La dolce vita.
That's what I found.
What I was looking for was traditional balsamic vinegar and its glorious taste.
I wanted to savor it. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know how to buy it.
You see, before leaving for Bologna, I was given a mission by my sister to find a supplier of the real Balsamico.
I accepted the assignment with pleasure but I needed details.
Modena – the Home of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
Traveling in the Emilia-Romagna region, I've learned that there is industrial food and there is food. There is:
- Parmesan and then there is Parmigiano-Reggiano. (I'll write about this soon.)
- Prosciutto and Prosciutto di Parma. (Being vegetarian, I won't be writing about this soon.)
- Balsamic vinegar and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena
Most balsamic vinegar you buy is produced by industry in vast quantities. Quality varies and the taste is simple.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is produced by families with their own vineyards and sometimes generations of experience. Its flavor is rich and complex. It is carefully regulated the Corsorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena so if a bottle has the Tradizionale seal as shown in a picture below, you can be sure that it has been produced in the the traditional method that has been passed down for centuries.
Balsamic Production at Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca
So, back to my story.
I found la dolce vita at the Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca.
As you may already know, I'm staying in an apartment in Bologna with two other bloggers – Patricia of Turomaquia and Kristen of Be My Travel Muse. One day a week we travel together. This time our destination was Modena.
Upon arrival at the Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca (acetaia is directly translated as vinegar cellar), we were greeted by Emilio and Aurora – brother and sister. Just as they were getting started with our tour Irene, their mother, arrived with great flare. While Emilio had one plan for the tour, she had another. He took back the reigns and then his sister had a suggestion. Back and forth it went, first Emilio, then his mother, then Aurora, and then Emilio again. The family dynamic was delightful as was their exuberance for sharing their passion for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale with us.
As you can imagine, touring the acetaia was both educational and fun.
The Making of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
To make Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena the grapes must reach a sweetness level of at least 18% before harvesting. The grapes are then crushed and the must (freshly pressed juice) is cooked. The cooked juice is then put in barrels for aging.
The first stage of aging is 6 years. At this point, the vinegar is wonderful but the standards of the Corsorzio require more. The vinegar must be aged for at least 8 more years to produce 12 year old vinegar (the minimum age that Balsamico Tradizionale can be sold) and 40 years to produce 25-year-old vinegar. These numbers don't add up because every year 1/3 of each barrel is added to a barrel of the next year to keep the vinegar making process alive. Because of this, it takes more than the years declared on the bottle to have all the vinegar inside aged for the stated number of years.
Trust me, I don't really understand the math but this is how it was explained to me.
Does the fact that I don't understand bother me? No, the proof is in the tasting.
Tasting a Vinegar Made with Love
After seeing the production process we went into the attic of the house where the barrels of vinegar were aging beyond six years. They are housed in the attic so that the vinegar lives the heat of summer and the cold of winter – a necessity in the making of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
And the taste? As Emilio explained, taste is affected by personal experience. The stories of how one has lived with food will determine how we describe a new food experience. I tasted cherries and chocolate with a bit of an acidic kick.
I would call it liquid gold.
The family is pleased to accept people for tours throughout the year though they recommend the spring and fall. The tours are free but must be arranged in advance either with them through their website or through the Modena Tourist Bureau.
And now, more photos…
My thanks to the tourism board here for supporting Blogville – a place for bloggers to stay while exploring the region. You can read what other bloggers have written about their stay here.