Balsamic vinegar is an exclusive and precious product for centuries fermented, matured and aged in a strip land in the Po Valley within the boundaries of the district of Modena. The core of this area is Spilamberto, a small prosperous country town lapped by the river Panaro and situated near the foothills of the mountains. Balsamic vinegar is created by the natural and spontaneous transformation of grape-must boiled and concentrated on the fire and in the open air. The raw must is obtained by the gentle squeezing of overripe Trebbiano grapes. The above-mentioned later boil modifies its composition both as to quality and to quantity and creates the ideal "habitat", which with the help of man will become the setting for its lifelong transformation into balsamic vinegar. Boiled at different levels of sugar concentration, the product undergoes a natural fermentation brought about by unicellular microorganisms (osmophylic yeast) capable of destroying the sugar molecules and of producing ethyl alcohol, which is then gradually oxidized into acetic acid by the effect of other microorganisms (acetobacteria). These two transformations occur according to a continuous interaction between yeast and acetobacteria, and the development continues as long as the environmental conditions allow for it. The process stops when the yeast and the acetobacteria cease to live and remain idle in the medium so as to create a spontaneous autolysis with the consequent liberation of the enzymes contained in the cells. At this point the second stage of transformation of the concentrated boiled grape-must takes over. This is called the "maturation stage" and is considered essential to the formation of the particular unique and unmistakable flavors which characterize the product. The next stage is the so-called "aging". Here the product undergoes a chemical and physical alteration for an indefinite period of time during which the distinctive features of the balsamic vinegar are perfected. Usually the vinegar is kept in a set of wooden containers (casks or barrels) of different capacities during all three stages. Fermentation takes place "upstream" in the first casks, maturation occurs in the Intermediate ones, while aging is perfected in the smallest casks "downstream" the set. The types of wood employed for the casks are traditionally mostly oak, chestnut, mulberry and juniper (nowadays also ash, robinia and cherry). The particular type of wood employed contributes to characterize the balsamic vinegar produced. An average vinegar making set is made up of five, seven or more casks with a capacity usually ranging from 10 to 75 liters and even more, if we consider the "mother barrel". In past centuries the number of casks making up a vinegar making set could even reach forty units, which allowed the transformations to develop harmoniously in gradual decreasing order. Nowadays a set of just ten casks is considered to be remarkable. The reason why the vinegar making set is made up of casks of different capacities is that it is necessary to decant the vinegar as soon as the winter season sets in. Decantation is part of the operations required for the correct handling of the set. A certain quantity of vinegar is transferred from one cask to another, beginning with the casks of least capacity, so as to top up the vinegar taken from the smallest cask and to make up for the physiological "yearly shrinkage". These operations require an expert hand and craftsmanship with great care for the state of development of the product contained in each cask, so as to ensure its best development and its being kept alive over the centuries. The art needed for decanting and handling the casks is wrapped in mystery, and mystery has always accompanied the transformation of balsamic vinegar into the characteristic and peculiar uniqueness with which it appears to any observer. The vinegar making sets are kept at home in the attic. In fact, during its development the product must be kept in an environment without moisture with permanent high temperatures in summer and with cold in winter. The summer heat favors the activity of microorganisms, while the winter cold, instead, lets the product rest and makes its limpid.  
     
 
 
 
 
       
 
 
     
  Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale  
  Aceto Balsamico di Modena  
     
  Both varieties of Aceto Balsamico, the Tradizionale and the Balsamico di Modena, start the same way. The juice from selected red and white grapes is boiled down by 2/3 to obtain a grape syrup called "mosto". To this mosto is added some vinegar with special live yeast in it. This mixture is then placed in oak casks and aged at least 12 months. Balsamic vinegar must have for law a 6% acidity.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is prepared the same way but is aged in a battery of increasingly smaller casks made of different woods: oak, chestnut, cherry, apple etc. The casks are not sealed but simply covered with a thick linen cloth so that the balsamic vinegar can absorb the natural enzymes from the air. Each year the larger casks containing younger vinegar is used to "top off" the vinegar that has evaporated from the smaller casks containing the more mature vinegar. In this way, the mature vinegar is able to absorb some of the aroma and flavor from each of the different woods.
 
     
 
       
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