Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Farmhouse of Montale Rangone , Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P., Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P., Balsamic vinegar sauces, Balsamic Vinegar based dressings.
Acetaia Montale Rangone S.r.l.
via Campania 28/B - fraz. Montale
41051 - Castelnuovo Rangone (Mo)
REA MO-406014
Cap Sociale I.V € 50.000
C/F - P.I. 03649420365
Tel. 059 53.04.65 - Fax. 059 532349
e-mail: info@acetaiamontale.it

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L'aceto balsamico e la sua storia

Balsamic vinegar from Modena is a typical bittersweet seasoning of the tradition of Modena, officially acknowledged under this denomination pursuant to the Italian ministerial decree dated 3rd December 1965. That decree is the first statutory instrument regulating a production characterized by great variation owing to the producers' independence in preparing their "recipes" and implementing the production process. The 1965 decree dealt with the following issues: the geographic location of the production and its connection to Modena; the century-old habit of mixing cooked or concentrated must with vinegar or aged vinegar to obtain a product characterized by a pleasant scent and delicate bittersweet taste. In almost all food and wine traditions from the past, a majority or minority preference emerges for tastes classified in the uncertain range between bitter and sweet experiences. For example, the Romans showed their preference for mixing bitter and sweet tastes, as shown by the almost constant presence of sweeteners (honey) or aromas (mint, juniper, herb of grace and cumin) in vinegar. Moreover, the information provided by Publius Virgilius Maro (70 b.C.-19 b.C.) in his Georgics reveals a must-cooking procedure - very common in the Modena area - which produced a dressing much appreciated for cooking purposes. It was called defrutum, sapa or caraenum depending on its concentration stage, and was later mentioned by Columella as an additive for wine and vinegar or sweetener to replace honey.

The evolution of food preferences in the course of the centuries shows that during the Middle Ages there was a clear change in favour of overtly acid tastes, very close to the typically French preference for spicy food. However, along with this dominating trend, a "bittersweet" movement has always survived, especially in Italy, which seems to be directly related to the Latin tradition and envisages the use of vinegar with added sweeteners (sugar in particular). The Middle Ages (more precisely A.D. 1046) is the setting of a story included in Vita Mathildis by Donizone, about a gift offered by Bonifacio di Canossa, the powerful lord of Reggio Emilia, to Henry III, who stopped in Piacenza during the journey that was to lead him from Franconia to Rome to become Emperor. The gift - a silver cask full of mysterious vinegar produced in Canossa - was greatly appreciated by the Emperor-to-be, so much that Alberto, viscount of Mantua, in order to cut a fine figure with the Emperor, gave him hundreds of horses, goshawks and birds of prey. However, the value and opulence of Alberto's gifts could not prevent Henry III from acknowledging Bonifacio's leading role among all the aristocrats of the Italian peninsula. The story does not include sufficient details to identify the content of the cask, but the comparison with Alberto's gifts and the ritual with which the gift was handed to the Emperor, as well as the importance of the latter, prove that it could not possibly be normal vinegar: it had to be a truly exceptional product which many believe was the ancestor of balsamic vinegar. In this connection, it should be noted that any reconstruction of the history of balsamic vinegar from Modena cannot neglect that - at least until the official records of the 19th and 20th century - all "recipes" dealing with the production of "special" or "balsamic" vinegar in general envisaged mixing wine vinegar with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, liquorice juice, coriander, carnation, pyrethrum roots, juniper berries and, last but not least, saba or - more in general - cooked must.

The signs of "balsamic vinegar" in history become more frequent and documented starting from the Renaissance, when the fortune began of balsamic vinegar or other sophisticated and expensive balsamic seasonings capable of adding new fragrance to food. At the end of the 16th century, the fortune of the vinegar from Modena becomes connected with the fortune of the Este family, i.e. the aristocratic family who ruled Ferrara from the 13th century to 1598, when they were forced to flee the city so that it could be annexed to the Pope's State. The whole court moved to Modena, the new capital of the Dukedom. The passion of the Este family for vinegar had been well known since 1556, when no less than four types of vinegar were used at the court of Ferrara. However, it was in 1598 - they year when they moved to Modena - that historical documents provide evidence of products clearly similar to today's "balsamic vinegar from Modena". In 1598 the cellars of the Este family witnessed the arrival of "two casks of Trebbiano wine to thank His Highness", whereas the records of 1665 show that the cellars of Duke Rinaldo I in Reggio hosted two casks and fifteen vats of "strong wine" destined to the production of vinegar. The exceptional quality of the "Duke's vinegar" became famous in Italian and European courts, although the first official reference to the use of "balsamic" as an adjective dates to 1747, when the registers of the secret cellars of the Este court read as follows: "3 basins were taken from the Vinegar room to top-up balsamic vinegar". As regards the origin of this adjective, it is well known that "balms" are substances characterized by marked fragrances, capable of providing refreshing and soothing action to relieve pain, generally used in the pharmaceutical industry. Vinegar had been known for centuries to have therapeutic and particularly digestive properties, as shown by the culinary essay by Apicius (1st century A.D.) and other documents from the 11th and 15th century. The adjective "balsamic", combined with the vinegar of the Este family, may be related to a figurative interpretation of its properties, mainly with reference to its pleasant, sophisticated and precious fragrance and taste. The adjective was considered so appropriate that a list of the various types of vinegar produced at the Este court in 1830 includes the specification of four qualities: "balsamic", semi-balsamic, fine and common.
However, the history of "balsamic vinegar" does not end with aristocratic courts and the duke's cellars; in contrast, starting from 1800 it involved many families from Modena who had managed their small family cellars for centuries and passed on their recipes from one generation to the next, i.e. secret recipes mainly based on different combinations of raw and cooked must and vinegar, to which spices and fragrances could be added. This is the origin of the extraordinary proliferation of numerous types of "balsamic vinegar", at least as many as their producers. This was inevitable since their recipes, their procedures to cook must and top-up and transfer vinegar, the material of their casks and the ageing time and process as well as the very peculiar micro-climatic conditions of the different cellars were customized and unique. However, today's production of "balsamic vinegar from Modena" derives from only two historical recipes, which could actually be defined as two different ways of thinking: that of the Agazzotti Family and that of the Giusti family, which in the course of time led to real "religious wars" between the supporters of one or the other method and to two distinct products which today contribute to the fortune and fame of both all over the world.
In a letter sent in 1863 by the lawyer Francesco Agazzotti to Ottavio Ottavi, the oenologist from Casale Monferrato who asked for advice to install a cellar, a series of instructions are given that today are considered the foundations of the production of the seasoning officially called "Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena". The letter briefly explains that to obtain good "balsamic vinegar" only must obtained from white grapes (Trebbiano) should be slowly cooked in large vessels until the original volume is reduced by 20-30% and then it should be aged in wooden vats for at least 12 years. This particular production technique leads to a seasoning whose colour is shiny dark brown, its texture thick with a balanced and fluid syrup-like effect, its fragrance pleasantly and harmoniously acid, its taste bittersweet, slightly aromatic. It is undoubtedly an excellent product, both precious and expensive, which is marketed in very little amounts.

The Agazzotti method started to become known among producers in Modena in 1860, but it survived for a long time in "recipes" developed for both small-size family production and the first productions destined to the market, which were somehow derived from very ancient methods envisaging the use of sàba added with wine vinegar (Giusti method). These are undoubtedly different products whose acknowledgment and regulation had to go through a long and difficult legal procedure which was finally completed on 15th May 2000, at least as far as the "balsamic vinegar" deriving from the "Agazzotti method" is concerned: the "Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena protected denomination of origin was born. Since 1600s, the Giusti family - ancient producers of "Modena-style vinegar" - had used a recipe envisaging the use of raw must, cooked must and vinegar, thus complying with the rules of the ancient Roman and Medieval recipes based on saba and vinegar. A preliminary draft of the recipe was attributed to count Giorgio Gallesio who, in a precious manuscript written during a visit to the estate of count Salimbeni near Modena in September 1839, described in detail the method implemented for the production of Balsamic vinegar and illustrated the habit of diluting a product apparently very similar to "traditional" vinegar with strong wine vinegar.
In 1861 the Giusti family presented a 90 year old balsamic vinegar on the occasion of the Italian Exhibition in Florence, which had just become the provisional capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The Giustis were awarded a medal for a product - officially identified by its producers as "balsamic vinegar" - obtained through recipes envisaging the combination of cooked must, wine vinegar and strong vinegar.