The best balsamic vinegar
In the attic, up several flights of stairs of this old farmhouse, are the barrels. It’s in these barrels that some of the best balsamic vinegar in the world is being made. A process that’s been passed down through generations is taking place. It will take care, patience and years. But that’s the Modena way – that’s how this region became so famous for its product.
I have never tasted balsamic vinegar so good. How could I have gone so long without realising? I’d been conditioned to buy the cheapest bottle from the supermarket, always thinking it was a simple condiment to add with oil on a salad. But as Giovanna pours me small tastes into a plastic spoon and I bring them to my lips, a new world is revealed.
“Your palette has reached a point of no return,” she says with a knowing smile. I fear she’s right.
Giovanna married into the balsamic vinegar business. Her husband’s parents and his mother’s parents before them all made vinegar in this house in Modena, the home of their small business Acetaia di Giorgio. In the attic, in fact.
One of the secrets to making the best balsamic vinegar is to keep the product at the right temperature. The attic turns out to be the best place. This is where the barrels are kept, each made from a carefully chosen wood which infuses a particular flavour.
At Acetaia di Giorgio, the barrels are mainly cherry and juniper – although there are a couple of other varieties and for some of the vinegars the production process involves more than one type of wood.
The Modena balsamic vinegar
I try one of the vinegars and it tastes almost like port, but with an acidic bite. A large part of the flavour comes from the grapes it’s made with, which are all carefully-chosen from local farms. There’s no surprise it has the aroma, taste and colour of fortified wine.
There are two types of balsamic vinegar that can be sold under the local certification rules. Either it must be at least 12 years old or at least 25 years old. That means it’s a very slow process up here in the attic.
There aren’t a whole heap of barrels and I wonder how they make enough to justify the business. But when you consider that a 100mL bottle sells for a minimum 45 euros and, in some cases, well over 100 euros, it makes more sense.
Oh, and did I mention that they supply vinegar to the White House? Yep, that’s a real letter of thanks from Barack and Michelle that they’ve got.
Giovanna is also quick to point out that many industrial balsamic vinegar manufacturers sell their product for much more than her family does, while falsely claiming to be the traditional style from Modena.
“I don’t say industrial is the devil,” Giovanni explains. “I say it’s the devil when they try to confuse the costumer.”
When the time comes, it’s sad to leave that house that smells like vinegar. I have a feeling I will not let myself be so easily confused in the future by balsamic vinegar. I also remember Giovanni’s warning. My palette will never be the same.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Emilia Romagna tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.