How is traditional balsamic vinegar made?
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from grapes that are grown in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy. The process of making balsamic vinegar is a long and complex one that involves several stages of fermentation and aging. Here is a general overview of the process:
- The first step is to make grape "must," which is a juice made from crushed grapes that includes the skins, seeds, and stems. The must is cooked over an open flame for several hours to reduce it to a thick, syrupy consistency.
- The cooked must is then placed into a series of barrels, each made from a different type of wood, such as cherry, oak, or chestnut. The barrels are arranged in a specific order, with the largest barrel at the bottom and the smallest at the top.
- A small amount of vinegar from a previous batch is added to the first barrel, and the must is then transferred to the first barrel. This begins the process of fermentation and aging.
- Over the course of several years, the vinegar is moved from one barrel to the next in a process called "racking." Each barrel imparts its own unique flavour and aroma to the vinegar, and the longer the vinegar is aged, the more complex its flavour becomes.
- Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged for a minimum of 12 years, and some varieties are aged for up to 25 years or more. During this time, the vinegar becomes thicker, sweeter, and more complex, with a rich, dark colour.
- Once the vinegar has aged to the desired level, it is bottled and labeled with its age and production information.