Balsamic Vinegar (Aceto Balsamico) is a concentrated, dark, richly flavoured vinegar, which can be used to enhance salads, marinades and other sauces. It is believed to have originated from the town of Modena (Northern Italy) made from their local grapes.
Balsamic uses two kinds of grapes: Trebbiano (white) and Lambrusco (red). The ratio is around 70:30, but it is adjusted sometimes, to offset any season-by-season changes in the tartness of that particular year’s crop.
The grapes must be hand-picked, as the use of machinery could cause bruising. Damaged skins are prone to mould – and the merest hint of mould can ruin the entire batch.
The next step is crushing the grapes into must. In Latin, vinum mustum means ‘young wine’: wine buffs among you will know that must is also the first stage in making wine. After crushing, the grapes are cooked down for days, creating a thick, black, caramelised must – then the skin and seeds are filtered out.
The vinegar is then stored into different barrels (known as a battery) to ferment. While the balsamic vinegar ages in the barrels, the flavour intensifies, becoming sweet and concentrated. This ageing period has a minimum waiting time of 12 years.
Modena is a small city in Northern Italy that punches above its weight creatively. The town is famous for parmesan cheese, prosciutto and Lambrusco wine, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and even Luciano Pavarotti! But how did Balsamic Vinegar make its name?
In 1046 The Holy Roman Emperor Henry III passed through the town during his coronation and was given a gift as a token of respect from Bonifacio the Marquis of Tuscany. This gift was a little barrel of ‘celebrated vinegar,’ taken locally as a thick, sweet tonic after meals.
The people of Modena have been making the finest balsamic vinegar for centuries. The climate is perfect for creating vinegar with its hot, humid summers and intensely cold, but still very humid winters.
“In Modena people eat balsamic vinegar every day, with every type of meal. Green salad, pasta, meat, fish. There’s even an ice cream shop that specialises in traditional balsamic ice cream… I think that’s a bit too much!” – Alessandro – Long-term Balsamic Partner
It is believed that the vinegar was already famous by the time Bonificio gave a barrel to the Emperor in 1046. But we do not see the word balsamico enter recorded history until quite a while later.
In the 1700s, it started to appear in cellar ledgers and letters between Italian aristocrats, including one from the famous composer Giaochino, thanking a friend for sending him a bottle to cure his scurvy.
The name balsamico is derived from the Italian, balsamo, which is defined as ‘healing ointment’ and the Latin balsamam, meaning ‘restorative’ or ‘curative.’
Tiny jelly-enclosed spheres of Balsamic vinegar, that explode with flavour when you bite them. Adds a touch of theatre and excitement to salads, steaks, and even desserts.
Borettane onions are preserved in balsamic vinegar for a beautiful blend of sweetness and acidity. The Borettane is a mild, sweet Italian pearl onion that is flat, almost saucer-like in shape.
These sweet Balsamic Semi-Dried Tomatoes are ideal for sharing platters and canapés. They are full of flavour and a colourful addition to any dish.
There are three protected balsamic vinegars, by the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO):
(Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia)
Traditional Balsamic Vinegars are produced from cooked grape and must have aged for at least 12 years. To comply with the Consortio’s standards, and conform with the PDO rules, wine-quality grapes are cooked down for days, creating a thick, black, caramelised must, which is placed into huge oak barrels. From there, it takes up to 12 years to pass through a series of barrels of progressively smaller size (known as a battery). The taste is sublime, mixing elements of wood aroma with date, plum – some people think fruit cake – as well as the sweet start and acidic finish. The length of flavour, even with a small drop, is very, very impressive.
(Balsamic Vinegar of Modena)
These kinds of vinegar have an IGP classification, which requires minimum ageing of only two months. They are generally preferred for balsamic glazes or dressings.
Some people call it ‘white balsamic’ and that is halfway right, if not strictly legal in the eyes of the Consortio Tutela Aceto Balsamico de Modena (the governing body who police all things balsamic).
Trebianno grapes – the white half of the famed balsamic duo, Trebianno and Lambrusco – are matured in a similar process to other balsamic vinegars, but the fermentation is kickstarted with white wine vinegar instead of red.
White Condimento has a complex flavour where initial sweetness quickly yields to gentle acidity, giving a rich sweet and sour effect.
Balsamic vinegar can be used in many different recipes. From hearty savoury meals to sweet, mouth-watering desserts, balsamic vinegar can be added to them all. Here is a list of our favourite recipes with balsamic vinegar:
Italy is home to some of the world’s great foods, each of them rooted in regional culture and terroir. Italian food culture, with a proud attachment to its historic foods, has allowed its great traditions to stay alive, anchored in a true sense of place and respected by generation after generation.
Such is the case with Modena, the beautiful town in northern Italy which is the home of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI. It was here, after years of searching, that we found Nero Modena, a skilful and knowledgeable balsamic producer, committed to true quality in the products they make.
Visiting Nero Modena’s elegant headquarters, surrounded by their own vineyards in which they grow the grapes they will transform into their Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, one sees the close connection between the landscape, the environment and this ancient artisan tradition which is closely linked to the area’s winemaking history.
From the 25 Year Old ‘Extra Vecchio’ to the White Condimento of Modena, we provide one of the finest selections of balsamic vinegars in the industry. Discover the sweet taste of Balsamic Vinegar from our online shop today.