Authentic flavor  June 2010

The Balsam of Modena

Behind the scenes of tradition: everything you have wanted to know about balsamic vinegar, but haven’t dared to ask.

Dense, dark and aromatic, balsamic vinegar is unmistakable in its appearance and flavor. Made according to an ancient process and aged for at least 12 years in special wooden barrels, traditional balsamic vinegar is one of Italy’s most widely recognizable food products.
It is an Italian ambassador of taste, if you will. Especially with regards to the vinegar made in Spilamberto, a small town in the province of Modena, located within the balsamic vinegar DOP zone of production (Balsamic vinegar was awarded the Protected Denomination of Origin status in 2000).
From Japan, to the United States, from China to Fiji, the black gold of Modena has won over the gastronomic capitals and most refined palates of the world.

Now let’s get down to the details. Balsamic vinegar is made from cooked grape must that matures through a slow acetification process, without the addition of aromatic compounds.
The vinegar produced by Mariangela Montanari at the Acetaia La Cà dal Nôn in Vignola is a good example of a traditional product. Montanari, a former engineer, now known as the signora of balsamic vinegar, turned her passion into a reality.
Her artisinal balsamic vinegar operation allows Mariangela to maintain a family tradition that dates back four generations.

Balsamic vinegar is truly an expression of where it was made, including the people and the traditions that help to bring out its unmistakable aroma. Inside Mariangela’s stone farmhouse, which is surrounded by age-old grape vines, everything revolves around time. Like an ancient rite, each year the grapes are harvested and then pressed to make must. The must is poured into wooden casks to top them off, following the rhythm of the seasons.

“The process has many steps,” explains Montanari. “It requires technique, passion and, above all, time. It is like a precious elixir that is consumed by the drop. Even by itself.”

The vinegars from the Acetaia La Cà dal Nôn are known, not only for being produced traditionally, but also for their exceptionally high quality and the special composition of their bouquet. Their youngest vinegar is aged for 12 years and has a deep brown color, a runny-syrup consistency and shiny acidity. It is great served with vegetables or meat due to its long aromatic notes and modest flavor, which doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors with which it is paired. The “extra vecchio” vinegar, on the other hand, is aged for 25 years. It is deep, dark brown with a syrupy consistence, a high acidity level and delicate, yet persistent perfumes. A teaspoon of this older vinegar can be served on its own, before or after a meal as either an aperitivo or digestivo. It also pairs nicely with cheese, especially Parmigiano Reggiano.

“The secret to high-quality balsamic vinegar,” says Mariangela, “is good must together, paired with the skill of the producer and the mix of wood in the casks where the must is left to age.” The casks (650 casks are needed to produce 3,000 bottles of vinegar per year) used to age vinegar at Acetaia La Cà dal Nôn are from the early 20th century and built from cherry, oak, chestnut, mulberry and mountain juniper wood. The barrels are placed in the attic of the farmhouse so that the vinegar can rest in the dark until it is ready to be bottled.

Food & Culture Tour

Azienda La Cà dal Nôn provides guided tours of their property in which they explain the history of balsamic vinegar and the complete production process, from vine, to harvest, to pressing the grapes, to cooking the must. After a visit to the vinegar house, including the cooking and aging rooms, guests are invited to taste the vinegar. The tour includes a lesson on how to properly analyze the aromas, the visual characteristics and the flavor of balsamic vinegar. The visit lasts over an hour and is offered in Italian, English and French.

Mariangela Montanari

Azienda Agricola  “La Cà dal Nôn ” – Acetaia 1883
Via Nicolai Ghiaurov 50-56, Vignola (Mo)
Tel. 059.761671

Unusual pairings

Balsamic vinegar is often used to dress salads or give an added punch to cheeses or meat. You can find it folded into a risotto made with Parmigiano Reggiano, or served with cream gelato or strawberries. However, at the Taverna dei Tre Mori, chef Anna Tavoni uses balsamic vinegar in her recipe for Modena-style pumpkin tortelli  (made without mostarda or crumbled amaretti cookies.) The pasta is tossed in a sauce made with saffron from Pantelleria and served with a couple drops of traditional balsamic vinegar from the Acetaia Cà dal Nôn. And to end your meal on a sweet note, chef Anna serves a couple drops of vinegar on her super soft ricotta tart.

Taverna dei Tre Mori
Via Tufo 5/7 – Vignola (Mo)
Tel. 059.776805

By Silvia Ugolotti

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