Towards a conscious purchase of the best Balsamic Vinegar
The quick answer to where to find the best Balsamic Vinegar is to buy a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (ABT) DOP.
We are talking about a product of the highest level, traditional condiment of Emilian cuisine, produced with cooked grape must exclusively from the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, fermented, acetified, and then aged for at least twelve years.
The process of transforming DOP vinegar can only take place under the particular environmental and climatic conditions found in the attics of old houses (acetaie) and only in the territory of the two provinces of Emilia, characterized by rigid winters and hot, ventilated summers.
For these reasons it cannot be obtained by industrial or large-scale processing, so its production is limited and it is product of high recognized value.
As for a vinegar with wider production and a rulebook that leaves more room for action, we have the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Protected Geographical Indication (IGP).
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP does not follow such rigid rulebook when it comes to the production of the DOP and is produced not only and exclusively from the must, but it allows the use of wine vinegar and caramel and 150d up to 2%.
However, on the market there are products of varying quality and cost. The quality may vary depending on the method of extraction of the grapes, whether complementary ingredients are used or not and the duration of aging (minimum 60 days for Balsamic Vinegar IGP).
As we have seen, the production of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP and Reggio Emilia DOP does not have (and cannot have) be industrially produced, it is therefore a limited product, with an aging of no less than 12 years and a certain processing of raw materials.
After reading this article you will surely be able to understand, and therefore know how to decide, what kind of Balsamic Vinegar is right for you. Even more useful, you will understand the differences between a DOP vinegar and IGP.
The best Balsamic Vinegar: the DOP products of Modena and Reggio Emilia
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar has, first of all, the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) and is found in two versions: Modena and Reggio Emilia. These vinegars are obtained following a strict rulebook.
The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia DOP is obtained through a long aging process of cooked grape must, without the addition of any other ingredients.
The cooked grape must is aged in wooden barrels for at least 12 years.
The process is very complicated, because it involves repeated transfers between barrels that contain products of different vintages from which only 20-30% of the content is taken every year.
If the vinegar will be aged for 12 years, minimum to discipline, you will find on the label the word “Refined”.
If ageing exceeds 25 years, the term used is “Extravecchio”.
The price is in line with its fame: you can buy a 100 ml bottle from 50 to more than 100 euros, depending on the aging.
Aged IGP: another high quality Balsamic Vinegar
Modena Balsamic Vinegar was awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) mark in 2009. The rules say that only seven grape varieties can be used but, although they are typical of the Emilian territory, they are allowed to be taken from various parts of Italy.
The important thing is that the processing of the grapes (acetification, refinement and aging) takes place within the two provinces.
In addition, once the ingredients (grape must, wine vinegar and any caramel and 150d) have been mixed, they must be kept for at least two months in wooden containers (at least three years for vinegars that are declared “aged”).
There is an anecdote about the creation of the use of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP.
It began to spread at a certain point, among the peasant families, the habit of diluting the product with wine vinegar to obtain a lighter dressing, to be used every day and also to have a more consistent vinegar reserve.
According to tradition, this is how what will later be called Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP was created, which will result in a lighter vinegar.
However, there is no shortage of high-quality IGP ‘aged’ products. These products can be found at prices ranging from 15 to 50 euros.
The difference between a Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP and the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP is remarkable.
With the rigour of the set of rules, the production process of Modena DOP Balsamic Vinegar is meticulous and with a much longer and more articulated aging process, and this is reflected in the quality and price of the product, which is of the highest quality.
We can therefore say that the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia DOP is decidedly superior, but we still find some IGP worthy of noting and with its own history despite the large-scale production, for the processing of the raw material used and for the shorter aging time.