Oil and balsamic vinegar have become a staple in our home. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, that is, which is very, very different from Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is known around the world as black gold and I was kindly invited into the home of Marisa Barbieri Giuliani near the center of Modena to learn more about it. One spoonful of the sweet, gooey vinegar Marisa and her daughter, Franca, are producing in their attic and there’s a new kind of balsamic that will be a staple on my pantry shelves.
But I digress. Back to my visit, because I know you’ll all find what I learned just as fascinating as I did! The process of making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena has long been a secret. The tradition of making balsamic vinegar originated in family attics in Modena where the Italians would put Trebbiano and sometimes Lambrusco grapes that were too poor for wine making to another use. The tiny bottles of the vinegar were often given to family and friends as Christmas gifts, Franca explained as she led me up the stairs to the attic in her family home.
She’s the third generation of her family making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and she learned all she knows from her mother, Marisa Barbieri. Marisa in an expert and the walls are covered with diplomas and accolades attesting the high quality of her traditional balsamic. She was even one of the first 35 traditional balsamic vinegar master tasters.
Each family has their own secret recipe and I certainly wouldn’t be learning that, but Franca explained that the freshly harvested grapes are de-stemmed and crushed to release the juice and sugars. Once the skins and pulp have been filtered out, the grape “must” is then boiled in copper vats. After anywhere from 12 hours to more than a day, the must is reduced to about half its original volume and ready to begin the process of acetification and aging in a set of barrels, called a “battery of barrels”.
The traditional balsamic vinegar begins its aging process in the largest barrel of the set. About once per year, just a little is removed from the barrel and transferred to the next barrel in the set. It is moved from barrel to barrel until it reaches the smallest one. Each barrel is made from a different type of wood and infuses its flavors into the balsamic. The technique takes at least 25 years to get a really good Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, Franca tells me.
She then proudly shows me sets of wooden barrels handed down through her family, the syrup-y balsamic oozing from some of them as they expand and contract from the changes in weather. She and each of her four brothers and sisters each inherited a set of the wooden barrels and she started three more sets that her own three children will someday inherit. A smile comes across Franca’s face as she recalls seeing her grandfather carrying the traditional balsamic vinegar in buckets when she was just a small child.
There are only about 100 families that are licensed to make the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Franca explains it can only be labeled as such after it has passed a rigorous test of the certification council, which was established in the 1970s to keep imitators from trying to sell commercial grade as traditional. She shows me the two types of packaging: beige packaging indicates that the traditional balsamic is at least 12 years old and brown packaging indicates at least 25 years old. Even a specific bottle must be used for packaging and has a special wax seal of authenticity.
Finally, Franca explains how to enjoy Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Drizzle just a few drops on Parmesan for a delicious snack or drizzle it over gelato, she tells me. “No matter how you use it though, it is meant to be enjoyed,” she explains as she sends me on my way with a recipe book and my new bottle of 12 year traditional balsamic vinegar.
Know Before You Go
- You can visit the Acetaia Marisa Barbieri Giuliani by appointment. Call +39 059 305713 to make an appointment.
- At least 12 year Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is €40 and at least 25 year is €70. Try to bring exact cash.
For more foodie travel inspiration, check out Foodie Tuesday on Inside Journeys.
My visit to Acetaia Marisa Barbieri Giuliani was arranged in collaboration with the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board as part of the #BlogVille campaign created by iAmbassador. As always, my thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely my own.