MODENA, Italy—The increasingly popular condiment of balsamic vinegar can be found in most grocery stores, but there is only one place in the world that makes the original, authentic “good stuff:” the city of Modena in Italy.
Luckily for you, the MU study abroad group had the chance not only to visit the production facility of one of 30 families who make this authentic condiment, but we also tasted every flavor and type they produce. The Acetaia of the Malpighi consider themselves artisans of their balsamic vinegar, and have been perfecting their craft since the 1850s, even though the traditional process of producing their authentic balsamic vinegar leaves little room for improvement.
The process involves harvesting the best grapes to make a liquid mustocato , or cooked grape must, simmered to make a concentrate, allowed to ferment for 12+ years, and matured in barrels and transferred into different size and kinds of wood for flavor. The wood barrels, a family secret rotation of cherry, chestnut, mulberry, oak, and juniper woods, seep their flavors into the vinegar to bring out full aroma and flavor.
The longer the vinegar matures in the barrel, the richer and more expensive the vinegar will be. The older the barrel, too, the more it is valued. One small barrel in the Malpighi loft from 1730 is worth 40,000 euros alone for its properties that improve with age and are imparted into the balsamic.
Patience is definitely a virtue here. For this reason, the Malpighi’s, along with the other 29 families certified to produce authentic balsamic, have held the golden standard for balsamic vinegars. Because of this reputation, many vinegars are sent to Modena for bottling, but be sure to look for the terms tradizionale/DOC or aceto balsamico di Modena seal on your next bottle for the real deal.