Balsamic Vinegar: The History

Many things have been written and said about the balsamic vinegar, perhaps too many. Staying on the safe side of things, we can say that maybe everything originates from the abundant production of grapes in the area of Modena, well-known since time immemorial. As a matter of fact, the use of vinegar to dress or to preserve food is as ancient as the one of wine.

Musts were very important for the ancient Romans already. Diluted vinegar was the only beverage of Roman soldiers for a long time. Writers and poets of the time, such as Cicero, Pliny and Virgil, wrote about it. Columella, a Roman writer dealing with agriculture, recognized the peculiar behaviour of the musts in this area: they tended to ferment and acetify after having been cooked, too.

The product was important in the medieval industry, when the vinegar producers formed a powerful guild, keeping the secret of the production process.
Over the centuries countless records testify the enormous importance of vinegar: it was lovingly cared for and enshrined in attics. It belonged to the family goods, it was bequeathed and brought as a dowry and, this way, handed down from one generation to the next. It sometimes became a "royal present", too. In 1792, for example, a cruet of "Balsamic" was given by the duke Hercules III to Francis I of Austria on the occasion of his coronation as Emperor.

The attribute "balsamic" appears right about the half of 18th century. Well-known were in this period the barrels placed in a tower of the Ducal Palace. The present production system - based on the cooked must and the yearly pouring - dates back to this period. During the following century the enormous differences between the traditional Balsamic of the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia and all other types of vinegar were scientifically underlined for the first time.

The first descriptions of the production processes date back to this period, too, as the ones of the different types and methods linked to the single family traditions, culture and preferences.

The methods have been standardized in compliance with the Production Regulations. However, the microclimate differences, the choice of the barrels - wood type, number, size and combination, a certain degree of discretion in the quantity and times of top-ups, and, why not, some little secrets of the single producers lead to the getting of unique products.