About 4 years ago my sister and I went to Modena, Italy to learn about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. We were lucky enough to stay with Erika Barbieri of Acetaia del Cristo. Erika’s family has been making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM) for generations. She and her business partner, Daniele, along with her brother Gilberto are carrying on their family tradition of making ABTM.
For those of you who don’t know the difference between ABTM and the “balsamic” vinegar you find at the grocery store, there are several. ABTM is made from cooked grape juice (the cooking stops it from turning into wine) that is aged in wooden barrels for a number of years.
As the vinegar ages there is a lot of evaporation that takes place so the vinegar becomes both thicker and sweeter (because the sugars are more concentrated). At the same time, the level of acidity is increasing making the vinegar more tart. After aging for at least 12 or 25 years, the vinegar is ready to be bottled. By this point, the vinegar is so thick and sweet it seems more like a syrup than what we think of as vinegar. Grocery store “balsamic” is almost always made from wine vinegar and many times has sweeteners and colorants added to it in an attempt to mimic the richness of ABTM.
One of my favorite ways to eat Traditional Balsamic is on vanilla ice cream and strawberries!
My sister and I were in Modena during the fall so we got to help with the grape harvest. None of our friends there could believe that we were excited to pick grapes. I suppose it is akin to detasseling corn in the Midwest. Never the less, we had fun!
At the end of the harvest, Erika’s father made a big batch of Porcini risotto with porcini that he collected up in the mountains.
Erika’s friends and neighbors help with the harvest just so they can partake in the end of harvest party and eat Eugenio’s risotto, it is that good.
After the harvest was complete and things settled down a bit, my sister and I accompanied Erika to Torino, Italy for the Salone del Gusto which is a fair highlighting producers of traditional foods from all over the world.
I highly encourage everyone to taste this vinegar if you have the opportunity!