What is the difference between a certified PDO traditional balsamic vinegar and any other dressing? And between a DOP product and an IGP? What exactly is a vinegar factory?
Food Stories are the narrative we chose to respond to this kind of question, and they help us understand manufacturers and products. And so here we are in a vinegar factory (in an Italian Acetaia).
We are in the countryside, among vineyards, where an amazing and unique food substance is produced. Here, where the glare of the summer sun illuminates the leaves of the poplars – that are a symbol of the Emilia Region. The summer heat dazzles and confounds. A little as much as the heavy fog and dank of winter hides and preserves tasty secrets. Among this secrets, is the sublime taste of sourness turned into sweetness: vinegar!
We’re in the right place to discover the secrets of a powerful alchemy: the Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca of the Biancardi family. Claudio, Irene, Emilio and Aurora shared with us much more than a tour around the factory. Perhaps because this company is a whole with the family’s home, passion, commitment, dedication, reliability. But it is also joy and good cheer.
Traditional PDO balsamic vinegar of Modena and the others: the difference
PDO means it has a protected designation of origin. There are production rules, a consortium and its controls. Traditional balsamic vinegar comes from just one ingredient: grape must. What is must? Cooked grape juice. The PDO traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is produced from must of a variety of typical local grapes, aged from 12 to 25 years. The entire production cycle consists of 3 stages: baking and cooling the must; acidification; maturation and aging.
There’s also a PGI Balsamic vinegar of Modena (protected geographical indication). Unlike the previous type, it contains wine vinegar too, that is a product of secondary process: alcohol transformed into vinegar. There is also a protective consortium for PGI balsamic vinegars.
You can find, especially outside of Italy, a wide range of industrial balsamic dressings on the market that are obtained by mixing must with juice, wine vinegar, sugar, dyes and thickeners. In some cases the label indicates the presence of additives like sulphites. The chemical additives substitute the effects of time, knowledge and ancient techniques of the craft.
Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca
The tour begins in the vineyard, on an autumn day full of scents and colours. It’s a slightly foggy ,early afternoon. It’s that time of the year when the bustle of summer gives way to a quieter season in the countryside, as if it to lull the must resting in the barrels up in the attic. Right where Mrs. Bice, a family member and tireless worker, tucked them away to save them from the bombing during World War II. And where to this day the must awaits its aging.
It’s possible to have a little taste of what we are talking about by shopping on line a precious bottle of this traditional balsamic vinegar. We suggest to organize a visit at Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca. Nothing better than to discover the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena through the beautiful garden, the vineyard, the villa and the tasting. Reserve to arrange your personal tour!
Traditional PDO balsamic vinegar of Modena: how to do it
Autumn and Winter
It all begins with the harvest and selection of the sweetest grapes. After pressing the grapes, the juice is poured into a boiler for cooking over a direct flame. Must has been used since ancient times. For example, the Romans used it to soften the sourness of their wine.
Unlike vinegar, which comes from an alcoholic liquid, must is obtained from grape juice. The cooking time of the must is extremely important as it affects four elements. Volume reduction and therefore density, concentration of sugars, elimination of bacteria that causes alcoholic fermentation and colour. It is at the stage of cooking that white grapes acquire that deep brown colour typical of traditional balsamic vinegar.
Once cooked, the must is placed in precious wooden barrels where oxidative fermentation processes and natural aging take place. In the quiet of the vinegar factory, the particular technique of adding and pouring back and many years of aging create DOP balsamic vinegar.
A natural product in perfect balance between aroma and flavour. If autumn is the season when the harvest begins the process that leads to the traditional balsamic vinegar, winter is for resting.
In Spring the must is ready for decanting and topping up. “Pouring is made each year on all barrels in sequence: we start from the last one, the smallest, where balsamico is more concentrated, taking away the 12 or 25 years aged balsamico. We pour the must into the biggest barrel of the battery (pouring) from which we have previously taken out part of the product and poured it into the next barrel, doing the same in succession from the bigger to the smaller one of the row (adding)”.
“Before being bottled balsamico is submitted to a committee of expert tasters. The samples are anonymous to the commission and are given judgments of suitability related to their fragrance, colour, density and flavor. Only when balsamico reaches the expected score it can be poured into the bottles”.
We tasted the balsamic vinegar at three different stages of maturation to understand the effects of that element that is both intangible and precious for traditional PDO balsamic vinegar of Modena: time. It’s as if time was actually vinegar’s second ingredient.
The three phases are similar to the seasons in the life of a human being. It begins with the sourness of youth. In the middle stage the harshness is partly mitigated by the maturation of sugars. Finally the taste becomes round and perfect, the sourness is gone. Or maybe it is a fleeting sensation. The character of youth a distant memory but still present.
Special thank you to the Biancardi family for their lovely hospitality.
Photo credits: Biancardi family and T&CO.