Centuries Old Balsamic Vinegar

Centuries Old Balsamic Vinegar


By Christopher Livesay

A 273-year-old phial of Modena’s prized balsamic vinegar has been uncovered in the northern Italian city and experts say it’s delicious. The viscous, gourmet grape reduction was found two years ago along with a handwritten note inside an 18th-century chest inherited by a Modenese family. The note read: “Vinegar taken from a bottle of the Gregori family of Modena in 1740. Today, February 17, 1943, the vinegar is 203 years’ old. Signed: Giulio Jacoli fu Cesare”. After extensive chemical tests, the ampule was approved for an official taste by the Consorteria dell’Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Consortium) to judge its texture, flavor and appearance.BalsamicECCO LA FOTO DELLACETO BALSAMICO MODENESE DI 273 ANNI (NOTIZIA IN RETE ALLE 18.16). - DA ANSA BOLOGNA

The consortium gave it 307 points, just 10.8 points below the balsamic vinegar that won this year’s top prize at the Palio di San Giovanni, the industry’s top competition. Tasters said they were stunned by its high quality given nearly 300 years of unaccounted-for conservation records. True balsamic vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 12 years in a series of successively smaller barrels. “To make balsamic vinegar, you need a line of five to seven barrels of diminishing size, or what we call a battery. They have different capacities and are made of different woods,” says Luca Gozzoli, grand master of the Modena consortium and agriculture councilor for the province. The first and largest barrel is usually made of hard wood, like chestnut. As they get smaller, the woods also get softer, like cherry and gelsum. The different woods add different aromas and overtones.

The smallest barrel at the end of the line usually has a capacity of 10 to 25 liters.

Each spring, one 10th of the last barrel – or one to 2.5 liters – is withdrawn for consumption throughout the year. If any more is taken, the delicate ferment inside will not withstand the next steps required to have a new batch of balsamic vinegar the following year.

A new batch is created by refilling the barrels all the way down the line. Contents from the second-smallest barrel are used to refill the smallest. Contents of the third-smallest is used to refill the second, and so on and so forth, until the newest cooked grape must, which has wintered in the basement, is used to refill the largest barrel in the line up.
Sitting with a kerchief-covered hole, the stuff evaporates and ferments quickly in hot summer months, and chills and settles its sediments during the winter.

Once a good balsamic vinegar gets going in one’s own barrels, it can last for generations to come, as additional aging only helps the flavor.

“The duration is infinite, if you take care of the reduction and its bacteria. There are barrels as old as 300 or 400 years old,” says Gozzoli.

The process of creating high-quality balsamic dates back to the Middle Ages when locals in Modena and neighboring Reggio Emilia found a way to transform the sour, acidic liquid into an aromatic, mild, slightly sweet condiment as thick as syrup and as complex as fine wine.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is a breed apart from other vinegars, whose bite would cause serious facial contortions were it deployed in a similar way: paired with pork or Parmesan, sprinkled on rice dishes, dabbed on strawberries, trickled on creamy desserts or swallowed straight.Balsamic

“My favorite way to have balsamic vinegar is in a spoon,” Maurizio Torreggiani, President of Modena’s Chamber of Commerce, told ANSA.

Such a declaration would cause wincing even with the balsamic vinegar normally found on grocery shelves, and commonly used to dress salad.

Grocery store balsamic vinegar – usually with an officious “I.G.P.” on its label – contains wine vinegar and, often, uncooked grape must, thickening agents, caramel coloring or preservatives.

Despite the low-tech nature of traditional production, no one has figured out how to industrialize it.

“One generation makes balsamic vinegar for the next,” says Cristina Quartieri, director of the balsamic vinegar museum Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale Spilamberto.

Bottles of balsamic aged for 25 years or more can go for hundreds of euros. There has been no word on selling the recently discovered 18th-century ampule.


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