As in the case of Extra Virgin olive oils, the production of the highly-prized traditional Balsamic Vinegar is governed by very strict regulations administered by a Consortium of producers (Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico di Modena).
The vinegar that is created according to Consortium regulations is also known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, in English: Traditional Balsamic Vinegarof Modena.
Below are some basic examples of the “Tradizionale” requirements.
- The vinegar can be created only in Modena or the neighbouring Italian province of Reggio Emilia.
- Only Trebbiano, Lambrusco, and a small number of other grape varieties may be used, and these grapes must be grown within the two provinces.
- Very strict procedures for the aging of the vinegar must be followed.
- Special containers must be used to store the vinegar when it is ready for consumption.
- Special colour-coded labelling is placed on these containers.
- The balsamic vinegar can’t be sold in bulk.
- The first step in production is the pressing of the grapes.
- The pressing is followed by a reduction process in copper kettles over wood fires. Reduction consumes many hours.
- The aging process then begins.
The thick syrup resulting from reduction, called “mosto cotto” (“cooked must” in English), is particularly aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of barrels of much smaller sizes. Additionally, they are made from varied woods, including chestnut, juniper, acacia, cherry, and ash. Each of these woods makes its own contribution to the complex, nuanced flavour that will be the ultimate result.
This aging process is not as seamless as aging the syrup for either 12 or 25 years in the cask it happened to be placed in. But instead, there is a more difficult process in which currently aging vinegar contributes to the new vinegar that has just arrived.
Because of the strict restrictions on production, the lengthy aging process, and the small volumes produced, traditional balsamic vinegar can be very expensive at times.
Fortunately for you, there are alternatives to ‘tradizionale’ balsamic. The next grade in balsamic vinegars is called ‘condimento’. This grade may be labelled as “condimento balsamico”, “salsa balsamico”, or “salsa di mosto cotta”.
Condimento Balsamic Vinegar can be made in a handful of ways:
- Made and aged in the traditional way in Modena or Reggio Emilia, but without supervision or approval of the Consortium.
- Developed by producers of traditional Balsamic Vinegars but aged less than the minimum 12 years, resulting in no Consortium approval.
- Made by the same method as traditional Balsamic Vinegars, but by producers located outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces and not made under Consortium supervision.