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Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: The Procedure

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made from cooked grape must using Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes grown in the Province of Modena. In February or early March, the must is slow cooked at a constant temperature never reaching boiling. When reduced to about half its original volume, the cooked must is sealed off in a glass, sterilized demijohn for cooling down. The liquid starts to slowly acidify. The heavier particles start to settle and the natural fermentation begins. After a month, the liquid is transferred to another sterilized demijohn and sealed. This process is repeated for five to seven months. When a nice, brown film forms on the bottom of the demijohn, it is time to put the young vinegar into a series of wooden barrels for maturing.

This series "batteria" consists of 5 to 7 barrels starting with the largest holding about 60-70 liters (15-18 gallons), scaling down to the smallest with the capacity of 10 liters (2.5 gallons). Sometimes the volume of the smallest barrel can be as little as 5 liters (1.5 gallons). A portion of the balsamic vinegar is drawn from the smallest barrel for bottling; then each barrel is topped off with the contents from the next largest barrel. The fresh must from the demijohn is then added to the largest barrel. These barrels "botte" are made from different types of wood such as oak, cherry, ash, chestnut, mulberry and juniper. The type of wood used is what gives the vinegar its distinct aroma, color, texture and bouquet.

The process for becoming a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is very strict. Balsamic vinegar aged for at least 12 years are brought by their makers to one of the two consortiums which oversees and guarantees the quality of the product. These two entities are the "Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" and the "Consorzio Produttori Antiche Acetaie". These are the only authorities which can determine that a balsamic vinegar meets the qualities to be called a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The consortium samples 100 grams (3.5 ounces) from each balsamic vinegar presented. This sample is put into an anonymous bottle, indicated only by a number without the manufacturer's label, to avoid any form of conditioning during judging. Each consortium has a special committee of five master tasters which assesses each sample and rates all of its characteristics. Only balsamic vinegar approved by these two committees may be called a "Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena". They are then bottled by the consortium in the special 100 ml (3.4 oz) bottles designed by the renowned Giugiaro Design Studio. Each bottle is labeled with the ABTM seal of quality and bottling number.

There are only two classifications of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The "Vecchio" which has aged for a minimum of 12 years. The other is the "Extravecchio" which has aged for a minimum of 25 years. The Extravecchio is identified with a gold capsule on the bottles.