Making Our Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
By: Ryan MacDonnell
This is an exciting post for us, about the coming to fruition of a project that’s been over eight years in the making! We’ve just bottled our very first release of our brand new (aged eight years) Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
About Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
If you’ve ever traveled through Northern Italy, specifically to the city of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region, then you know how incredibly special Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is. Rightfully dubbed the “king of vinegar,” Tradizionale has the syrupy consistency and intense complexity of a liqueur, and is used more as a condiment than as a regular vinegar.
Whereas store-bought balsamic vinegars are thickened with caramel syrup, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale attains its status through an arduous process that requires much patience on the part of the vinegar maker and produces very low yields, which is why 100 ml bottles are generally priced between $150-$400, versus $8-$10 for what you see on grocery store shelves.
How Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is Made
To make Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, you have to adhere to an elaborate process refined over centuries–the very first Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale was documented in 1046–by the vinegar makers in Modena.
You start by reducing wine for several days for what Italian’s call “mosto cotto.” Trebbiano grapes are traditionally used in Italy; at Round Pond, we use Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon. Once the wine has reduced down by 30%, we add a special mother to ferment the mosto cotto and age it in neutral oak for six months.
Then things get really interesting. At the heart of traditional balsamic vinegar production is what’s called a “batteria”–a group of casks of different shapes, sizes and woods ranging from 75 liters to 10 liters. At Round Pond, we have eight batteries with nine different cask sizes and six different varieties of wood: oak, cherry, mulberry, chestnut, acacia and ash.
When you first start making balsamic, like we did over eight years ago, you fill all of the casks with the mosto cotto. Over time, as the must ages, it grows thicker and sweeter as a small percentage evaporates and concentrates what remains; this evaporation is called “the angels’ share.”
Once or twice a year, each of the barrels are topped off with the vinegar from the next largest barrel, a process called “solera.” After 12 years (or in our case, 8 … we had to try some!), a small amount is drawn from the smallest barrel and bottled, and the largest barrel is filled with new mosto cotto as the solera process continues in perpetuity. Some Italians have had family balsamic productions passed down several generations!
How to Use Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is prized by Italians, and revered for the unparalleled treat that it is. A little goes a long way. Our favorite ways to use Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, not surprisingly, spring from the garden. Drizzle a spoonful over fresh strawberries, a “carpaccio” of summer squash, fresh grilled tomatoes, or aged farmstead cheese. We’ll be coming up with all kinds of ways to use our Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, and can’t wait to hear what you come up with too!
We’re still putting the finishing touches on this first release, so we can’t give you the link to buy it just yet, but do sign up here for our waiting list and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.