Why is it that a traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia or from Modena is $125 a bottle? If you ever have seen what it takes to make it, it seems like a real bargain!
- Start with grape juice and lose 70% in cooking it down.
- Invest in 5 to 7 different kinds of handmade wooden barrels.
- Wait 12 years to sell your first bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar ( if you aren’t lucky enough to have inherited your set of barrels from dad or grandpa).
True balsamic vinegar does not have vinegar added to it, nor sugar or glucose. It is a time honored traditional condiment for food, passed on generation after generation. The grocery store balsamic vinegars were created for a market that wants things NOW.
Although it may seem expensive in America to buy a bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar at $125 a bottle which is 1/2 cup of liquid gold. Time is the most expensive part in the preparation.
I went with Andrea Bezzechi of Acetaia San Giacomo on his acquisition of “mosto” to start this years batch. The color of the freshly crushed grape juice was amazing. Electric almost.
Part alchemist, part mad scientist it takes patience and passion to create this elixer dating back to 30 BC. Andrea showed me written documentation from Virgil and Apicius referring to the cooking of grape juice, called sapa in the Latin texts, now saba.
Cooking the grape juice must stops fermentation and preserves the juice. We tasted a 25 year old saba that Andrea’s late dad made. It is sweet and rich, much like prune juice, quite concentrated.
I have had saba drizzled on desserts from the south and it is lovely. I use this light condiment often in savory cooking to deglaze a pan for a sauce instead of Marsala.
The saba is then left to acidify naturally and moved into large wooden barrels called Badesse.
From there they being the long slow process of becoming balsamic.
The word balsamic refers to the essence that the saba extracts from the different woods of the barrels used for aging. A set is called a batteria. Andrea’s barrels are:
Once a year some of the balsamic is removed from the smallest barrel and taken to be judged.
In Reggio, it is not the years, but a very controlled level of quality they look for in flavor and balance.
The balsamic is taken from the next smallest barrel to replace what was removed in the smallest and so on, and the largest barrel in the set is then filled from the Badessa barrels. In the foto you can see the barrels are left open, covered with small cloth napkins and then the tops to help evaporation.
After touring, while the mosto was slowly reducing- we did a tasting of Andrea’s products:
Orange label ( aragosta- which means lobster )
and his apple balsamic, Essenza and Condimento, which are not considered Balsamic Vinegars, but condiments.
That is worth any price. A one ounce bottle of Chanel is $260. You wear a tiny drop at a time and it lasts forever. It is the same with a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar( TBV) – one tiny drop is all you need as a portion.
To showcase the TBV, Andrea served us drops on 24 and 36 month old Parmesan Cheese.
For dessert- WOW- a tiny scoop of vanilla gelato served in a shot class with San Giacomo’s signature tasting spoon laying on top to receive the drizzle of balsamico and some saba on the bottom.
A young bottle of balsamico in Italy costs 45 euro a bottle and a bottle holds 100 1ml portions which are an eyedropper full- that is a lot of balsamico at 50 euro cents a portion. In the USA, it would be $1.25 a portion. Now it doesn’t seem expensive!
See my recipe for the Montagliari apple tart–
I serve this with a scoop of gelato and drizzle with balsamico- ONLY the traditional!
Because I love my friends and I can.