As Romans, did not have sugar at their disposal, a product that Venetians and Genoeses will import in the sixth century, they used to use baked and concentrated must of grapes, that they called saba, defrutum or cavaenum, as it is mentioned by the poet, Virgilius. It is easy to imagine, that at some point, they observed that this product of low concentration, was turning sour and was transmuting into vinegar.
It is mentioned for the first time in 1046, as “that special, vinegar that has been praised by many people”, because the name “balsamico” has not been given yet.
This term next to the word “aceto”, is mentioned for the first time in 1700.
A refined product, aimed for lavish meals, was in demand for the rich people of the european aristocracy, thanks to the dukes and it was often regarded as a valuable present to the kings and to the noblemen.
Of course, on that period , referring to “balsamico”, they meant the different scented vinegars as well.
Approximately, between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it is oficially defined, the production method of the special vinegars of Modena and Reggio, as they are known today.
The basis of this product is baked must. The grapes are from specific varieties of the area and must be cultivated exclusively on those specific grounds, that are calciferous and contain specifc microelements and macroelements.
The whole maturation process must take place on that specific geographical area due to the climate, which is charachterized by cold winters and warm summers, a necessary prerequisite for the proper development of the sucroses and the funguses.
Firstly, the must boils at 75-90 degrees celsius and then it is transferred to wooden casks. At the beginning, they are transferred to bigger ones and then to smaller ones, as the liquids are vaporizing and the volume is reducing.
Once it has been fermented and oxidized, the procedures of ripening and maturation are beginning, during which, the concentration is constantly increasing from 8 up to 25% each year. The stage of ripening, lasts about 10 years and if we add 2 years for the oxidation, 12. This is the least time to be considered “mature”or tradizionale, always according with the terms of ABT, while at least 25 to be considered “aged” or invecchiato, as the procedures of fermentation and oxidation can be continued for centuries.
The whole procedure happens in open, for obvious reasons wooden casks made from cherry tree, oak tree, jasmine, cypress and chestnut tree, where each wood leaves its distinctive scent to the product.
The casks are placed in the attic and not on the basement, in order to be properly ventilated and have a better contact with the exterior temperatures.
The balsamico, has plenty of antioxidant substances and according to the requirements, it must have, its ph below 3, specific concentration, colour, degrees, liquidity,etc.
So, while the varieties of the grapes being used for its production are PGI, balsamico itself of Modena, in 1977, was defined as a PDO product and the requirements were defined in order to be distinguished from balsamico industriale, while in 1983 were defined the requirements for the balsamico tradizionale of Modena ABTM and for the Reggio ABTRE as well.
So, each year, samples are taken and the quality of the product is certified by an indepedent organisation, with the assistance of 5 testers, that have been employed by the regional chamber of commerce, always under the watchful look of the people consisting the cooperatine of producers of the balsamico tradizionale of Modena, that was formed in 1978 and in 2011 was renamed as Cooperative of Aged vinegar Producers.
“The real balsamico of Modena has a complete and bright, dark brown colour and it is thick and liquid, like a syrup. His smell is distinctive, complicated and penetrative, with an explicit but at the same time pleasant and harmonious acidity. With an inimitable sweet and sour taste on balance, with a velvet texture and a unique olfactory charachter”.
In the cuisine, it is used as a dressing and complements the salads as wells as the cheeses, the cold cuts, the meat but also the stew, the hunting products and the fish. It is often used for marination as well as in the confectionery.
There are many similar products in the market, that, if we exclude the balsamico of Modena PGI, which satisfies other requirements, they are hardly comparable with the original, because, although they belong to the same category, they are aimed more for sauces and trimmings based on vinegar made by wine, rice or apples with the addition of sweeteners, even with the balsamico tradizionale itself, which has not managed to take the certification.