After a long winter break, our trips in the name of Italian excellences restart from one of the most famous and unique products of Emilia-Romagna: the balsamic vinegar of Modena.
In a very sunny morning, driving through narrow country streets, we reached the headquarters of Acetaia “La Bonissima” in Casinalbo di Formigine (Modena).
There we found the welcoming and very kind Franco De Pietri and his wife Donatella, owners of the company, together with Arturo, a lively puppy dog who kept us company during the whole visit.
The company was founded by Celestino, Franco’s grandfather, who started making balsamic vinegar for his restaurant where the participants in the “Mille Miglia” used to stop to take refreshment. From then, the activity went on generation after generation, and the De Pietri family’s passion grew together with the number of barrels crammed in the attic.
To this day, indeed, the company is family run and the barrels where the vinegar takes life and matures occupy the attics of Franco and Donatella’s houses. This is not only a matter of logistical convenience, but also a necessary choice for the final quality of vinegar: the product needs to “feel” the natural seasonal interchange, because the winter cold helps the sedimentation of the impurities on the bottom of the barrels, while the summer hot facilitates the fermentation and concentration.
Our visit at Acetaia “La Bonissima” turned out to be an interesting lesson about the fascinating world of balsamic vinegar, and we’ll hopefully be able to get at least part of what we learned across to you through this post.
First of all, there’s an important specification to be done: there are two types of this Emilian “black gold”, that is the D.O.P. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) and the I.G.P. Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena).
The D.O.P. is the finest quality, which is made only using cooked must (Acetaia “La Bonissima” chooses the Trebbiano di Spagna variety), left to mature for at least 12 years (if it goes beyond 25 years of seasoning, it’s considered an extra-aged – and in the plant we saw some barrel batches from 1964!). I used the word “batch” because the Traditional Vinegar is characterized by a dynamic ripening: every batch is composed by barrels of different sizes and woods, and a small amount of vinegar is periodically taken from each of them and moved to a slightly smaller barrel – and so on. In this way the vinegar, in addition to aging and thickening (every barrel is only covered by a dressing, so that the watery part of the product can evaporate), also absorbs the scents of the different woods through which it passes, enriching with organoleptic shades. Every year, from the last barrel of the serie, they take two of the 10/15 liters that it contains. This amount of the precious product is checked by the consortium, that evaluates it, bottles it and puts its seal on it.
Just think about this: in order to obtain 100 ml of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, it takes around 300 liters of must – that the De Pietri’s family autonomously cooks at home. This makes you understand why a D.O.P. vinegar cannot be a mass product…
The reason why I.G.P. was born was in fact to allow a greater diffusion of the balsamic vinegar of Modena, so its criteria are less restrictive and permit a quantitatively more abundant production.
This doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality: as for everything, it depends on the raw material and on how the product is processed. The I.G.P. Balsamic Vinegars “La Bonissima” contain high quality wine vinegar and a cooked must percentage much higher than the minimum 20% required by the consortium – and this makes them naturally sweet and dark. Moreover, they’re never aged less than a year (even though the guidelines say that 60 days are sufficient), which helps their density and the richness of their flavour. Even in this case the aging takes place in wooden barrels, but it’s not dynamic like the D.O.P. one: at the end of the seasoning period, the barrel is simply emptied and the vinegar is bottled in the plant. As regards the I.G.P., so, the production is personally managed by the company, that is anyway subject every year to checks made by a certification agency which grants the origin of the raw materials, the quality of the processing and the bottling.
Apart from the technical issues, we were intrigued also by a couple of curiosities: Franco told us that, at every child’s birth, the family inaugurates a batch of vinegar (tradition that he obviously followed) and that, if there’s a daughter and she gets married, she gets part of her batch as a dowry. After all, the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar truly is an extremely precious good and it’s looked after with almost as much love as the one for one’s own children!
Going back to “La Bonissima” production, we can say that their serie proposes all the best that someone could offer: from the I.G.P. balsamic vinegars, aged for different periods in different kind of barrels, to the D.O.P., even extra-aged, of which they make around 1000/1500 bottles a year.
If you love this kind of product you cannot help but try their vinegars, that will amaze you thanks to their creaminess, their scents and their sweet and intense taste. All of them are obviously genuine: there’s no trace of thickeners, colourings, preservatives or other additives.
You should try and put some drops of one of them on a fresh ricotta, on the classic Parmesan flakes or – why not – on a tasty onion frittata… you would be enraptured!
If you’re curious to try this vinegars for very expert people, you can as always find them at “La Delizia” in Russi (Ravenna)… we went back from the trip in Modena with the car full of these wonders! Now we are not waiting for anyone but you: come visit the shop soon!