Are You Using Real Balsamic Vinegar?

Do you know the truth about your balsamic vinegar? To be honest I didn’t like balsamic vinegar very much before last weekend. I knew there was some that was aged for over a hundred years. There is also some for a few dollars on grocery store shelves. Now there are thicker glazed and infused balsamic on the shelves as well. To me it just seemed like no matter what, the balsamic just didn’t taste that great. Many dishes in America use way too much balsamic. Then, I went to a balsamic tasting and my whole opinion changed once I learned what real balsamic vinegar is.

The more I travel, the more I realize as consumers the wool is being pulled over our eyes by major corporations. Mass consumerism is destroying the food industry and as a result people are gaining weight and getting sicker. The reason for this, in simple terms, is that the role of food as a provider of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and balance in our digestive system has all but ceased. With the cheapening of ingredients and the increase in preservatives we are losing the necessary nutrients to fuel our bodies.

So, when I get the chance to learn about real ingredients I jump at the opportunity. Last weekend in Modena my friend booked us on a balsamic vinegar tasting. I was pretty excited since Balsamic is made in Modena.

Italian Garden

Acetaia di Giorgio:

We arrived at Acetaia di Giorgio, just 2 km outside of the historic center of Modena, in the afternoon. I was surprised to see we were doing the tasting in a family home. The garden in front of the home was welcoming with its fountain, garden table and beautiful plants. We met the guide and the rest of the group and assembled to begin the tasting.

Frescoed Stairway

Acetaia di Giorgio is a family home, as it has been for 150 years. It is also the place where they manufacture real balsamic vinegar. Now at this point I still thought all balsamic was real. The home is enchanting with original mosaic floors, coveted terra cotta tile stairs and frescoed ceilings. Immediately upon entering the smell of the balsamic hung gently in the air. At once it was obvious that this families life revolves around the production of real balsamic vinegar.

Acetaia di Giorgio vinegar display

Once we had all made it to the top floor of the Palazzo we sat down in the “manufacturing area”. One of the three rooms where all of the grape juice transforms into this precious liquid we call Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena). In this cozy room, surrounded by 150 year old barrels, each covered with linen sewn and embroidered by the women in the family over the past 150 years, I fell in love with Balsamic Vinegar.

Each year the grapes are harvested and then pressed to extract the juices. The juices(must) of the grapes (lambrusco, and trebbiano) is then cooked over an open flame for several hours. This is done immediately after the grapes are pressed. The must decreases by about 50% during this cooking. The liquid is then poured into the largest of the small wooden barrels to begin its maturation for 12-25 years. As more of the liquid evaporates the liquid is moved to smaller and smaller barrels until it arrives at the smallest one. Before being bottled, the vinegar is tasted by a certified expert to make sure it meets the requirements for the certification of D.O.P..

D.O.P. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Obtaining the D.O.P. certification is of the utmost importance to producers. D.O.P. means “Protected Origin Denomination”. It is given only once producers have proven they are continuing the production process as it was originally done. To buy a product with the D.O.P. certification means you are getting the real deal. The health benefits, flavor qualities and production methods are all as they have always been.

Here is the thing, the real rub for us as we learned. Most Balsamic Vinegar isn’t real. It is a combination of lots of sugar, caramel colorings, preservatives etc. and grape juice to speed up the process and make it en masse. The health benefits are lost as is the true flavor, instead it is more like a sugary syrup. Think Aunt Jemima vs. Maple Syrup.

balsamic vinegar tasting

The Truth:

Here is the thing that really made us angry. THE BALSAMIC VINEGAR AGED FOR 100 YEARS, SOLD FOR HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS IS A MISLEADING. I don’t want to get myself into trouble here, so I will leave it with this-read the label. Do the research before you invest in costly vinegars. The new glazes are not thickened with age, like real balsamic vinegar, they are thickened with chemicals, additives or other means. A real aged balsamic vinegar is thick and beautiful on its own without any additives.

Real balsamic vinegar is only bottled in the shape of the bottle in my photos. The fancy bottles, cool shaped bottles, etc. are not the authentic, real balsamic.

Real balsamic vinegar is good for digestion, and stomach issues. The fermentation of the grape juice is excellent for our bodies. As that tradition is lost to the big corporations we lose yet one more thing that is beneficial for our well being. While real balsamic vinegar can be expensive the amount needed in a dish is much smaller. The real balsamic lasts much longer than the mass produced stuff.

Linens on vinegar barrels

Each different flavor of balsamic (juniper, mixed wood, cedar, cherry), flavored only by the barrels they are aged in is unique. The complexity of each one was, interesting and beautiful. It was if I was tasting the passion of this family, the reverence for the craft and the history of the production.

Making real balsamic is a labor of love, passion, pride and tradition. When done right, when it is real you can feel each one of these in the richness of the balsamic.

Embroidered linen for balsamic barrels

How To Get Real Balsamic Vinegar:

Luckily you can order online and they will ship from Italy to where ever you are in the world. Get together with some friends, or buy it as Christmas presents…

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