News of 02.04.24

From grapes to vinegar: the Balsamic production process


Balsamic is one of the greatest gastronomic treasures of Italy, renowned worldwide for its rich and complex taste which distinguishes it from all other types of vinegars. To discover the secret of such a unique taste, you have to understand how Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made, because it is precisely from its peculiar production process that the extraordinary aromatic complexity of this condiment originates.

The production process of Balsamic Vinegar is an art that Acetaia Leonardi has been handed down for four generations and which requires time, patience and mastery. It is obtained from the alcoholic and acetic fermentation of filtered and cooked grape must, aged in wooden barrels for many years and expertly bottled before arriving on the table.

The fascinating journey of the grape transformed into Balsamic Vinegar of Modena goes through different phases: all you have to do is discover them all and learn, together with the Leonardi family, the production secrets of one of the main condiments of Italian cuisine.

How is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena produced?  

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is produced according to strict specifications established by the Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. For the correct start-up of a battery (the name used to indicate the set of barrels in which the Balsamic is aged) it is necessary at first to use the Trebbiano and Lambrusco grape varieties of Modena, which in Acetaia Leonardi are grown directly on the large family's estate.

Harvest and pressing

At Acetaia Leonardi the harvest is still done by hand, just as per tradition, in the months of September and October. We take care to allow as little time as possible between harvesting and pressing, so as to avoid the start of unwanted and uncontrolled fermentation processes which would influence the quality and flavour of the final product.

We then proceed with the extraction of the raw must through a "soft" pressing, to avoid that unpleasant bitter taste given by stalks and seeds and to avoid the excess of polyphenols contained in the skins. 

Cooking and fermentation

Once filtered, the must is immediately cooked for almost two days in open-air steel boilers over direct heat, until it reaches the minimum concentration density of 50%: this allows us to intensify the flavours and natural sweetness of the product.

At this point the magic of long fermentation begins: our cooked must is stored in sets of wooden barrels of at least 9 units or in any case of an odd number, of decreasing size and of different woods. According to tradition, linen or cotton sheets are placed over the barrels’ hole to prevent the vinegar from foreign bodies contamination: the barrels are in fact left open to allow the product to evaporate correctly through the bunghole.  

 Batteries can be found in many attics of Modena houses, since most families carry on the tradition following the instructions received from their ancestors. Here the temperature variations help the fermentation and natural evaporation process to obtain the Balsamic with its distinct aromatic notes that each producer "signs" according to the time he decides to keep the vinegar aging in each barrel.

Transfers and refills

Transfers are carried out during the winter, moving the must into gradually smaller barrels. The refill of the emptied barrel, known as top-up, must be done with extreme care to avoid disturbing the sediment accumulated at the bottom. A particularly delicate step for older vinegars; doing it correctly preserves the clarity and quality of the final product, guaranteeing an excellent balsamic.

The aging of the vinegar continues the same way for at least 12 years: this timeframe is crucial for the flavours to fully mature and develop, creating the distinctive character of Traditional Balsamic vinegar. Once the necessary time has passed, the vinegar can finally be taken from the smaller barrel to be bottled. This moment marks the peak of the aging process: the Balsamic has reached the complexity and richness of taste required by the manufacturer.

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