An essential part of the process of making Balsamic Vinegar is the long aging in fine wooden barrels. The use of the latter is carefully regulated by the Consortia in full respect of tradition. Let’s see what there is to know about it.
Balsamic Vinegar, a product of long tradition, is famous all over the world for its aging in wooden barrels. Its fame is certainly due not only to its recognizable and characteristic taste, but both to a great tradition and a long history over the centuries and to an indissoluble bond with the fantastic territory of Emilia.
Part of this tradition necessarily involves the processes of production of Balsamic Vinegar, among which the importance of ageing stands out.
The aging, to obtain a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP must last at least twelve years, a period in which the product basically rests inside wooden barrels.
The use of these barrels is meticulously regulated by the Consortia, which are responsible for preserving the tradition of Balsamic Vinegar and guaranteeing its quality.
All this attention to the production processes makes Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP an extremely valuable and sometimes an expensive product (why is so expensive?).
Every step is fundamental to obtain the characteristic final product. In this article we will therefore discuss the barrels for the aging of Balsamic Vinegar.
What are barrels and what are they used for Balsamic Vinegar?
Let’s now try to get into the gist of the discussion: what are barrels for aging?
An essential part of vinegar production is fermentation, a more or less long process that needs special containers to take place. These containers can be of different types, but certainly the wooden barrels are the best, especially if they come from one of the best producers of barrels, namely Renzi, a cooperator who also collaborates with DOP consortia.
In addition to the barrels for aging used in vinegar factories to produce Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP, there are also many barrels sold to private individuals. In fact, with a lot of patience and a little bit of study, even a private person can produce Balsamic Vinegar, even if it is difficult to be certified by the consortia. In any case, the independent production of Balsamic Vinegar remains a fantastic experience for food and wine lovers.
Types of wood
The type of wood has a great influence on the final result of the product and for this reason also the choice of raw material for the barrels is wisely regulated.
Most of the barrels are made of oak or chestnut, very hard and stable woods, which alone make up 75% of the barrels in which Balsamic Vinegar ages. Rareer, but always linked to tradition, are the mulberry and juniper barrels, which, however, give more problems, such as the difficult finding of mulberry and the excessive flavoring of juniper.
The use of other woods – cherry, ash, robinia, pear and apple trees – has been experimented in more recent times and, while giving good results, has brought to light problems not present in the use of oak and chestnut.
What is a battery and the use of barrels for Balsamic Vinegar
The battery is a group of wooden barrels (always odd and almost always between five and nine units) also of various types in which the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP is aged. The peculiar thing is that usually each barrel is intended for a particular use and the wood is chosen also taking this fact into account.
These casks are kept in vinegar cellars, each of which, although they have to comply with the rules of the consortia, has precise methods of long tradition in the use of the barrels, and it is thanks to these small differences that we can taste the different notes of vinegars coming from different vinegar cellars.
Without going into too technical details, the long process of wood preparation should be noted.
First of all it must be cleaned by a process called skimming, by letting water and salt rest inside the barrel for several days.
Then, the barrel must be acetified, in jargon “kept away”, by letting wine vinegar rest inside for a year. Only after these operations you can begin to make the barrel operational.
Inside the battery the barrels are of different sizes, with volumes ranging from 100 to 10 liters. From the smallest barrel, the one with the product already aged, every year a 10/15% of Balsamic Vinegar is taken for consumption, which is compensated (in jargon tamped down) together with the liquid evaporated during the past season from the product contained in the immediately larger barrel through a racking operation. These operations are essential in the production of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP, especially to ensure that future generations can also enjoy this valuable product.
To learn more, I invite you to read our article in which we go into all the steps for the production of Balsamic Vinegar.
At the end of this article we can affirm that in order to obtain a quality product, as requested by the consortia, it is necessary to pay a lot of attention to all the steps of the production process of Balsamic Vinegar, even when talking about barrels for ageing.
There are many different types of barrels, also available for private individuals, but the important thing is always to choose a quality barrel, because it is only by respecting the tradition, the raw material and the history of the product that you will be able to obtain those well-known characteristics which makes Balsamic Vinegar that fantastic product we have come to know.