Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and the Three Year Old Balsamic Connoisseur
I sat at the table in Restaurant il Cappero alle Mura in Modena waiting for Lambruscco to be opened and watching 3 year old Alessandro eat his tortellini in a creamy parmesan sauce. I was seated next to him. Between mouthfuls he paused to stare at me. Clearly there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t talking very much to anyone and I didn’t speak to him but I did make little faces. He was unsure whether to laugh at first but soon moved on from my shortcomings as a conversationalist and we just made faces and kind of played handsies. The thing that impressed me most about Alessandro was that he is a balsamic connoiseur. After he finished his tortellini his Dad offered him a teaspoon. He held it out to be filled with balsamic condiment which he slurped, smacked his lips and smiled. “benne”. I wish I could speak Italian!
Alessandro has his own row of balsamic. In fact everyone in his family does and has for as long as they can remember, since the beginnings in 1860.
Little Alessandro is out to dinner with his Dad, Marcello and his granddad Paolo who run Antica Cavedoni Acetaia de Modena. His Mum is a professional Gymnast and is away working, so the little fella has stepped up and is attending his first business dinner. Between sips of lemon squash he tests the Balsamic.
The world of balsamic is a complex one with many rules governing it’s production. Needless to say there are vinegars claiming to be balsamic’s made not just in Italy but all over the world and this is why there is so much confusion with price and quality. “Traditional ” balsamic has been made in Modena and Emilia Romogna for hundreds of years, here balsamic is made by hand “Traditionale” balsamico is the forbear to all others and is protected by a consortium.
Rules include the shape and size of the bottle, the grape variety it is made with, the area the grapes are grown, the length of time it has spent in barrels, and to keep it fair producers can only produce an approved amount each per year.
To simplify, there are two types of Balsamic vinegar. Aceto Balsamico Traditionale and then all of the other stuff. Only Traditionale is DOP (consortium approved) regulated, so there is a lot of other balsamic vinegars for sale that vary from commercially mass produced to combinations of both.
” Aceto Balsamico Traditionale” is not even a vinegar in the usual sense . It is a delicate condiment made from the reduced juice of local Trebbiano and sometimes Lambrusco grapes. This is boiled down to a sweet thick syrup called “must”. For now it’s called “musto cotto ” also known as “Saba & Vincotto”. The must is divided amongst a “batteria” of different wooden barrels (usually 5) that vary in size and different woods. It is left to naturally evaporate and ferment for 12 years minimum. There are natural and harboured bacteria’s in the barrels that cause it to aciditfy. No wine vinegar is ever added to a traditional balsamic. Each year after they reach they’re 12th birthday they are “decanted”. A tincture is taken from the smallest barrel and bottled then a small amount is taken from each barrel along the line in the batteria. Fresh “must” is added to the youngest (biggest ) barrel and a small amount from the preceding barrel added to the others
I had forgotten about this when we visited the attic where all the precious balsamic was stored. It’s above the producers apartment in the building second from the corner (first picture above). I kept saying to The Entrepreneur “but this is just in their attic!!. Aren’t they worried? What if there’s a fire?. Oh look spider webs…… and the attic window is open!.”
But this of course is the point. Without temperature variations there will be no evaporation nor fermentation. Apparently this is how it has been produced since…….forever.
And all the other balsamic?. Well that can fall into two rough categories. Commercial grade balsamic. This is made with wine vinegar, caramel, colour and thickeners. Hundreds of litres a day can be produced. The other type is condimento grade. This is a murky depth of delicious balsamic confusion. Some of this can range from a mixture of commercial grade balsamic and traditional. It could also be made traditionally but without consortium approval. It could be aged less than 12 years and have no consortium labelling. It can have an IGP stamp, meaning it is made traditionally but for a shorter period than 12 years. Oh the wonderful confusion.
We all walked to the restaurant through the beautiful old village. All except for Alessandro and his Dad. because they were already at the restaurant. A three year old has to have some concessions
Il Cappero alle Mura is in a stunning old castle.
il cappero alle mura at nightThere are definitely not many photos of the food because I was busy making faces at Alessandro. But we did have a beautiful mushroom ravioli with a parmesan cream sauce drizzled with …..Cavedoni Balsamic.
il cappero alle mura
NEXT Organic wineries and a passion for the land…. and a road trip with My Kitchen Stories and 3 Italians coming up.