Traditional Balsamic Vinegar - What Is It and How Is It Made?
Author: Melodie Evans
WHAT IS BALSAMIC VINEGAR?
Balsamic vinegar is a thick condiment originating from Italy. It has a surprising history and many uses in gourmet food cooking. reduction of cooked grape juice. It's made with unfermented grape juice, which is called 'must' and comes from Trebbiano grapes. Commercial balsamic vinegar has no standards for production and can be any kind of mixture of wine vinegar, sugar, water, preservatives, caramel, and other flavorings. True balsamic vinegar is highly beloved by gourmet chefs and food lovers.
THE COOKING PROCESS
Prized in Europe for hundreds of years for its unique flavor and health benefits, a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar starts with the Trebbiano grape. Each grape is organically grown and harvested and then gently crushed to make grape juice.
The grape juice mixture is then cooked over an open flame according to techniques passed down through generations. It is brought to a boil and then simmers for up to thirty hours to create a sweet and thick "must." The must is then cooled and combined with an older balsamic vinegar that acts as a "mother" to turn the must into vinegar.
THE AGING PROCESS-ONLY IN MODENA
Once the boiling and cooling process is done, the balsamic vinegar is poured into the first of a series of wooden casks called the batteria. These casks are made of ancient woods such as mulberry, chestnut, cherry, ash, oak, and acacia, each of which subtly add to the complex flavors of the balsamic vinegar. The wooden casks are stored in attics that expose them to the naturally alternating temperatures and climate of the changing seasons. Modena's sultry summer evenings and ice-cold winter nights are essential to the aging process. This unique microclimate makes it one of only two regions that can produce true balsamic vinegar. Here, the balsamic vinegar will spend up to a century slowly aging to transform into a product that is nothing less than perfection.
Handed down from ancestors, the patient process of decanting from one cask to the next is an art form that allows the rich liquid to continue to intensify in flavor and ripeness. The finished masterpiece is decanted straight from the oldest and smallest barrel. This process is repeated season after season with dedication and care, until balsamic vinegars that are 12, 25, 50 and 100 years old are ready to be bottled.
To guarantee a superior product, the manufacturing process is heavily regulated by the Italian government and must take place exclusively in the elected lands of Modena using the specified process. According to the law, the grapes must be of the Trebbiano and Lambrusco variety and harvested entirely from the vineyards of the designated region. To be eligible for sale, the balsamic vinegar must be aged in at least five specific types of wood for a minimum of twelve years.
The guidelines for packaging are also strictly enforced. The traditional bottle is trademarked and can be used only by members of the consortium. Even the shape of the bottle, the cap cover, and the lettering must be to specification.
Only an exclusive consortium made up of one hundred select families is certified by the Italian government to produce authentic traditional balsamic vinegar. When a balsamic vinegar is ready for market, it must first pass the test of an anonymous panel of five expert tasters. If it presents the slightest flaw in appearance, taste or smell, it cannot be bottled or sold.
If the balsamic vinegar meets all of the criteria, the seal of the Consorzio is placed on the bottle with the Italian government designation of D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata). Each bottle is then numbered and registered.
The process from the vine to the bottle is elaborate and guarded as a family heirloom. Each brand tastes uniquely different as every family uses a secret combination of wooden casks to age their product. Every step that is taken to produce a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar guarantees a superior product down to the last drop. With only about 3,000 gallons of balsamic vinegar produced each year, a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar is considered a unique and sophisticated gift. You can purchase authentic traditional vinegar at http://www.houseofbalsamic.com/store.
About the author: House of Balsamic produces traditional balsamic vinegar aged up to 100 years made according to exact specifications in Modena, Italy. House of Balsamic is one of only a few families legally authorized to produce traditional balsamic vinegar. Visit House of Balsamic to learn more about the history behind balsamic vinegar, surprising facts, and to purchase traditional balsamic vinegar, balsamic jelly, and balsamic chocolate. http://www.houseofbalsamic.com
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