Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Today is the day I have been waiting for, a visit to an acetaia (or house of balsamic vinegar). There are too many factories to choose from so we ask our lovely host Benedetta for a recommendation. She knows the owner of Acetaia Montale Rangone and phones them to set up a private tour for us. I am jumping with excitement. See map: Acetaia Montale Rangone The acetaia is about a 15 minute drive. We pass several large producers and a couple of small villages along the way. We arrive and are met by an elderly lady leaving the grounds with her bottles full of sweet balsamic vinegar. She does not speak a word of English and goes on in Italian on how we get inside. We gathered that there is a bell to ring and then we wait for admission. Marcello comes out and warmly greets us in English. What a relief! He is a young man in his twenties and it is his family that owns the acetaia. The family fist started making balsamic vinegar in 1880 and they still use that first barrel. It is painted with a red ring and is their family jewel.
We begin in a long rectangular room filled with equal sized barrels and a couple very large barrels off to the side. These barrels hold the first kind of balsamic vinegar.
This where the Indicazione Geographica Protetta (IGP) balsamic vinegar is made. IGP is made with grapes from the hills of Modena (must) and red wine vingar. This combination results in a higher acidity of about 6% and is what we usually find in our supermarkets.The smell is pungent, sour and reminiscent of a wine cellar. I could drink in the aroma all day.
Behind this room we find ourselves in the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale)) room. This is where the pure balsamic is brought to life. This product is 100% pure aged grape must from grapes picked in the province of Modena, mostly Trebbiano and Lumbrusco grapes. No additives or colors can be used.
In order to receive the official seal by the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) the vinegar must be submitted for tasting over a period of months and the European Union Consortium will keep the barrels and bottle them and apply the seal. This ensures purity and authenticity. The seal is required for the longer aged vinegars of 12+ years.
See video: What is Traditional Balsamic?
The aceto (or vinegar) is aged in what is called the batteria or battery. It is a succession of larger to smaller barrels where the vinegar is aged in the largest barrel or cask and after a sufficient period of time of 1-3 years, is moved to a smaller cask. These varying sized casks are made of different types of woods allowing each craftsman the ability to vary the flavor.
The casks each have a hole cut into the top large enough for your hand to reach inside and grab a taste. Covering the hole is a piece of cloth, usually made of thin canvas. This keeps out any bugs, dirt or moisture and allows the balsamic to slowly evaporate over time.
We move into the tasting room. Can you feel my excitement?
We taste the one, three, five, nine, 12 and 25 year balsamic vinegar. It is amazing the complexity this vinegar holds. From the 5 to 9 year mark is a remarkable difference. You can taste the sourness turn sweet and the caramel begin to develop. By year 12 a silky rich flavor lingers on the tongue and by year 25, well lets just say my eyes rolled in the back of my head.
Marcello shares with us his family's achievement of being awarded by the Consorteria Dell' Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Spilamberto for the best Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in Modena for 2017! His was chosen out of the 1500 submissions for the year.
Lucky for you all, I am having some goodies sent to the store!