Only two Italian provinces (or consortia) produce true traditional balsamic vinegar, Modena and Reggio Emilia.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from pressed then cooked Trebiano or Lambrusco grape varietals. The resulting thick syrup, called “mosto cotto” in Italian, is aged for a minimum of 12 years in barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made of different woods such as chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, mulberry and ash. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in color and has a complex flavour that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked must with hints of wood from the casks. It cannot contain any wine vinegar or carmel.
Regardless of the producer all Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale must be bottled in a Consortium bottle. The Consortium bottles are specifically designated to each province and have colour coded caps referencing the age. Modena uses the following system to identify the age of its balsamic vinegars:
- A cream-coloured cap indicates at least 12 years
- A gold cap bearing the designation “extravecchio” (extra old) indicates at least 25 years.
The names “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” and “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia” are protected by both the Italian “Denominazione di origine protetta” (D.O.P.) and the European Union’s “Protected Designation of Origin” (P.D.O.).
Traditional Balsamic is not for liberal use on salads, unless you’ve got money to spare. We suggest using it sparingly, drizzled over fine cheeses, a steak, good quality vanilla ice cream or fresh fruit.