How is Balsamic Vinegar Made?

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

As in the case of extra-virgin olive oils, the production of the highly-prized Traditional balsamic vinegar is governed by very strict regulations administered by a Consortium of producers (Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico di Modena). The vinegar that is produced according to Consortium regulations is known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (in English, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena). Here are some examples of the “Tradizionale” requirements.

  • The vinegar can be produced only in Modena or the neighbouring Italian province of Reggio Emilia.
  • Only Trebbiano, Lambrusco, and a small number of other grape varieties may be used, and these grapes must be grown within the two provinces.
  • Strict procedures for the aging of the vinegar must be followed.
  • Special containers must be used to store the vinegar when it is ready for consumption. Special colour-coded labelling is placed on these containers.
  • The vinegar can not be sold in bulk.

Production of Balsamico Tradizionale

1. The first step in production is the pressing of the grapes.

2. The pressing is followed by a reduction process in copper kettles over wood fires. Reduction consumes many hours.

3. The aging process begins.

The thick syrup resulting from reduction, called “mosto cotto” (“cooked must” in English), is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of barrels of successively smaller sizes. They are made from varied woods, including chestnut, juniper, acacia, cherry, and ash. Each of the woods makes its own contribution to the complex, nuanced flavour that will be the ultimate result. This aging process is not as simple as aging the syrup for either 12 or 25 years in the cask it happened to be placed in. Instead, there is a complex process in which currently aging vinegar contributes to the new vinegar that has just arrived.

Due to the strict restrictions on production, the lengthy aging process, and the small volumes produced, traditional balsamic vinegar is very expensive, so much so that the average Canadian is unlikely to buy it regularly. A 100ml bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena would cost around $80-$90 in Canada. That would get you about seven tablespoons of vinegar!

Condimento Balsamico

Fortunately, there are alternatives to ‘tradizionale’ balsamic. The next grade in balsamic vinegars is called ‘condimento’. This grade may be labelled as “condimento balsamico”, “salsa balsamico”, or “salsa di mosto cotta”.

Condimento balsamic vinegar can be made in a variety of ways:

Condimento balsamic vinegar can be made in a variety of ways:

1. Made and aged in the traditional way in Modena or Reggio Emilia, but without supervision or approval of the Consortium.

2. Made by producers of balsamico tradizionale, but aged less than the minimum 12 years, resulting in no Consortium approval.

3. Made in the same method as balsamico tradizionale, but by producers located outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces, with no Consortium approval.

At Frescolio, we offer a naturally flavoured condimento balsamic vinegar certified to come from Modena, Italy. Although, as you now know, this is not ‘tradizionale’ balsamic vinegar, it is aged for up to 18 years in wooden casks, using the traditional method.

For a balsamic vinegar that you can afford to enjoy every day, try Frescolio’s condimento which, in our opinion, very closely resembles traditional balsamic.

Commercial Grade Balsamic Vinegar

The third major grade for balsamic vinegars is “commercial grade”, which is also not Consortium approved. It is typically produced from white wine vinegar to which various additions have been made in order to simulate traditional balsamic vinegar in taste, texture, and colour.