study on the product, determining its chemical composition and its peculiar characteristics.

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