The main characteristics of balsamic vinegar from Modena and how to select one.
If you are finding difficulty picking the right balsamic vinegar for you, have arrived to the right page! Choosing the perfect balsamic vinegar is always personal, and there is no one magic product that everyone likes. We Modenese have clear ideas; we only use traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena DOP in our dishes, perhaps made from a friend. I can assure you that debates are still going on to determine which is the best balsamic vinegar. There are evenings that are organized by passionate individuals to discuss this topic. The only officially certified tasting commission works in the Modena Chamber of Commerce, where only traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO is evaluated using a standard scoring procedure. However, this method is not the focus of this article.
Principle product categories
Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO
This is the original and traditional product from Modena and is made in the attics of many families. The only ingredient is cooked grape must, which it produced in typical boilers over a direct flame at atmospheric pressure, using exclusively the typical grapes from the Modena province. It must age from at least 12 months in small barrels made with different types of wood. The mandatory 100ml bottle is used by all of the producers, but it is possible to personalize the label and packaging. Its quality is always guaranteed from the commission of tasters previously mentioned. For this reason, the product is also the most expensive.
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Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO extra-aged
Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO
To learn more, read how Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena PDO is made.
Balsamic Vinegar from Modena PGI
This is the fruit of the traditional Modenese. People didn’t always wait so long to consume balsamic vinegar and took some shortcuts. For example, this balsamic vinegar is made by mixing premature Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO with wine vinegar. In short, it is made by mixing cooked must with wine vinegar, reducing the aging process to a few months.
Their creation is a response to the traditions not integrated in the strict production regulation. Among the condiments we find cream or glaze, white condiment, saba, and also products derived from apples like our apple condiment.
The Aging Process
The ageing process is certainly an important factor to determine quality, but products aged for a longer period do not always correspond to better quality. The way in which the product is made and the quality of the grapes is much more important. Apart from the law that prohibits displaying the product age on the label or on marketing material for various reasons. It is forbidden mainly because every year products of various ages are placed in the barrels to aid the fermentation process, therefore a good balsamic vinegar is always mixed with different products with different ages.
Ingredients on the label
The ingredients are always clearly written on the label, therefore can be a great help to understand the quality of a product without tasting it. Remember that the order in which the ingredients are written is very important; in fact, they are always ordered by quantity present in weight. We can make some valid evaluations for condiments produced with grapes and balsamic vinegar PGI. These products are generally made with one or more of the following ingredients: cooked grape must, concentrated grape must, wine vinegar, caramel. In cremes we also find starches (i.e. corn starch) or gum (i.e. xanthan) that aim to thicken the product. In the cheaper products, various sugars like glucose and fructose can be added.
Evaluate the ingredients to understand the quality
The product chosen by Modena locals is Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena PDO, which is obtained by using only cooked grape must: the most important ingredient. Cooked grape much is a good indication of quality if it is indicated first in the ingredients. Concentrated grape must is used more often because it costs less than cooked grape must. Wine vinegar is the ingredients that gives acidity to the product and reduces the price. Caramel is used to give color to the product; you will find it only in cheaper products, the typical color is actually obtained from the aging process and with the use of cooked grape must. We have made an ingredient scale that orders the best quality products to the cheapest. A good product should have an ingredient with a lower number on the scale. 1 – Cooked grape must; 2 – concentrated grape must; 3 – wine vinegar – 4 – caramel, 5 – thickeners (starch or gum); 6 – sugars (glucose, fructose…).
Are sulfites an ingredient?
Sometimes you can find ingredients that are deliberately added; they are preservatives that are frequently used to inhibit any changes in the product over time. Balsamic vinegar naturally continues to change even in the bottle. It can change color, becoming darker, and it can form mother vinegar. Sulfites are considered allergenic. Some people are sensitive to the sulfites and therefore are unable to consume products containing them. A minute quantity is naturally present in the grapes, making it unlikely to find a product that contains absolutely no sulfites. If you find listed in bold at the end of the ingredients list the phrase “contains sulfites”, they are generally present only in a naturally small quantity from the grapes. However, if you find sulfites listed under the ingredients, the product is of low quality.
This is an easy factor to evaluate even in a closed bottle. You should careful not to confuse it with the fabricated viscosity with the use of thickeners in creams. Before evaluating if a product is dense, read the list of ingredients. Denser products contain more sugar (from the grape) and generally are also sweeter. Aging naturally evaporates water and also the sugar concentration. However, there are sometimes concentration techniques that help thicken the product, so a denser product does not always correspond to an older product.
Are organic and biodynamic indicators of top quality?
Organic products have always been top quality products because they are usually made by companies geared towards quality. Today, industrialization of organic products has brought decreased level in quality. Biodynamic, however, is still produced by companies that focus on quality and guarantees a higher standard. In addition, the method of production does not allow industrial practices in production nor cultivation. In summary, biodynamic is synonymous to top quality while organic these days continues to decrease as an indicator of quality.