Quotidiano: International Herald
Titolo: A vinegar more precious than wine
Data: 27 agosto 2005
URL: International Herald Tribune
By Maisie Wilhelm International Herald Tribune
MODENA, Italy Every foodie worth his salt knows that the only vinegar worth serving to dinner guests is the traditional aceto balsamico, or balsamic vinegar, from Modena. The last Sunday in September is the perfect time to visit this central Italian town to stock up on “black gold.”
“Acetaie Aperte” is an annual festival during which Modena’s vinegar producers – most of them family operations that age the product in household attics – offer tastings and tours to the cuisine-curious. Local restaurants offer vinegar menus featuring the ways Modena’s most famous edible export can be savored: brushed onto grilled asparagus, drizzled on fresh squash tortelloni, sprinkled on crumbly shavings of parmigiano, or on wild strawberries.
Take a tour of an acetaia, or vinegar loft, and buy the real thing at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.
With a retail price of around $200 for 100 milliliters, or 3.4 ounces, this is not your ordinary vinegar. Thick as maple syrup, and rusty black, its sharp aroma fills the air, and its intense flavor stuns even the most serious gastronomes.
It may seem pricey for a bottle small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but don’t forget that someone like Giorgio Barbieri has had it sitting in his attic for up to 25 years, not turning any profit.
Barbieri, a former Italian national volleyball player, learned vinegar-making from his grandmother.
Towering and personable, Barbieri explains how traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena (pronounced MO-deh-nah) came to be so prized: “Only 9,500 liters are produced for sale each year, by 55 producers, who must all produce in the area,” he said. Modena’s suffocating summers and freezing winters quicken and slow the fermentation.
To be designated “traditional,” balsamic vinegar from Modena must be aged 12 years; to merit the gold label, 25 years. It must meet the standards set by the Consortium for the Preservation of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, which regulates the process according to European Union law. As of April 2000, the coveted DOP label, which stands for Denomination of Protected Origin, is used to distinguish the authentic delicacy from imitations.
Barbieri’s methods are as old as his tools: oversized glass droppers, called “thieves” in the trade, and decanters sit amidst a series of wooden barrels, diminishing in size. Lining the perimeter of his attic, some of the discolored barrels are over 100 years old, and leak tiny beads of must, or pressed grape juice, at the seams. The vinegar smell is not overpowering, but a hint of sugar awakens your nose.
Trebbiano grape must is the only ingredient; no coloring agents, no caramel. The consortium’s strict regulations leave the vinegar-maker little room for creativity. Barbieri determines which barrel – chestnut, mulberry, oak – to use for the aging.
Juniper infuses a prickly flavor, while a cherry-aged vinegar is more refined.
Before bottling, a panel of five judges, who study for 10 years and whose decision is incontestable, determines whether the vinegar is good or needs more aging. “That has never happened to me,” Barbieri said, smiling.
The real thing is identified by its mandatory DOP label and by its only legal container: a square-footed bottle designed by Giorgio Giugiaro, whose other projects include cars for Maserati and Lamborghini.
Most Acetaie provide tours year round. Acetatia di Giorgio is open year-round.
Information (in English as well) at www.acetaiadigiorgio.it