There’s no rushing balsamic vinegar. It’s a slow process that takes between 12 and 25 years and there are only some 48 accredited families that do it in Modena.
Last year I was lucky enough to visit one of the local producers Acetae di Gorgio, in the attic of their family home. Yes, I know it seems weird but since the middle ages balsamic vinegar is made in the warm attics of family homes in small quantities. Acetae di Gorgio produces only a couple thousand bottles a year, which sell from €50 each. (You’ll find it selling outside of Italy for $100-$150 a 100ml bottle)
Like many products marketers trick us into thinking we are buying the real thing in fancy food shops and supermarkets with fancy shaped wax topped bottle with olde worlde labels. Sure most of these products are balsamic, or at least finished in Modena, often using imported Spanish base vinegars.
Some of them are even quite good. But they are not the real deal, which is DOP known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The other products available are “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena”, being either a mass produed commercial grade vinegar or a mixture of the genuine stuff and commercial grade vinegar finished in Modena.
The vinegar is made from the the must of fermented grapes, which is then concentrated and aged for at least 12 years. The vinegar starts off in a large barrel and as it evaporates is used to top up smaller barrels concentrating the flavour until it becomes a sweet yet slightly acid syrup.
The flavours are subtle and depend on the age (up to 25 years) and the type of barrel – the Gorgios are one of the few producers to have some juniper barrels.
And the good news is they have an online store. If you get the chance try some – it’ll be nothing like the so-called Balsamic Vinegar you have tried before.
If you find yourself travelling to Modena, maybe for a meal at Osteria Francescana, then be sure to take a free tour of one of the houses. Book in advance via the producer’s consortium. They will arrange everything for you. Be sure to take your credit card. The tour may be free but once you have tasted the vinegars from those beautiful small round bottles, you will be unable to leave without some.