Today we virtually bring you in the heart of Modena, the hometown of the black gold, to discover its ancient method of production. At the end of the article you will find the link to a youtube video to see with your own eyes each step of the procedure.
But let’s start from the very beginning! Which is the main ingredient of this precious product? Grape juice! Its characteristic sweet an sour taste crucially depends on the grapes; in fact producers select only grapes with high sugar content. How? The timing must be perfect: the grapes must be picked late in the season when the sugar content is at its highest level. Unfortunately machines can’t be trusted to choose the right grapes, that’s why this operation must be done by hand.
Once the grapes are picked, they go into the de-steeming machine (in Italian diraspatrice). As far as the blades spin into a perforated drum, the grape juice trickles away through the holes, while stems fall down on the floor. Then the juice goes in the mechanical press and…the must is ready!
But this is where it gets tricky: as soon as the must is extracted, the sugar starts to convert in alcohol, risking to turn the must into wine! For this reason the fermentation process must be delayed: the must is cooked for 24 hours slowly and without boiling. After 24 hours, about half of the liquid is evaporated and the must has reached a caramel color.
As already said, the key to obtain the perfect balsamic vinegar is to get the right sugar content. In order to check the sugar level, each producer uses a saccharometer. This tool measures the density of the product: the denser, the sweeter. When the sugar has reached a 30 % density, the product is ready for the next stage!
It’s time to pour the must into the so called mother barrel, the first of the battery composed of barrels made of different woods. This barrel contains special bacteria, originated from the previous year production. The barrels are located in the attic where the seasonal changes help to form the vinegar. The challenge is to concentrate the taste and thicken the consistency. In order to achieve this result one must transfer the must into smaller and smaller barrels, made of different woods. Each wood brings a different flavor. The must must age for at least 12 years. Over this long period, the barrel must be open in order to let the oxygen in; this si very important since oxygen sustain the bacteria to turn the sugar into vinegar.
Every year the producer takes one liter from the smallest barrel to be bottled. The final step consists in obtaining the seal of approval by the Consortium. Expert tasters check the vinegar flavor and aroma, furthermore they put it near the candle flame to check its color and viscosity. If the product passes all the tests it is finally bottled in specific 100 hundred millimeters bottles. Balsamic can be packaged only in this glass bottle, which was designed by the Italian artist Giugiaro. According to its age, one bottle can cost up to 4000 dollars, as two bottles of the finest champagne. You don’t believe it? It’s time for you to enjoy the video and watch with your own eyes!