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Curiosities and Legends about the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Do you think that you know everything about the classic Black Gold of Modena?

The Made in Italy emblem is ranked among the finest products in the whole of Italy as well as being the flagship of gastronomic exports (which is currently in first place for export value with 897 million euros). It is so famous throughout the world that it has been continually subjected to attempted rip-offs and imitations.

To avoid any misunderstandings, it’s important to know the product and, perhaps above all, how to recognise it, starting from its two varieties: the balsamic vinegar of Modena PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and the traditional balsamic vinegar PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), which in turn, distinguishes the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena from the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia.


The First, Important Technical Distinction

What exactly is the difference between PGI and PDO? Well, taking into account that, in general, the Typical Geographical Indication calls for less restrictive production guidelines as regards the territory of origin of the raw ingredients and the place of production of the product itself, we can explain rather simply what sets these two apart.

In this specific case, the PDO implies that the grape must is the only ingredient while with PGI, the production specification allows the use of cooked must, concentrated must and wine vinegar in the recipe. In this case, the must blend should be at least 20% and the wine vinegar upwards of 10%. As for the production process, in the case of the ‘traditional’ vinegar, it is much slower as the grape must should reduce by up to half its volume through boiling.

The ‘non-traditional’ balsamic vinegar is considered ready after 60 days of aging (according to guidelines) while the finest quality requires at least 12 years of fermentation. Then, there is the extra-old, traditional balsamic vinegar, which is PDO, and aged and matured for at least 25 years. Now, it might be even clearer why there is such a clear price difference between PDO and PGI.

From the pyramids to the present day, balsamic vinegar has always been with  man: download the ebook and discover the history of the Black Gold of Modena


Lexical curiosities… and more!

Moving on to less technical notions, why is balsamic vinegar from Modena known as such? Well, the name ‘balsamico’ (which is, unfortunately, known everywhere due to the Italian sounding products) is thanks to its so-called medicinal properties. In the past, it was believed that it could fight stomach aches and sore throats while legend also said it could even prevent the plague.

In reality, the properties of balsamic vinegar of Modena are not just part of a myth. The presence of a large quantity of antioxidants in vinegar has now been proven and with them, the ability to strengthen the immune system, reduce blood pressure and help digestion.

Since the Ducato Estense era, it has been well-known. After all, ‘balsamico’ was widely narrated at the time of the Ancient Romans thanks to great authors like Virgil and Pliny, who already recounted the production stages. From the past, tradition always flows. Still in vogue is that tradition of instilling a new battery of barrels at the birth of every daughter. It will constitute a dowry that, 25 years after her birth, will be a marriage gift. This is a real legacy, other than some embroidered sheets!


Barrels, stones and tastings

A battery, for those who don’t know, is a series of barrels made of different woods (at least five), that are arranged largest to smallest and range from between 60 to 15 litres. Traditionally, these barrels, that make up the battery, are all odd.

It is in the biggest barrel that the cooked must is poured. From there, every year, a certain amount of aged must is taken and poured into the next smallest cask and so on, until they reach the 15 litre barrels. Only from the very smallest barrel can you create the traditional balsamic vinegar.

Each family hands down their secrets but it is known that, in the Modena area, it is customary to use a stone from a local river, the Panaro, to keep the cloth tight over the opening of the cask.

Another curiosity about the balsamic vinegar of Modena regards the tasting. Pouring a couple of drops of this Black Gold onto a metal spoon would be a mistake because it would change the sensory properties of the product. So, it’s better to use a ceramic spoon or, if you don’t have one handy, the hollow between your thumb and index finger works just as well. Just rub gently and with the warmth of the skin, the most complex aromatic nuances, from dried fruit to dates, the most intoxicating sweet and sour notes, will be enhanced.


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