After the big lecture on parmesano reggiano, here's a little additional lecture on balsamic. In order to be Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, it must first have only one ingredient: boiled grape juice. So if there are other ingredients listed, it's not the real thing. Also , according to Alessandro, it must say "di Modena" on the label because only in the area of Modena are there the right NATURAL bacteria for fermenting the wine during the aging process. And, of course, if the producer in Modena is a member of the consortium, it will also have D.O.P. on the label. Just as with the cheese though, it could be a true balsamico without the D.O.P. but the consumer has to just go on faith.
NOTE: There are only a few more pictures at the end and a lot of talk about the D.O.P. and the process of getting from the first year to 12 and beyond, so this may get pretty boring and you're welcome to silently move on. :)
One reason balsamico costs as much money as it does is because it takes 12 years to get a 1 liter bottle!! That age is another DOP requirement, so again, there could be a good, but not as good, balsamic that has been aged only 8 years. This family, in fact, sells a product that is aged to four years, they add I can't remember what to it, and sell it with a label that doesn't say anywhere that it is balsamic. And we sampled that and it was tasty.
Anyway, since it has to age for 12 years before the DOP will stamp it (if it passes inspection!), that means if you were to buy your 5 barrels tomorrow, press your grapes (a lot of them), boil down the juice, and fill each barrel all the way up, you would then wait 12 years before you had a your 1 liter bottle of balsamic. Then you would have to send that 1 liter bottle to the consortium, they would test it for color, aroma and most importantly taste and if it passed, they would bottle it and send it back to you with the D.O.P. label. If it didn't pass, they would still send it back to you and you would have a couple of options as to what to do with it. Now during those 12 years while you're waiting to get that one bottle to send off with prayers, you'd still have work to do because each year, you go through the process of "topping" off each barrel (there will have been evaporation) and this is done thusly: first of all, you take 10% of the smallest barrel OUT of the barrel and I don't know what you do with that - it's not part of the story anymore. Then you top off that little barrel with juice from the barrel beside it, top of that 2nd barrel with juice from beside it and so on til the last big barrel which you top off with fresh boiled grape juice. And after doing that for 12 years, your littlest barrel qualifies as a true "aged minimal 12 years" balsamic.
Now, the interesting part (sorry - it's interesting to me) is that the DOP bottles of minimal 12 year balsamic don't say anything anywhere about how long they've been aged. If it's DOP, the customer knows it's a minimum of 12 years. So, as the years go by, the family is still up in the attic (did I mention the barrels are always kept in attics, DOP or not?) going through the topping off process every year and so the balsamic in the smallest barrel is growing older and older - 13, 14, 15, etc. years. When the smallest barrel reaches its 25th year, then the DOP bottles get a new label and it reads "extravecchio" which means extra old and the customer knows that means it is at least 25 years old. However, that family (by now most likely the sons!) are still up there retopping the barrels every year and from then on til as long as the family keeps on going, it just gets older and older and older. And since we got to taste several different ages, I can say that it also just gets better and better and better.
Our tasting consisted of a "store bought" vinegar that was truly hideous - I told Alessandro I thought they must have found the worst one they could because even the ones I bought and thought "well so what?" about were better than this one. Then we tasted the 4-year product they sell and that was better - it w ould be a good one to use for like everyday salads and such. Next was the minimal 12 year which Alessandro told us our particular one was 14 years old (they can tell this from the DOP information about when they drew it out of the barrel) and now we were getting somewhere. I think what I bought last year (which I'm pretty sure wasn't DOP but was Modena and was good) would probably be a 12 year, from a non-consortium member. Next we had an extravecchio, it was noticeably better than the 14 year, and then we had one that Alessandro said was 45 years and the people richer than I was were deciding that was the one they would buy!
And our last taste deserves its own paragraph with a note from me to anyone who is still reading: I know this is insanely long and most likely quite boring, but my blog is also my diary and so I do have to include details of things that I find fascinating because next month if anyone happened to ask me how true balsamic is made all I would remember is that it's aged in barrels! :)
So, our last taste was from a bottle that had balsamic that had aged at least 150 years!!! When we first arrived at the villa (which the grandfather bought I think in 1946), Alessandro explained that it was built in 1911 and that the grandfather had bought it with everything in it (which I will have some pictures of in a minute...or two) including, it was discovered, barrels in the attic with dates that indicated they had been aging for 150 years. When he told us the story, I thought "well, that's a nice story" but couldn't quite take it seriously. He said that when they discovered it, they took out the 1 liter from each of the smallest barrels ending up with 50 liters which they bottled up and sold. So when he told us we were getting the 150 year old balsamic I was privately skeptical cause I thought "wait, you said they sold it", but then it dawned on me...those barrels are still up in the villa's attics, going through the same process still and so every year, they are pulling off the 50 liters of 150 year (older now, of course) balsamic. Amazing!
Although as I sit here typing this, my skepticism again came into play and I'm going to have to e-mail Alessandro with a question (if I'm ever able to get on line again!) which is: If the villa was built in 1911, how could the barrels have balsamic in them that was 150 years old? Even now, it would just be approaching 100 years old. He did point out a piece of paper framed on the wall of the tasting room that he said was the documentation of the age on those barrels...I suppose it's feasible that the barrels could have been moved in from wherever the family who built the villa had stored them...
Whatever, it was pretty much incredible. And for our last treat, there was homemade vanilla gelato with I forget which of the many products we had tasted drizzled over it (not the 150 year old one!) and that was really wonderful.
All the rest of these pictures are from our little tour of the villa where the family now lives and I can only say I hope in their private rooms they've brought in at least some of their own things. The rooms we saw were all "as purchased" and I would go totally insane actually living in them - partly cause they were pretty much over the top, but mostly because I've got to have "my stuff, man".
PICTURES 18 THROUGH 24
And that's it for Part II - I want to get this posted so I'll only be 2-1/3 days behind so there will be a Part III.
- Mary Lynne
- West Virginia
- When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!
P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).
I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.