Modena Balsamic Vinegar

Modena Balsamic Vinegar

Aged Balsamic from Modena

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006 9:23pm

Aged balsamic vinegar has taken root in the gourmet world after centuries of obscurity. This viscous, sweet and sour brown vinegar that hails from the Modena-Reggio region of Italy is a featured attraction at trendy restaurants, in gourmet food periodicals, and on supermarket shelves across the globe.

Most people, however, would be surprised to learn that they have never tasted real authentic balsamic vinegar.
aged balsamic vinegar, modena balsamic

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The History of Italian Balsamic Vinegar

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:08pm

Balsamic vinegar is today used in numerous recipes all over the world. The tangy sweet and sour flavor of balsamic vinegar gives a marvelous finish to gourmet delicacies. Having its origins in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, balsamic vinegar has found its way into the smallest of home-kitchens as well as the trendiest of restaurants. One finds the shelves of supermarkets stocked with various brands of balsamic vinegar each claiming their own superiority. An average customer is unaware of the fact that authentic balsamic vinegar is very difficult to come by. Most of the commercial varieties available in the markets are manipulated versions or imitations. It would therefore not be surprising if we say that most people have not even tasted authentic balsamic vinegar.

Thirty years ago true balsamic vinegar, (or in Italian) “aceto balsamico tradizionale,” was relatively unknown outside of villas of Italy. Till this time, its production was restricted to the wealthy families in the small towns of Modena and Reggio in the Emilia-Romagna region, just west of Bologna. They had been making the condiment for nearly a thousand years but catering only to the requirements within the family. They would stock supplies for several years and pass on to the next generation as heirlooms. It was also a prestigious gift given in small vessels to close friends or bequeathed to daughters as a portion of their wedding dowry.

balsamic vinegar tradizionale

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Refining wood-aged vinegar

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:11pm

Authentic balsamic vinegar has an interesting cultural and culinary history, steeped in superstition, legend and politics. Balsamic vinegar derives its name from the word “balm” which is derived from the Latin “balsamum” and refers to something that is aromatic and has soothing and healing properties. Balsamic vinegar too, had been known for its curative and health promoting properties.

The process of production of balsamic vinegar as we know it today took ages to develop. In the ancient times the Romans boiled grape juice and reduced it to a sweet condiment called “sapa”. The making of refined wood-aged vinegars in Emilia-Romagna has been traced back to the 11th century when it was a domain ruled by the Este family. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the ruling class relished these vinegars as a sophisticated drink, which they believed to be a remedy for the plague.

Eventually by the 18th century, when the Este family moved its dominion from Ferrara to Modena, the term balsamico came into use. It was exclusively used to refer to the vinegars aged in wood and produced locally. By the 19th century, balsamico had reached a commodity status. Dignitaries and Heads of states from Paris to Moscow knew Archduke Francesco IV of Modena for his aceto del duca, which he presented as a symbol and token of friendship. When his son was ousted and the Este family reign came to an end, he supposedly managed to escape with seed-stock supplies of the beloved gourmet elixir.
balsamic history

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A bleak time in balsamico’s history

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:14pm

Then came a period of obscurity for aceto balsamico.

At this time, not only had people across the globe forgotten all about aceto balsamico it even eluded most Italians. The few who knew carried on the tradition in a very secretive manner. Its existence was limited to the small towns of Modena and Reggio in Italy. Here producing balsamico almost became a form of art and traditions came to be associated with it. It acquired symbolic significance as fresh barrels were added to the stocks of the family at the birth of child and given away at their weddings.

Families cherished their reserves with pride and passed it on as heirlooms. It was a treasured gift and was presented by the families to close friends and associates, visiting dignitaries and doctors. The barrels of balsamico were stacked in the attics away from the buzz of daily life and there over the years it slowly matured–the various flavors of the juice blending with the flavor of the wood to produce a unique taste. Consequently balsamic vinegar came to be considered as a symbol of peace.

balsamic barrels

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Balsamico made not for him but for his children and grandchildren

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:17pm

Process of Preparation Aceto Balsamic Tradizionale

The exact process of making authentic balsamic vinegar remains shrouded in mystery. According to an old saying in Modena “Who will first start the vinegar will not taste it, but his children and grandchildren will.” Although prepared according to time honored methods, the specific details of the process have varied over the years, and every family carefully guards its secret recipe. A treatise from the 1800′s on the art of vinegar making states, “Beyond these barrels and Trebbiano grapes, all you need is time.” But the truth is not that simple.

The process of production of balsamic vinegar resembles that of wine making. It begins with the unfermented juice of local grapes, traditionally, the white Trebbiano, although other varieties, such as the white Occio du Gatto and Spergola and the red Berzemino and Lambrusco grapes are also permitted.

balsamic process, balsamic vinegar production

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Making Balsamic Vinegar From Grapes

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:20pm

The process of making Balsamic vinegar begins when the grapes are absolutely ripe, they are harvested and then they are crushed and then pressed into a juice called “mosto”. At times if the sugar levels in the grapes are too low, the grapes are further ripened in a wooden box left in the sun for some time before crushing. The “must” is then cooked in open pots over a direct flame and allowed to simmer for 24 to 30 hours, until it becomes an intensely sweet concentrate, reduced in volume by one half or more. While it simmers, the sugars of the grapes caramelize slightly, giving the liquid an amber hue. This unfermented juice, called mosto cotto, is then cooled, allowed to settle, and, in accordance with the traditional methods, transferred to a “batteria,” which is a set of progressively smaller wooden barrels. These barrels are then stored in vinegar attics, called “acetaie” generally on the top floor of the house, to ferment, evaporate, and age over a minimum of 12 years and often decades. By this time it acquires a complex character — aromatic, intensely sweet and syrupy texture.

Although there is no fixed number of barrels required for a batteria, but a minimum of three are needed for the “must” concentration to undergo the processes that give balsamic vinegar its complex characteristics: transformation, maturation, and aging. The barrels, ranging in capacity from 10 liters to 100 liters, are fashioned from hard and soft woods such as ash, oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, and juniper. The barrels impart flavor and color to the concentrate, resulting in giving the vinegar a multilayered character. The choice of the variety of woods and their respective positions in the series is a matter of personal preference of the producers. There could any number of variations in this. The choices are typically dictated by personal preference and economic viability, as well as the density of the wood, porosity, flavor, and the availability.

Some producers prefer to use stronger, more aromatic woods for the small casks at the end of the series to impart a sharper finishing character to the vinegar in the final stages. Others favor the more neutral woods, which allow the vinegar to mellow. All barrels are highly porous and have large square bungholes covered by a cotton cloth to allow maximum exposure to air and assist oxidation and evaporation.

Production techniques and its effect on balsamico quality

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:23pm

The basic procedure of production of Balsamic vinegar involves two major steps of transformation:
1. Alcoholic fermentation and
2. Acetic oxidation.

Fermentation takes place either in the progression of wood barrels or in large storage tanks where a complex enzymatic activity takes place. The cooked must is added to the tanks or barrels, along with either an acetobacter, called the “mother,” or a small amount of strong wine vinegar. Yeasts either introduced or allowed to develop spontaneously, convert the natural sugars found in the must into alcohol, which is in turn consumed by the acetobacter and converted into vinegar. Traditionally, this process is begun in late summer, when the heat encourages a greater rate of bacterial activity. Higher temperatures are favorable for activating the yeasts.

If the vinegar has been fermented in tanks or barrels, it is then transferred to the batteria but the barrels are filled only up to 66 to 75 percent capacity. This is to allow sufficient air for further oxidation to take place. Over the course of a year, anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent of the volume is lost through evaporation. Every year, each barrel is topped off with the contents from the next larger one, and the largest is replenished with new cooked must. This step of “topping up” is called “rincalzo”. The shuttling from cask to cask is called “travaso” meaning “between barrels”. Rincalzo is typically done during the coldest part of the year, when bacterial activity is low. Also at this time, the bye products of the fermentation precipitate, leaving a clear liquid on top. Unlike with wine, extreme fluctuations in temperature actually benefit balsamic vinegar, helping it to achieve its density and complex character. Modena and Reggio, with their hot summer evenings and cool winter nights have an ideal climate for vinegar attics.

Thus as the years pass by, the vinegar is transferred into smaller and smaller barrels, the water in it evaporates and the vinegar mellows, becoming viscous, intensely aromatic, and sweet. The final balance in its characteristics is struck through a series of corrections made periodically to adjust the sugar level or acidity level, a task that requires a great deal of skill and expertise on the part of the vinegar maker. After the vinegar has passed through each barrel, it is then transferred to tiny barrels or open barrels for further maturing. Italian law requires a minimum of 12 years of aging before the vinegar can be considered for approval and sold as aceto balsamico tradizionale.

balsamico, balsamic vinegar making

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A 3 ounce bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale can cost over $150

Sunday, June 11th, 2006 4:25pm

The mother of Italian vinegar

Over the years while making aceto balsamico tradizionale, the barrels build up deposits, commonly referred to as the “mother” or patrimony of the vinegar. This consists of precipitates, used-up yeasts, bits of wood that have rubbed free and other fermentation bi-products. The old barrels are so valuable that when they begin to deteriorate, new wood is built up around them as a special barrel restoration process.

Each step of this fairly long procedure involves meticulous handling on the part of the producer and this is what defines the character of the vinegar. All the processes right from concentration, caramelization, fermentation and oxidation to steady evaporation contribute to giving the vinegar a viscous texture and an intense sweet and sour flavor. As is clear, the yields will be low because by the time this entire procedure is completed; only a small fraction of the original volume is left. In terms of figures, 800 gallons of grape must yield only 30 gallons of balsamic vinegar in the traditional productions.

Not surprisingly then, the costs would be high. A 3-ounce bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale can cost more than $100.
balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico

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Italian Recipes With Modena Balsamic Vinegar And Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 2:45pm

Italian Green Peppers With Extra Virgin Olive Oil And Modena Balsamic Vinegar

  • Four cups coarsely chopped green peppers
  • Four tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • One and one half teaspoons salt
  • One cup Modena Balsamic Vinegar
  • One quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Two cups coarsely chopped onions
  • Two tablespoons minced parsley

In a small saucepan, add the olive oil and sauté the onions for 10 minutes. Then put in the peppers, balsamic vinegar, pepper and salt. Let simmer over low heat for 23 minutes. Add parsley for seasoning after.

 

Baked Potato Tomato Casserole With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Four 1 pound potatoes
  • One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • One and one half cups sliced onions
  • Two tomatoes
  • One and one half teaspoons salt
  • One half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Three tablespoons butter

Slice the tomatoes into sixths. Peel the skin from potatoes and slice into eighths. Grease a casserole pan

with the olive oil. Add some butter to the pan for non stick. Add the salt, pepper, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes in the dish. Place in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

 

Easy serve recipes to serve four to six

The Benefits Of Olive Oil Compared To Other Sources Of Fat

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 3:40am

Considering all the debates that are surrounding the fat consumptions in the present time, can we classify some fat as good and other as bad? Should we consume only good fat, such as olive oil, and avoid the bad fat? Does the Mediterranean diet contain the best fat sources? To reply to all these questions, we must first understand the fact that the fat issue is really complex. For example, Cretan people in the mid 1950’s consumed high amounts of olive oil daily, without suffering from any negative side effects.

However, they also had a really active lifestyle, which most of the Americans today do not have. Therefore, we can’t state for sure that Americans can remain slim with unclogged arteries if they start consuming the same amounts of olive oil as the Cretan people. According to some recent studies, there is no such thing as bad fat. Moreover, our bodies require fat in order to function properly. However, our health can be affected by some particular types of fat when consumed in differing proportions. US citizens consume lots of saturated fat that comes from animal sources. In comparison, olive oil and other similar plants were the main sources of fat for the Cretans during the mid 1950’s.

The ratio of saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fatty acids would be the main differentiation factor used to classify oils. All types of oil are 100% fat and contain the identical number of calories. Olive oil contains a totally different fatty acid composition compared to a cheeseburger. The famous researcher Ancel Keys discovered that, from the total of 35 percent fat intake that the Greek population received daily, nearly 20 percent came from olive oil. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that Cretan people had total fat intakes exceeding 40 percent of daily calories, and the biggest part came from olive oil.

Even though they could not afford richer foods and were accustomed to traditional eating habits, the rural Greeks were still in great shape and even healthier than the more wealthier population of Athens, which tended to consume food that was inspired by the French school of cooking. The olive oil includes much more benefits for our health compared to butter and other similar sources of fat.

Keys also suggested that Athens included more coronary heart disease patients compared to the rural Greeks, even though there was no proof of a direct link between the varied diets in Greece and the various heart diseases. Therefore, we can say that the affirmation: “fat is bad and we should consume less of it” can be reanalyzed by all US citizens. Consuming the proper amounts of fat is mandatory if we want to function properly, so fat is not bad at all. However, we need to learn how to consume fat in order to improve our health and obtain the best protection against different types of chronic diseases.

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