City governments normally look after water services, sanitation, public lighting, road issues…but vinegar services? Sure, if you’re in Modena and environs, an area where several cities maintain their own “acetaia comunale“, a vinegar production plant run by the municipal government.
Founded in 2003, the acetaia [vinegarworks] of the city of Modena is located on the top floor of a municipal building. Three series of barrels, with 5 – 9 barrels in each series, are carefully maintained as aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena [traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena] ages in their bellies. The aging process lasts 12 years to create the affinato [refined] version of the condiment, and 25 years to create the extra vecchio [extra old] version. What difference does 13 years make? Extra vecchio vinegar is sweeter and more acidic than its younger counterpart.
The basic recipe for aceto balsamico tradizionale is cooked grape must (not wine), a nice wooden barrel, and plenty of time. The type of wood used in the barrel impacts the flavor of the final product. Barrels are kept in rooms where the warmth of summer stimulates bacterial fermentation, and cold winter temperatures allow the bacteria to cool down and the solution to densify.
L’aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena has been produced since Medieval times using the solera method, originally developed by Spanish and Portuguese winemakers. The final product receives DOP status after it passes through a Council of Tasters, who judge the vinegar for visual characteristics (density, color, clarity), smell (sharpness, intensity, finesse, persistence, acidity) and, finally, taste (fullness, intensity, flavor, harmony, acidity). That’s a lot of pressure for a little barrel of vinegar!
So what makes this vinegar so special? You’ll have to taste it for yourself: tours of l’acetaia comunale di Modena cost 2 Euro (as of press time of this post) and last for just over an hour.
If this is the kind of learning you like to do, pick up a copy of Italian Through Food!