Hey Peeps! This is the start of my “Food Artisans” series! Today, too many people are used to the same factory produced, industrial scale food. However, there are still some food artisans out there, people that dedicate themselves to the superb production of a singular product. Families that have produced wines for generations, or dairy cooperatives that own the parmigiana factory and control the quality from the cows to the finished cheese. With this in mind, my first article and video is about some wonderful producers of Acute Balsamico Traditional di Modena, or traditional Balsamic Vinegar, and my visit to a real balsamic vinegar factory.
How is Traditional Balsamic different than what I get in my grocery?
The fact that there is something in the grocery store labeled Balsamic Vinegar (and many time “Di Modena” or “From Modena”) is quite frankly a travesty. The product you purchase at your local supermarket is about as different as traditional balsamic as apples are to oranges. There are some flavor similarities, and I have some supermarket balsamics in my pantry right now, but they are mass produced very quickly. True Balsamic takes a minimum of 12 years, “Extravecchio” or extra old, is 25 year old balsamic. The balsamic you purchase in a grocery is good for cooking, for blending into a salad dressing, etc. The true balsamics are something to cherish; something you add a drop to a piece of aged parmesan, or delicious fruit, and revel in the complexity of flavors. If you haven’t tried it, please do!
How is it made?
Traditional Balsamic is an all natural product. Grapes are harvested late in the season to increase the sugar content, then cooked down slowly to make a “must.” This must is then added to barrels. Multiple barrels make up a “battery” with different sized barrels. The must starts in the largest barrel. After a year, some of that barrel is drained and put into the next barrel while fresh must replaces what has been pulled from the barrel. This goes on down the list, as batteries may have anywhere for 6 to 20 barrels. Harvesting of the finished product is always done from the smallest barrel.
In Italy, there are certifications that must be met to be be DOC or DOCG. These designations ensure that you are getting a product that is 1)from a specific area in Italy; 2) meets the standards of the product and 3) has been certified by a board. Producers of DOC or DOCG products don’t even get to bottle their own balsamic. They send their product to the board, and, if approved, they will oversee bottling. This ensures no one bottles a sub par product as the real thing.
Ca’dal Non Acetaia
An “acetaia” is basically a word for a Balsamic factory. On a food tour last year, I had the luck of visiting the Ca’dal Non Acetaia, and Giovanna gave us a tour of her place and explained how true balsamic is made. While I had enjoyed balsamic before, I was blown away with their product. It was amazing! The flavors were amplified by Giovanna, a wonderfully strong woman. I was simply touched by her talking about the barrels, and what each battery meant to her. Batteries were named after her husband, his father (Franco, my favorite product.) her mother and her father. I just felt a kinship with this lady that was hard to express, and I knew I had to go back and film her story and share it with you. Allow me to apologize in advance for the audio, but please listen to the words and not the quality of the recording (we’re still getting used to this video thing!)
I hope you get a sense of this incredible woman. If you would like to try her balsamic, go to gustiamo.com and search for “balsamic.” There are several types of the Ca’dal Non Balsamicos available at different price points. Remember, you’ll only be using a few drops at a time, so don’t think that the expense for the small amount is huge. While expensive, it is WORTH EVERY DROP! For more information about Ca’dal Non, go to Balsamico.farm. Finally, if you are in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy (which I TOTALLY recommend, they don’t call it “The fat one” for nothing!) Go to emiliastorytellers.com and book a wonderful tour. Katia will make sure you get the stories behind the products. Ask for Simone as a guide, and tell them Melissa sent you!