Balsamic vinegar is made from the juice of freshly crushed grapes, typically Trebbiano grapes. The process of making traditional balsamic vinegar is a time-intensive and complex one, which involves several stages:
1. Harvesting and Crushing: The grapes are harvested and crushed to extract the juice, which is referred to as “must.”
2. Boiling and Reducing: The must is then simmered and boiled to reduce its volume, concentrating the sugars and flavours.
3. Fermentation: The reduced must is transferred to wooden barrels, often made of oak, chestnut, cherry, or mulberry, to start the fermentation process. The barrels are typically of varying sizes and made from different woods to impart various flavours to the vinegar over time.
4. Aging: The vinegar undergoes an aging process, which can last from several years to several decades. During this time, it is transferred to smaller barrels and moved from one barrel to another, allowing it to interact with the wood and develop its unique taste and aroma.
5. Acidification: As the vinegar ages, it naturally becomes more acidic due to evaporation and fermentation.
6. Blending: After the aging process, various barrels of different ages and flavours are carefully blended to achieve the desired balance and complexity of the final balsamic vinegar.
It’s important to note that traditional balsamic vinegar, known as “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale,” is made in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy and is strictly regulated. It is aged for a minimum of 12 years for the “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” and 25 years or more for the “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia.” The result is a luxurious and highly prized vinegar with a rich, sweet-tart flavour, perfect for drizzling over salads, vegetables, meats, and even desserts.