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What is ABTM - Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena?

Be careful when you say: "Vinegar", because there's "vinegar" and "Vinegar". Obtained from the acidification of many, many things (grapes must, wine, apple juice, rice...and the list is long) "vinegar" is a very popular kind of topping and condiment, also used to preserve, pickle and flavor many concoctions of ours. But it is not all the same: in essence "vinegar" is just a liquid with some sort of "acidic" taste, which the most find pleasant to eat in combination with other flavors.

This liquid is obtained in many way, the cheapest being by industrial chemical process which happens in factory littered by enormous anti-corrosion silos and amazingly bad smell. This is the kind of vinegar that we use for cleaning and that, sometime, find its way to our table (and mouths). Very interesting episode of the KvV about it can be find here.

Again, from long ago ages vinegar has been obtained by wine "polluted" with specific bacteria's cultures, which will turn its alcohol and sugars into acid (which has similar molecular structure). Depending on the starting wine, a very different "vinegar" was produced, more or less sour, a little sweet, etc.

Many centuries ago, in the area of Modena (but also in Reggio Emilia, its neighbor) they started cooking the must of two local varieties of grapes, the "Lambrusco", famous for its bubbly red wine, and "Trebbiano", another local grapes cultivar. The cooked must will be concentrated in taste, and sugars. They will then proceed to assemble a series of barrels of decreasing volumes and fill the first with the cooked must.

After one year, a percentage of the cooked and aged must will be evaporated during the summer months, and have condensed and concentrated due to the cold temperature of the winter months, around 1/4 of the must will be then missing. Another quarter will then be poured in the next barrel, of different wood, and of smaller size, for a process which will continue for a few years in the very same way: condensation, evaporation, pouring over of a fraction, refill with "young" must and so on and so forth. Until...? Well, until someone decided that its taste is good enough, that was the rule, but commonly it was not before a few years, a minimum of 3, an optimum of 12, a non-plus-ultra of 25.

Back in the days, a father will set an "acetaia" (a collection of these barrels) when a daughter was born, and the nectar will be ready, as her dowry, by the time she will marry out of the house. Today the producers are joined in a consortium which decide which barrel is ready to be bottled. They chosed a peculiar bottle designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, Italian design genius, and it ensure that what ends in the bottle of the DOP "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" is the real deal, tested (and tasted!) by an expert panel consortium and certified with the E.C. D.O.P.-P.G.S. stamp.

Therefore if you read its ingredients label you will find ONLY: "Aged cooked must", nothing else. Try to read on the ingredients label of the "balsamico" you normally buy. I guess you will find: "vinegar", "caramel", "E150" (the caramel coloring) and so on and so forth...

Careful then, when you say: "vinegar" or "balsamico". As always, a quick read on wikipedia article on vinegar can greatly help!

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