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Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: discovering a product through the most ancient vinegar cellars

Discovering the Black Gold through historic ‘acetaie’, the vinegar cellars and their products

When you have a bottle of wine you really cherish and, on opening it, you realise that it has a pungent smell, there is nothing to do but resign yourself to the fact that the precious liquid has come into contact with oxygen and has become vinegar. However, this is only true if you are not in Modena, because here the process of creating the world-famous condiment is very important and carefully regulated.

What is balsamic vinegar

Before exploring the oldest vinegar cellars in Modena, what about learning about the method by which balsamic vinegar is made?

No expired wine bottles. The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is obtained from cooked grape must (musts obtained from grapes coming exclusively from Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana and Montun vines are used), left to mature by slow acetification and fermentation in small barrels of various types of wood (called Vaselli). 

Balsamic vinegar takes its name from the fact that it is through this process of maturation that it achieves those typical scents without need to add anything else.  

The only two fundamental ingredients for the entire process are time and climate.

Time that, as it flows, gives body, balance and that unmistakable syrupiness, and the climate of the provinces of Modena and Reggio, whose mild springs and autumns, harsh winters and hot summers help the ageing process, which could last up to 25 years in some productions.

There is a piece of history in every barrel, in every jar. 

But let us remind that not all vinegars are the same and that often the cheapest bottles available in large-scale retail outlets are anything but balsamic vinegar.

Finding your way between P.D.O. and P.G.I.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena P.D.O. and I.G.P. Balsamic Vinegar are products endorsed by certifications that guarantee their quality and genuineness. 

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena P.D.O.  has several processing steps that include boiling the grape must at a temperature of at least 80°, followed by fermentation. Afterwards, it is left to age for at least 12 years, which becomes 25 if the extra old label is required.During these years of waiting, it is decanted into fine wooden barrels, resulting in combinations of aromas and fragrances that make it unique.

If instead we are talking about Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. we are referring to a less processed product, prepared with boiled must and wine vinegar. The timing is reduced (the specification requires a minimum of 60 days) and it is aged for a maximum of two years.

Both are produced in the hills, with specific grape varieties and strict rules, but they are two substantially different products.

Are you interested in history and tasting, but not sure how to find your way? Aside from continuing reading, the Consorzio Produttori Antiche Acetaie (Consortium of Ancient Acetaie Producers) has created a map (digital and printed) of the “Balsamic Tourist”, so you can get a sense of what your priorities might be on a tasting tour.

Here, then, are the five oldest vinegar cellars in Modena to discover, and above all, to taste.

Acetaia Giusti

Impossible not to start with what is not only the oldest vinegar cellar in Modena, but also in the world.

Founded in 1605 (it is now well over 418 years old!), it has earned all kinds of awards (including sole supplier to the King of Italy in 1929 and awards for best balsamic vinegar) and has an incredible collection of historic barrels from the 1700s and 1800s, which, along with the must from indigenous grape varieties, are still the custodians of vinegars with unique fragrances.

The vinegar cellar is certainly worth a visit, both to taste this Black Gold and to learn more about their history in the small and interesting museum, which obviously covers the history of Balsamic Vinegar and the city of Modena. To taste their specialities, Acetaia Giusti has a boutique in Modena, one in Milan and one in Bologna, as well as an online shop.

Acetaia Giusti, Strada Quattro Ville, 52 – 41123 Modena (MO)

Acetaia Malpighi

If you were to look at the list of honours of this vinegar cellar, it would take more than a few minutes to read all the recognitions it has received. Established in 1850, it has always received award after award. It produces DOP Balsamic Vinegar and other traditional products, but this has not kept it from innovating and creating a line of condiments, from the most delicate to the most experimental. Here you can enjoy aperitifs and tastings, all in the name of this vinegar.

Via Emilia Est, 1525 – 41126 Modena (MO)

Acetaia Leonardi

Founded as a farm but dedicated only to the production of balsamic vinegar since 1871. Committed to a short supply chain and to using only their own raw materials (over 10 hectares of vineyard land surround the vinegar factory). 

The bond with their farm origins reflects in the willingness to also offer cooking courses, hold events and allow that people discover the history of the brand through the family memorabilia that are now displayed in a museum.

Via Mazzacavallo, 62, – 41043 Magreta (MO)

Antica Acetaia Cavedoni

A strict family tradition handed down for seven generations. However, after 150 years, the main feature of this small company is that nothing has changed.

The grapes grown are Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Trebbiano nostrano and Trebbiano di Spagna, for which no herbicides are used, and the pruning and harvesting phases are carried out by hand.

Everything is done the old-fashioned way. The artisanal techniques and barrels have been handed down from generation to generation since the company was founded in 1860.

Via Sinistra Guerro, 34 – 41014 Castelvetro (MO) 

Acetaia Rossetti

The first set of barrels at the Acetaia dates to 1750 and, walking around the cellars, one can still see them in operation. Centuries-old barrels of precious woods like mulberry, chestnut, oak and cherry or juniper lend the vinegar its extremely distinctive scents.

The business merged with the Acetaia del Fondo Colombarone at the end of the 1940s, but this did not change the family tradition of adding a set of small barrels with each new birth for the Rossetti family.

Via Stazione, 10A – 41030 Bastiglia (MO)

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