January 2, 2011

Tradtional Balsamic Vinegar: Part One

Strict rules apply to just about everything produced in the world today. Those rules also apply to the age old process for Balsamic Vinegar. The authentic ‘Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena' or 'ABTM' has a lengthy process that brings the product to the top of the charts in condiments.

Casks containing grape must maturing as natural enzymes
infuse the product during the acidification process.
Traditional Balsamic is made through steps of fermentation and maturation of grape must. The number of steps and methods vary slightly from one producer to another, but the basic practice remains.

The process involves boiling grape must and natural maturation in a series of wooden barrels, called casks. A minimum of five casks must be used in each battery. A battery is the official name for a group of casks in a series. Each cask is smaller than the last and made from differing types of wood. Softer, more porous woods are used in the initial stages to allow for evaporation and acidification. Over time the product is transferred to smaller, harder wood casks. The specific types of wood and the number of casks, over three, is up to the producer.

The typical balsamic vinegar on a run-of-the-mill store shelf doesn't have quite as many rules when it comes to production. In most cases basic grape vinegar and caramel are mixed to mimic the color and taste of the real thing. In the best case scenario the vinegar is aged in one cask, certainly not up to the costly traditional balsamic standards. Thankfully there are several ways to separate the authentic Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena from the other guys. The official seal of approval by The Consortium of Producers can be found on each of the glass bottles. Expert tasters and a series of tests earn each numbered bottle the official stamp of validity. The glass bottles ensure the product does not deteriorate over time and the seal guarantees the products' quality.

Shelf-ready products can take anywhere from twelve to twenty-five years to complete. When a batch meets the twenty-five year mark it graduates to 'Extra Vecchio'. This means the product has reached the height of maturation and nearing the peak of perfection. The older the product, the more time it has had to mature, therefore making it a higher quality.

JM

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