Secrets and Passion behind The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

March 30, 2020Niry Fidelis
Traditional Balsami Vinegar of Modena

Modena as a food capital

Modena has finally come out as a food capital of Italy and, as an Italian, I can only confirm that. Modena’s reputation for its excellent food made this city a number one destination not only for the foodie travelers but for anyone heading to Italy. The number of people arriving in Modena for the food tour is always on the rise.

The local products that make Modena so unique are numerous but we are going to focus today on something very precious, not only from the economic point of view but also because of the amount of time it takes to have an authentic final product: traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena. (aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena).

Modena Food Tour

Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena vs balsamic vinegar of Modena

Let’s make it clear: we are talking about the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, which is totally different from the worldwide known and common balsamic dressing. This last is nothing more than an industrial imitation of the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena.  Before you continue reading this article, make sure that this concept is well understood.  And again, the entire world uses balsamic dressing, but it has nothing to do with the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena.

Most people in the world have no idea of its processing procedures and confuse the traditional one with the commercial one called Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The names are a little confusing indeed but the word “TRADITIONAL” in between makes the difference.  It is finally time to know the truth.  The industrial balsamic vinegar is the cheaper one for the public. It is made of grape must blended with wine vinegar, sugar syrup and all that’s necessary to reach theexpected colour and taste. Its retail cost is around € 1.00 per liter. 

Meanwhile, the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is achieved through a long procedure: from grape must it is aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels. It has only two main ingredients: grape must and time.  It traces its roots to the XI century., Since then due to its long procedure it was homely prepared and destined for domestic use or for special gifts.

balsamic dressing of modena

Traditional balsamic vinegar Procedure

As said before time is the second most important ingredient of the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena.The minimum aging period is from 12 to 15 years. After 25 years it becomes precious.  The grape must is cooked slowly at 60° C in an open vessel until it is reduced to one third of its original volume. It is then placed in wooden barrels, where it passes years acidifying until it reaches the desired balance.

Each year the wooden barrel is changed and as each of  them is made of different types of wood, the vinegar absorbs the complex flavours of the casks. As it goes on aging it evaporates and gets thicker and darker and therefore more concentrated.  The aging process can be stopped at the 15th or 25th year. 

After passing a strict test, it is then bottled and sealed. The judges express their evaluation through scores, necessary to classify the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. If it passes the test, the product can be sold as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar for the ones aged for 15 years and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar extra-vecchio for the ones aged 25.  But if it doesn’t pass the test it can’t be bottled therefore it can’t be sold.

So imagine after all those years of working if your product is refused by the judges! This is one of the reasons why only few come to sell theirs.  From the beginning to the end until it goes through the certification agency its production is strictly overseen.

balsamic dressing of Modena

Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena cost

Because of its long processing time it represents a product that a Modenese struggles to yield. I think the cost depends not only on the long aging period, but also on the fact that they don’t want to give it away so easily. It is more like the Modenese are proud but at the same time covetous of their product. 

Most importantly, there is also the fact that not all who start can be judged for a sale. Therefore the available quantity is really very little.  A litre costs about € 500.00. And because of its higher price it is still today used almost exclusivily for domestic preparations. 

Higher class restaurants in Italy, like Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, or Arnaldo in Rubiera use the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena.

Traditional Balsamic vinegar of Modena

Where to buy the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena

If you are short on time you can buy the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena at the Albinelli historical market in the city center of Modena. But time permitting, the best places to buy the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena are certainly the acetaia (vinegar cellers). There are plenty of them all around Modena and its province. And, obviously, you can buy it online.

Nowadays you can visit all these “acetaias” where the authentic balsamic vinegar is produced; some of them have an admission cost but many of them are free of charge. I highly reccomend you take this tour if you are in Modena or around. You will be glad to see how proudly the Modenese are preserving this old tradition. 

Many of the real Modenese often have an acetaia in their attic or basement. If you happen to get to know one of them don’t hesitate to ask if they have one at home. They will be proud to show you their own one. We have our own acetaia, it’s very small but it fullfills our needs.

Our visit to the Acetaia Rossetti in Bastiglia (Modena)

During the event called “Acetaia Aperte” (Open Acetaia) we visited the “Acetaia Rossetti” in Bastiglia, (MODENA). During this event which happens annually, there is no admission fee to any of the acetaias in the city of Modena.

The Acetaia Rossetti in Bastiglia has some big barrels on the ground floor and there are smaller ones located on the rooftop.  Mr. Marcello Rossetti, the owner, speaks good English. He explained for us all about the working procedures. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and ended up with a vinegar tasting.

All my pictures here (except one) are of Acetaia Rossetti of Bastiglia.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: The black gold

Secrets and Passion behind The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Producing the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is a matter of passion and secrets which are handed down (necessarily) from one generation to the next. If you are close to Modena, don’t miss out on the experience of learning the truth about the most wanted dressing in the world.

Comments (6)

  • Pam

    April 1, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    I had no idea what goes into making balsamic vinegar, especially that it ages. The cost makes sense for taking so long. I imagine that ti would be quite tasty. I’ll have to visit Modena whenever I make it back to Italy!

  • WanderlustBeautyDreams

    April 2, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    This was such an interesting read. I didn’t know there were differences in balsamic vinegar,I learned something new today. Now I’m intrigued in tasting balsamic vinegar of Modena some day. Thanks for breaking down the procedure and where to find it!

  • Georgina

    April 3, 2020 at 11:56 am

    This is such an informative post! I did not know there was a difference between the balsamic vinegars. I need to keep a look out for the traditional one on the supermarket shelves and I will certainly visit this place when I visit anywhere close to Modena’

  • Agnes

    April 4, 2020 at 7:22 am

    It is a fascinating article because I like balsamic vinegar. I love how it enriches the taste of dishes, but I haven’t heard before how its production process looks like. I did not realize that Modena specializes in this vinegar. I’d love to see Acetaia Rossetti in Bastiglia. It must be a fantastic tour.

  • Derek

    April 4, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve never been to Modena but I’d love to visit. I had a client bring me a bottle of italian balsamic and it changed my life for the better! I’d love to experience the food and balsamic experience in Modena. What’s your favorite way to use it in the kitchen?

  • Courtney

    April 4, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    What a unique experience! I had no idea. I love the passion behind the making of balsamic. I’ve never been to Italy, but I’m now adding this to my list! Thank you for the informative read!

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