The production of Balsamic Vinegar, in particular the Traditional DOP one, is regulated by strict rules imposed by the reference consortia. The steps to follow are precise and among these, the aging of Balsamic Vinegar has a place of absolute importance.
The aging of Balsamic Vinegar, is so important that it outlines three types of product: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia DOP and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP. All these three types are recognized by international bodies and protected by consortia for the protection of reference. These consortia, honouring the history and long tradition of this product, dictate strict rules on the production of Balsamic Vinegar, which, for now without delay, includes the selection of raw materials, acetification, aging and bottling.
Today, in this article, we will particularly focus on the phase related to the aging of Balsamic Vinegar, analyzing the way it happens and the main differences between balsamic vinegars with different certifications, but first we try to understand what these three certifications are.
The various types of Balsamic Vinegar
In an attempt to clarify as much as possible on the subject that has been somewhat skewed by the global culinary industry on a large scale, as to whether a vinegar can be considered worthy of being called Balsamic.
As we said, three different recipes of Balsamic Vinegar are recognized, with two DOP certifications and one IGP.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP, both from Modena and Reggio Emilia, is the one with the highest quality. This difference in quality is due to stricter rules dictated by the two reference consortia, which provide for a more careful selection of raw materials (for example, the grapes must come only from vineyards located respectively in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia), the exclusion of other ingredients in addition to grape must and, as will be seen in detail later in the article, very long aging time (at least 12 years to define Traditional DOP).
The Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP, while remaining an excellent product, is certainly not as valuable as the DOP types. The rules imposed by the regulations of the reference consortium are much less rigid, allowing the use of grapes from vineyards located in other provinces (or nations), the addition of other ingredients such as aged vinegar and caramel e150d, as well as significantly reduced aging times.
How Balsamic Vinegar is made
Now let’s see the salient stages of the production of real Balsamic Vinegar, which are essential to give this product the characteristic and very recognizable flavor loved all over the world.
Let’s start, as we said at the beginning, from the selection of raw materials.
This phase is essential to get off on the right foot in the production, using only grapes of the highest quality and types linked to the tradition of the Emilian territory. We can mention Lambrusco, Spergola or Berzemino. Without going into further detail on this point, we have already seen in the previous paragraph how the selection of raw materials differs between Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena or Reggio Emilia DOP and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP, with the specifications of the latter type being less strict in the selection of grapes and allowing the addition of other ingredients.
At this point the grape must, after being cooked, is put inside the typical wooden barrels, where the next steps of production will take place. Inside the barrels there will be what many believe to be the real elaboration of Balsamic Vinegar, that is the acetification, which consists of a fermentation process through the use of carefully selected bacterial colonies.
Before proceeding with the ageing process, the preparation obtained after the acetification must pass through a further phase, called refinement. This intermediate product must rest for a certain period inside wooden barrels. At the end of this period it will be examined by experts, who will judge whether the product meets all the standards dictated by the consortia and tradition. Only if the content of the barrels will pass this test will be ready to undergo the long aging process and become true Balsamic Vinegar.
The aging of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP
When we talk about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP we can speak of two different types of Balsamic Vinegar, both internationally recognized: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia DOP.
As far as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP of Modena is concerned, the aging phase must last at least 12 years in order for the product to be defined Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP.
Twelve years, however, is certainly not the maximum limit for the aging of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP. According to the regulations of the two protection consortia, in fact, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP can age over twenty-five years. In the case of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP this is the only way to obtain the certification of extra old, unlike with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia DOP to bear the gold stamp (maximum quality certification) in addition to aging for at least twenty-five years, the product must reach, to the sensory analysis carried out by master tasters belonging to the protection consortium, an evaluation score equal to or higher than three hundred on a scale that goes from zero up to a maximum of 345 points, thus becoming even more valuable products, deservingly in the Pantheon of culinary quality.
The aging of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP
The aging phase is completely different when it comes to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP.
In this case, in fact, the duration of this last phase is significantly reduced. In order to enjoy the IGP certification, Balsamic Vinegar must age inside wooden barrels for a period of at least sixty days, which is, as is easy to understand, significantly lower than the minimum limit of twelve years imposed by the regulations of the DOP consortia.
Also with regard to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP we have a second step of aging necessary to have a certified product of superior quality. In this case, however, we are not talking about the twenty-five years of the extra-old Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP, but it takes only three years to define an aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP.
The word “aged” may be, with reference to the aging of the product, the only additional written wording on the label of a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP. If you have any doubts about how to read the labels of Balsamic Vinegar to make an informed purchase, read our ad-hoc written article.
At the end of this comparison we can easily notice that there are many differences between Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP.
These differences also derive from the purpose for which the two products were conceived, as well as from the tradition they carry with them.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP, the most common and widespread type, is a product that derives from the production of Traditional DOP and is also designed to reach as many tables as possible.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP, on the other hand, derives from a nobler tradition and is today a very valuable and high quality product, fortunately exported and loved all over the world.