Italy is home to some of the world’s great foods, each of them rooted in regional culture and terroir. Italian food culture, with its 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, skilful, knowledgeable balsamic producers, 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.

George has visited so often – and is so charmed by one particular, small acetaia (vinegar house) in the grounds – that it is known among the staff at Nero Modena as ‘George’s house’!

Balsamic vinegar is, to put it simply, grape must (cooked grape juice) which is acetified to become vinegar. Put like that and it sounds positively easy.

The process, however, is an intricate and time-consuming one, closely regulated every step of the way, with production monitored and controlled by the Consorizo Aceto Balsamico di Modena, who assess all the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, only permitting it to be bottled if it fulfils their strict criteria. It must be made only from grape must from certain local varieties of grapes (the ones traditionally used in making red and white wines) that is cooked over an open fire until reduced by at least half.

The cooked grape must is then aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels made from different woods, such as oak, chestnut, juniper and cherry, with at least three different woods used during the ageing process. The different woods used in the barrels play their part in creating Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, with oak an essential one, cherry for sweetness, chestnut giving a richness of colour and mulberry and juniper other flavour notes.

As it ages in the barrels, the contact with wood gives both a darkness in colour and imparts flavours. Importantly, it also evaporates very slowly through the wood, taking on a special viscosity and denseness.

The rules of the Consorzio stipulate the minimum ageing periods for the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to be at least 12 Years Old and at least 25 Years Old (Extra Vecchio). Both the 12 Year Old and the 25 Year Old Traditional Balsamic Vinegars are characterised by a wonderful complex sour-sweetness and a distinctive thickness of texture.

The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena traces its history back hundreds of years, an aristocratic delicacy. Nero Modena’s master blender is from Modena, and ever since she was a child, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was part of her life.

Her family made their own traditional balsamic vinegar and she fondly remembers how tastings of the precious liquid were given as a treat on special occasions.

As she talks the depths of her fascination with true balsamic vinegar and the intricate, drawn-out process of creating it, the alchemy of the process, become clear. Accompanying her as one walks through an atmospheric acetaia, lined with old wooden barrels each filled with balsamic vinegars one senses her pride, ownership and deep affection for what is being made. This really is a labour of love.

In addition to lovingly maintaining this proud tradition, Nero Modena also produce Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP – a product with a similar name but a very different production method, the making of which is also controlled by the Consorizo Aceto Balsamico di Modena. Created during the 20th century, it offers an affordable take on the traditional balsamic.

It is made from slow-cooked grape must mixed with wine vinegar and aged in wood for at least 60 days (although the longer the better). The range in quality of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena varies enormously, with many producers making it on such a large scale that the wood ageing is, in effect, token, as the vinegar has no meaningful contact with the wood.

Among the reasons we began working with Nero Modena many years ago is that the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP they produce is of a noticeably higher standard than the norm. Motivated by passion and a commitment to quality, their master blender has gone over and above the minimum requirement to create a Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which we feel is outstanding in the field. To begin with she uses more cooked grape must than vinegar, whereas many producers use a higher ratio of (cheap) vinegar to (expensive) grape must. Eschewing the use of caramel, she creates the deep dark colour through a process of ageing in wooden barrels, ageing it for far longer than the 60 days required. The resulting Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has a delightful complex sour-sweetness in aroma and flavour and a distinctive viscous texture, making it a wonderful ingredient with which to dress a plate as the vinegar is thick enough to stay where it is placed.

Motivated by passion and a commitment to quality, their master blender has gone over and above the minimum requirement to create a Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which we feel is outstanding in the field. To begin with she uses more cooked grape must than vinegar, whereas many producers use a higher ratio of (cheap) vinegar to (expensive) grape must.

Eschewing the use of caramel, she creates the deep dark colour through a process of ageing in wooden barrels, ageing it for far longer than the 60 days required. The resulting Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has a delightful complex sour-sweetness in aroma and flavour and a distinctive viscous texture, making it a wonderful ingredient with which to dress a plate as the vinegar is thick enough to stay where it is placed.

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