Balsamic Vinegars and Speciality Wine Vinegars
Once placed in the barrels, the aging process begins with alcoholic fermentation and acetic oxidation. The cooked “must” is added to the barrels, along with either an acetobacter, called the “mother,” or a small amount of strong wine vinegar. Yeasts either introduced or allowed to develop, convert the natural sugars into alcohol, which is in turn consumed by the acetobacter and converted into vinegar. Because the barrels are filled only to 66 to 75 percent capacity, oxidation is then permitted to take place. Each barrel is highly porous and has a large square bunghole covered by cotton cloth to permit maximum oxidation and evaporation. Throughout the year, anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent of the volume is lost through evaporation. Every year, each barrel is then topped off with the contents of the next larger one, and the largest barrel is then replenished with new cooked “must.” Thus, as the years pass, the elixir is transferred into smaller and smaller barrels as the water evaporates, creating mellow, viscous and intensely aromatic and sweet tasting vinegar. Italian law requires a minimum of 12 years of aging before the vinegar can be considered for approval and sold as aceto balsamico tradizionale.
The process to receive the stamp of approval as “aceto balsamico tradizionale” is rigorous and granted by the respective geographic councils controlling the certification process in both Modena and Reggio. Each year, only about 10 percent of all submissions receive the proper certification and are then permitted to present their Balsamic in specially designed bottles bearing the authentic stamp of the geographic designation. Typically, these certified balsamic retail upwards of $450 for each 8 ounce bottle, while the uncertified balsamic, which is also of outstanding taste and quality, is bottled and infused by a select group of artisans for gourmet and epicurean use.