One of the finest of all food products originating from Emilia Romagna is traditional balsamic vinegar from the Modena area. It is made only from the Trebbiano grape vine, and not basil leaves as we wrongly thought many years ago. However, for us the smell of 'basilico' and 'aceto balsamico tradizionale' has a similar intoxicating effect.
The history of traditional balsamic vinegar probably stretches back as far as Roman times. It was certainly produced in the priories of Emilia Romagna a thousand years ago and the Duke of Modena, 500 years later, is said to have used it for medicinal purposes.
Like the best wine the traditional balsamic vinegar takes an age to manufacture.
The authentic versions are released into the market only when 12 to 25 years old and have been matured in wooden casks. The reason for this long production process is the continuing consolidation of the liquid in various wooden casks to enhance the flavor and concentrate the finished product.
Each cask is made of a different wood, such as cherry and chestnut. The resulting complex flavor can be best described as sweet and sour.
If you want to know if you are buying the genuine article look for the word 'tradizionale' on the label. A simple 'aceto balsamico di Modena' means the product has passed through a less rigorous process and is less refined and hence cheaper.
Traditional balsamic vinegar can grace practically any type of food from soups to fish, boiled vegetables and even strawberries. Do, however, add it at at the end of the cooking process as the dishes are being brought to the table.
The genuine stuff comes under the authority of the 'Consorzio Produttori di Modena' and the 'Consorzio Produttori di Reggio nell'Emilia'.
Visitors should also head to the comune of Spilamberto. The area is hemmed in by the valleys Serchio and Reno and forms the boundaries of the balsamic vinegar country as well as the 'Accademia del Balsamico' in Villa Comunale Fabriani.