Modena’s traditional Balsamic vinegar culture

Modena - a small city in the Po Delta region, the most peaceful and prosperous area of Northern Italy, is not only famous worldwide by Fast Car Ferrari, but also by the Slow Food cuisine of Massimo Bottura, with pasta, ham, and yes, Balsamic vinegar.

Modena‘s traditional Balsamic vinegar Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena is not just a speciality, but every drop of this vinegar is a traditional drop of this land.

In addition, Balsamic vinegar containers are not just objective items. On the contrary, they connect with the feelings of the owner. They contain local cultural values. They are witnesses of history and a continuation of the culinary traditions of the whole region.

So how is Balsamic vinegar made?

Every drop of this vinegar is a traditional drop of this land

1. How do Modena people make traditional Balsamic vinegar?

Traditional Balsamic vinegar loved by the people of Modena is called black gold l'oro nero. Black gold dates back to the time of Rome, but there are no documents left for the actual formula as it is today. Only a few documents were found referring to Balsamic vinegar, circa 1500.

Which type of grape is chosen to make vinegar?

Modena’s traditional Balsamic vinegar originates from the fermentation process of grape juice that has been cooked and added special strains of probiotics, called "main yeasts". This mixture is then incubated for a long time to engulf.

The grape to make vinegar must be the Trebbiano grape - a fairly common grape variety grown in this region. This grape is also the grape used to make Lambrusco wine.

Trebbiano grape

After the grapes are harvested, they are washed and crushed. The flesh and the juice are put in a wooden container. The flesh is called vinacce, while the juice part is called mosto. Before mosto can be fermented, people take the vinacce and then put the juice in a barrel, without lid, simmer to evaporate. Evaporation will help the grapes lose the natural micronutrients which will be converted into alcohol. Grape juice is cooked (12-24 hours) until the water is golden brown, sweet and aromatic. Mosto will be sat to cool, decant, and then put into the vinegar barrel.

Incubate vinegar in  batteria containers

The barrel for vinegar is a whole series, called batteria. The barrels are like wine “bombs”, but there is a hole in the barrel. This hole is covered with cloth and stones used to try out vinegar through the seasons.

There is no regulation on the size of each barrel, the type of wood or the number of barrels in a batteria. Usually, a batteria consists of at least three, the size of the barrels decreases by 20-30% compared to the first one.

Depending on the preference, the containers will be made from oak, chestnut, berry, cherry, juniper, etc. Usually, the first barrels are made from chestnut wood. This wood is light, therefore volatile, and useful for making Balsamic vinegar in the first place. As far as the final steps are concerned, the more necessary it is to use a barrel made of thicker wood, such as oak. Oak will keep the vinegar (invecchiato) longer, thus preserving the vinegar better.


After mosto is cooked and cooled down, people will put them in the first, the largest container. This largest container is used to ferment mosto. After enough fermentation, people will put into a smaller barrel. When mosto is well absorbed, it is now vinegar, which will be transferred to a smaller container to allow the vinegar to age. So, over the years people will change to a smaller barrel until the smallest box, which is when the vinegar is ready.

2. How long will Balsamic vinegar be ready?

Balsamic vinegar is not for the rush people. If you have just made vinegar in the first year, you have to go through at least 12 years to eat it. Is 12-year vinegar good enough? No! 12-year vinegar is called young vinegar: loose, shallow, grumpy and aggressive. Often used to cook rather than eat directly.

Modena genuine black gold has an average age of 20-30 years. This is the age of the mature vinegar and the old vinegar respectively: smooth, tender, harmonious and elegant. Each drop of vinegar has many flavours: dark, soft, and sweet. A common feature is a viscidity and blend (amalgamato) like cream.


The perfect taste of Balsamic vinegar is the sweet and sour taste, viscous but elegant and not harsh. A mild taste lingers in the mouth after eating.

Modena’s traditional Balsamic vinegar is usually sold in 50 ml bottles.

By: Bette Kennard

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