Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (TBV) and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (BVM), may appear to be the same product with a slightly different name, but this is not the case. Both products are produced in the same area of Emilia Romagna, however, unlike BVM, the inexpensive, treacly sweet syrup that has become fashionable to dribble on anything from salad to ice cream, TBV is so costly and prized that it is known as “black gold”.

Each unique TBV is produced by one of the artisan balsamic vinegar producers — known as ‘acetaia’ — owned by families that hand down their secret recipes from one generation to the other, and who appreciate the value of time and patience. To make their TBV they obtain a reduction of grape must from Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes by boiling down the must over low heat for 12 to 24 hours until it reduces to between 50-70% of its original volume. Then, the thick liquid – ‘mosto cotto’ – is slowly turned into vinegar in a special cask by the ‘madre d’aceto’ – a bacterial culture –, also handed down for centuries and essential part of each secret recipe. Finally, the TBV is placed in wood barrels made from a variety of different woods, depending on each individual acetaia, and aged at least 12 years, even if the more prestigious vinegar can be aged over 25 years. The final elixir, which in the Middle Ages was used for medicinal purposes – hence the name deriving from the Latin term ‘balsamum’, meaning curative -, is protected by EU DOP certification, as rigorous as that of wine, and conserved in miniature bottles with color-coded tops that indicate how long the content has been aged.

The flavor of this rich, umber vinegar is as unique as the process to make it. It has the sweetness from the concentrated must offset by the bite of fermented vinegar, the spice of aged wood, and the smoke of caramelized sugar.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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