What is Balsamic Vinegar made of? Let’s discover the raw materials and rigorous processing that lead to the creation of this excellent dressing: the Balsamic Vinegar.
Balsamic Vinegar is an Italian agri-food product that has a long tradition. Its origin dates back to the Middle Ages where it was used both as a condiment and as a medicine to fight various infections of bacterial and viral origin; its adjective “balsamic” derives from here. Traditional balsamic vinegar is made of accurately selected raw materials and must come from the grape varieties from the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, where the Traditional DOP products are made (for the IGP products the areas of the whole Italian territory are suitable). Moreover, the manufacturing process must undergo a precise mix of ingredients and aging time.
The Balsamic Vinegars are the Traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, the Traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia and the IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. We will analyse how these products differ both in the raw materials used and in the way they are treated.
Raw materials and ingredients of Balsamic Vinegar
The main ingredient of any Balsamic Vinegar is cooked grape must. What is this? The cooked grape must, also called “Saba” in ancient times, is obtained thanks to the slow cooking of the unfermented grape must in a copper pot. In order to add a particular flavour and aroma during the slow cooking, walnuts, pumpkins and apples can also be added to give a particular and unmistakable taste.
Traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar is made of exclusively with this single ingredient, unlike the IGP which have wine vinegar and, in some cases, caramel and 150d as we will see below.
Wine vinegar is the most common type of vinegar and it is obtained from white or red grapes through fermentation with aerobic bacteria of the genus Acetobacter. At last, not only is it used as a dressing, but also as a preservative for food.
The caramel colorant e150d must be used with no more than 2% of the IGP product. Which gives it the typical brownish colour to IGP products, and it is used at the discretion of the producer.
Use of ingredients in Balsamic Vinegar
Only vines from Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana and Montuni can be used to produce the Traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. For the DOP Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia, instead, vines from Lambrusco (all varieties and clones); Ancellotta, Trebbiano (all qualities and clones); Sauvignon, Sgavetta; Berzemino, Occhio di Gatta must be used.
The musts intended for production are cooked at atmospheric pressure in open jars. After the reduction in volume resulting from cooking, the minimum sugar content of the cooked must should not exceed 40 degrees Brix. The must has to be cooked over direct heat for at least 30 minutes at a temperature of nothing less than 80 degrees.
As far as IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is concerned, the grape must be partially fermented and cooked with an addition of some wine vinegar aged for at least 10 years; no more than 10% of the product. The percentage of cooked grape must not be less than 20%. The addition of caramel is allowed at 2% and any other elements are absolutely forbidden.
All this information can be found on the production specifications drawn up by the consortia, which producers must follow by the book in order to place a genuine, certified product on the market.
Read the differences between Traditional DOP and IGP Balsamic Vinegar.
Processes that transform ingredients into Balsamic Vinegar
Not only are the basic raw materials fundamental to obtain an excellent Balsamic Vinegar but also the processes of acetification, refinement and ageing. Read how the real Balsamic Vinegar is produced!
Acetification is achieved through the use of selected bacterial colonies. Then the refinement begins, and it takes place in wooden barrels, where chemical-physical, biological and enzymatic transformations take place: these are fundamental to achieve the perfect final production.
It is then time of ageing in smaller barrels of fine woods such as oak, chestnut, oak, mulberry and juniper, which give the Balsamic Vinegar that aroma and fragrance that makes it unique.
In order to qualify as Traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar, ageing must last at least 12 years. It is through the slow resting phase in the characteristic Emilian cellars that we are able to taste the best vinegar on our tables.
As far as IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is concerned, the minimum ageing period must be 60 days and in order to be defined as “aged”, it is required a minimum of 3 years. In the same way as the Traditional DOP, the IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is also aged in fine wooden barrels, such as oak, chestnut, mulberry and juniper.
The raw materials from which Balsamic Vinegar is produced are not many. It is essential for Traditional DOP products to come from the authentic vines of the provinces which gave birth to this product. As far as the IGP is concerned, the grapes, of the same categories listed above, may come from various areas of Italy, while the production phases must take place exclusively in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
The processing must also be carried out according to precise and strict specifications. When we deal with a DOP product we know that it is a product derived from its own authentic cooked grape must and on its quality we cannot be mistaken.
We always check the label and we also check the ageing period. The longer our DOP Balsamic Vinegar has rested in the cool cellars, the more it will give our palate an explosion of unmistakable taste and joy.