The same country that brought us Michelangelo, Gucci and Ferrari is also home to one of the culinary world’s most prized ingredients, balsamic vinegar, also known as “Aceto balsamico di Modena”. The unique tasting vinegar has been used as everything from a delicious salad topper to a miracle cure, good for aches, pains and illnesses.
History and tradition
Early historical references date back all the way to the 11th century, when a bottle of the prized tonic was gifted to Emperor Enrico III of Franconia as a gift. It was produced mostly by the Este family, a ruling family of the Emilia-Romagna region and was relatively unknown to other regions of Italy at the time. It was seen as an art form and its use was very symbolic. New barrels were started at the time of birth of a child and given away as gifts at weddings. The vinegar is first aged in barrels and sometimes more vinegar is added to it to add or change to its acidity.
Up until just a few decades ago, balsamic vinegar was relatively unknown to the world. It slowly started to gain popularity thanks to its use by celebrity chefs then began, and slowly it started appearing around the world. The balsamic vinegar that you can find at the super market however, is a far cry from the aged varieties which have a completely different taste and texture.
Where can I buy it?
The more authentic variety is aged for a minimum of 12 years in different types of wood barrels, giving it its different tastes and uses. Everything from an additive to cheese and charcuterie, to a salad condiment, and even a fruit topper. If you’re looking to buy some of the real stuff, skip the supermarket aisles and head to your nearest delicatessen or specialty foods store where you’re more likely to find the authentic, aged balsamic vinegar.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, also known as Parmesan to us folks in North America is treated not only as a delicious accompaniment to your pasta, but also as a form of currency with one particular bank in Italy!