What’s your worst culinary habit? Mine’s pouring copious amounts of balsamic vinegar over anything and everything, so I was interested to find out a bit more about the stuff I’ve been practically drinking out the bottle for most of my adult life.
But despite all my conspicuous consumption of aceto balsamico I didn’t know any of these 10 facts before I visited the Acetai Sereni balsamic vinegar factory, just outside Modena.
Balsamic is aged in special barrels made of different wood – each type of wood imparts a different taste and even the order in which the vinegar is moved from barrel to barrel impacts the final flavour.
To make balsamic vinegar grapes are harvested between 2nd and 4th week of September, squeezed, boiled at 80-90 degrees for 24 hours, then the final 10% or so of sediment is skimmed.
The vinegar spends 2 months in metal containers which are opened to relieve the pressure from fermentation from time to time otherwise they’d probably explode.
Cheaper supermarket ‘balsamic’ is usually up to 30% balsamic, that’s mixed with other vinegars.
The high quality balsamics start their lives in cherry tree (ciliegio) or oak barrels.
The mirror test – you can tell that a balsamic vinegar is of a high quality if you can see your face in it. I was invited to test this on a barrel of Pre-war vinegar dating back to 1930. The fact that this survived the ravages of the war, and wasn’t looted is attributed to the women, who traditionally worked in the production of balsamic, having secretly buried the best barrels to keep them away from the occupying forces.
There’s a local tradition to give males a bottle of balsamic at birth, which is then kept for them until they grow up.
Here in Italy good balsamic is used not just as a condiment but as a medicine to aid digestion, for colds and other health purposes.
The mark of ‘real’ balsamic vinegar is that it is sold in a bottle which mimics the shape of the barrel on a stand.
The oldest balsamic you can taste at Acetai Sereni is 25 years old. It tastes incredible!
With thanks to Julia Montorsi and Pier Luigi Sereni of Acetai Sereni.
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