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The Health Benefits of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is not only good for your taste buds, it is good for your health. Recent research confirmed the presence of pholyphenols, which are an important antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants help to reduce the levels of harmful free radicals in the body. This is a scientifically demonstrated fact (1) (2).

Also, apart from lowering free radical levels, Balsamic Vinegar is an aid to digestion. This is because the Vinegar has a high acidity which helps with the secretion of saliva and gastric secretions. This helps proper digestion of food and hence better health. Over time, a constant moderate amount of Balsamic Vinegar helps to reduce the levels of Hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach. This leaves the stomach with a better lining and less prone to ulcers and gastritis.

An Introduction to Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P. is one of the oldest and certainly one of the most typical products of the province of Modena. Its exact origins are not known. Some speculate that the birth of Balsamic Vinegar was an accident; merely a by-product of the natural fermentation of cooked grape must in containers. This cooked grape must (but not fermented) is called 'La Saba', something which was already known during Roman times. La Saba and Honey were used as sweeteners in foods. This and other products which are similar in nature to Balsamic Vinegar have been consumed by the Ancient Greeks also. The first recorded citation of Balsamic Vinegar was in 1598 by the Ducal Court of Modena.

Left: Modena is a moderate sized town in Northern Italy. The population is around 100,000.

Above and Right: Both show pictures of the Duomo di Modena, a World Heritage Site and another Modenese icon.

Since the times of the Roman and Greeks the process has evolved and been improved upon, and now little is left to chance.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made from cooked grape must. This is called mosto cotto in Italian. Must is grape juice once the seeds and skin have been filtered. To turn grapes into must we must go through the process of 'tamping'. Tamping is squashing the grapes to get the juice out, and this can be done with the feet as is shown often in films, or more easily with machinery. The tamping process is also what must be done in order to get wine. The juice is filtered before being becoming must, cooked and then placed into barrels.

The fact that Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P. is made from cooked grape must is one of the fundamental differences to wine-based vinegars which do not usually use cooked grape must. They are instead made from cooked wine (or vino cotto in Italian). The grape must, once cooked, begins the long journey into becoming vinegar. Many vinegars of low quality are aged for only a few months and therefore have the viscosity (and some would argue the taste) of water.

The grape must used to make Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena must go through many different barrels. There are NO additives to the barrels during their 'invecchiamento' - ageing.

The final delicious product, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has a very complex, sweet smell with a touch of the acidity provided by the fermentation. It is a very dense liquid, and is full and dark in colour. It's unique taste is well balanced and sweet. The drops offer more than entire bottles of off-the-shelve vinegar. It is truly inimitable.

What are some of the production techniques?

The grapes used in the production of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar are Trebbiano and Lambrusco. These are both grown in the Modena region and harvested when very ripe, towards late September. Then the must is placed in barrels to become Vinegar. This does not happen over night! In fact it can take years. This is still not 'aged' however. This process begins later, starting with barrels of 75L and progressing to barrels of 10L.

Turning cooked grape must in to Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P. according to the standards laid down by the Ministry of Agriculture requires very precise steps to be taken. The first thing is that the grape must (that obtained from the tamping process) must be cooked in open containers over open fires, in the traditional way. This is the only ingredient in Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P.

One the must has become vinegar "acetifizaione" in italian, we begin the process "maturazione" (maturation) and then ultimately of "invecchiatmento" (ageing). These processes occur in the barrels. Once the vinegar has been placed in the barrel, we do not do anything more to the vinegar for a year. About 20-30% of the weight of the barrels will have evaporated (the barrels have a filter on the top which lets water evaporate out but stops dirt from entering). The evaporating water is not replaced. This is why at the end of a year in this barrel we move it to a slightly smaller barrel. The process is repeated every year, and each year the flavour becomes that much more intense, as it loses water and ferments further.

The different barrels are used because they lend characteristics to the vinegar. Some add colour, others flavour and smell. To qualify as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P. the grape must must be aged in a certain fashion in wooden casks. A typical example of what these wooden casks could be is: oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry and juniper. Each producer is free to choose which exactly they want to use to get the properties which they desire.

At the beginning of production chestnut is generally used as this helps to speed up slightly the process of evapouration, and therefore concentration. This is because Chestnut is a light, porous wood in comparison to say, Oak, which is a heavier wood and used towards the end of the row of barrels.

At the end of every long series of row of barrels there is a single barrel from which we can get Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P. From this, it may be surprising to hear, we do not take the whole barrel, but one third or less!! This may seem absurd, but it means that the 2/3 we leave gets mixed with the contents of the barrel from the year before. By mixing these different years we can ensure that the flavour is consistent from year to year.

The mixing of barrels is why our Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P., is a MINIMUM of 25 years old. Some of the rows of barrels have been going for well over 100 years! The longer the battery (batteria in Italian, vaselli in dialect) has been going the more complicated the flavours are, and by mixing the years, and removing only small amounts at a time we ensure that we have a smooth continuum from one year to the next.

The Continuum goes like so:

Delicious one year, delicious the next!

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P. presents no problems with conservation or deterioration. It gets better with age! This does not spoil while sitting on a shelf!

Why not others?

It is simply not feasible to have a high quality Balsamic Vinegar of more than 25 years minimum age, as the D.O.P. status is only awarded to 12 and 25 year minimum aged Balsamic Vinegars. Only these two types of Vinegar are legally allowed to use the name Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. By leaving most of the final barrel and topping it up with the contents of younger barrels (25 or 12 year old depending on which vinegar we are producing), we get a product of a mixed age. This means that our products are the best on the market.

While some of our rows of barrels of Balsamic Vinegar have been going for well over 100 years we could not claim that our vinegar is 100 years old minimum. The majority of it may be over 50 years or so, but we choose to deal with a realistic minimum age. We say that our Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is 25 or 12 years old because those are the youngest ingredients in our bottles.

Many companies offer Vinegars 'ranging from 50-100 years old'. This means they choose the oldest ingredients in the bottles and label the bottles by these - giving misleading figures. Often these vinegars are NOT D.O.P. and have probably not been produced with the same care that goes into our products.

The processes undertaken by them to produce their non-certified vinegar may be similar, but the minimum age is NOT 50 years! We could claim that our vinegar is 'up to 180 years old' but instead we choose to deal with realistic minimum ages.

D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) = No better Guarantee!

To qualify as the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena you must meet certain very strict criteria.

D.O.P. is internationally recognised as setting the ultimate quality bar.

D.O.P means Denominazione di Origine Protetta, (controlled/protected origins in English). It is a term that the Italian Ministry of Agriculture allows to be applied only to the products which undergo and pass rigourous independent testing. Basically it means that this it guaranteed to be a quality product, produced in a set way and controlled to make sure it lives up to a very high standard.

Only with the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P seal do you get a seal of assurance. The "Consortium between Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena" who produce Balsamic Vinegar send it to be independently tested. Only if the Vinegar passes the rigourous testing may it carry the title "Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P.".

Amongst other things, the controls are:

  • Ensuring that the ingredient grapes are the right ones (Trebbiano, Lambrusco etc) produced in the right area (Modena Reggio).
  • Check that the production methodology was exaclty as specified.
  • There is also a panel of experts tasters who individually sample every single batch they put their name to.
  • There is a test for the colour, acidity, aroma and other characteristics of the vinegar.
  • They make sure that every bottle is numbered, and then withhold a small portion of that numbered batch to guarantee the quality of the bottles with corresponding numbers.

All of these quality checks combined mean that Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P. is absolutely the best vinegar on the market!

The bottle itself is a piece of Guigiaro art.

Giugiaro is the celebrated Italian designer who started up Giugiaro design - often called Italdesign. Giugiaro was commissioned to design a bottle specifically for the use of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, D.O.P.. The bottles cannot be used for any other purpose.

Giugiaro was best known for his car designs, and on this note he was awarded the "Car designer of the century" in 1999.