Until approximately 25 years ago in the late 1970s, true balsamic vinegar or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, as it is called in Italian, was an Italian artisan product relatively unknown outside of Italy. The same country that brought you such notable artists as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, as part of the Renaissance, also provides a culinary artistry that offers incomparable quality and taste – the wonderfully adaptable aged balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico di Modena. Balsamic vinegar can only be produced in the regions of Modena and Reggio in Italy. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale has actually been being made for nearly a thousand years, but never for commercial use. It was a well kept guard family secret to the rest of the world and relatively unknown even to other Italians.
The production of balsamic vinegar resembles that of wine making. Balsamic vinegar is an aged reduction of white sweet grapes (Trebbiano for red and Spergola for white sauvignon) that are boiled to a syrup. The grapes are cooked very slowly in copper cauldrons over an open flame until the water content is reduced by over 50%. The resulting “must” is placed into wooden barrels and an older balsamic vinegar is added to assist in the acetification. Each year the vinegar is transferred to different wood barrels so that the vinegar can obtain some of the flavors of the different woods. The only approved woods are oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, a cacia, juniper, and ash. The age of the vinegar is divided into young – from 3 to 5 years maturation; middle aged 6 to 12 years and the highly prized very old which is at least 12 years and up to 150 years old.