History of Balsamic

Balsamic Vinegar means since ages culture and history of Modena. Its existence is due to the particular land and climate characteristics of the county and moreover to the knowledge, the expertise and the competences of the human factor that in a wonderful synthesis have originated an exclusive and specific product of the actual provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia (the ancient Estense Dukedom).

Documents and historical traces are very frequent and it’s dazzling how much important these products had in local uses and in folk tradition of Modena.

We speak of “Balsamics” because it’s self evident, other than documented, that different kinds of vinegar obtained with cooked grapes must have always been present in Modena and Reggio Emilia, trough the presence of different recipes and of different production methods and ageing, up to the present two different kinds: Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegars of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The origins of these products are of many centuries ago, when the grape must was cooked in order to store it.

The special characteristics of the used grapes (low sugars and high acidity) are supposed to have acidified and sparkled the origins to a vinegar that because of its method of production has been further more exported out of its main production area.

The techniques of this “special vinegar” were probably many and different as we can see from the local recipes from many times: we can indeed find products done just with cooked must, others with must and vinegar and after cooked, and sometimes also spiced with aromas. The term Balsamic is quite young, used for the first time in the registers of dukes’ warehouses of the Estense’s Palace of Modena in 1747 and the name was probably related to the health role that it had at that time.

The existence of at least two different kind of Balsamic Vinegar is documented in the arrival of Napoleon in Modena in 1795.

To pay the war debts, all the Duke’s and Church’s goods were put on sale. One of the listed item is indeed the vinegar house, which is described in details and which barrels, sold, were scattered among the many vinegar houses of Modena.

In the aforementioned document is stated that “The stock sales begins with the Balsamic Vinegar of the former Duke for the French Republic…” and the many different qualities are listed, along with the quantities. The inventories, also after the Restoration, will always state the different kind of vinegar, along with the wine vinegar (called common or ordinary).

With the foundation of Italian state (1860), the awakening of the markets has seen a rising interest toward Balsamic, developing also historical researches on this increasingly renowned product. It was round the half of ‘800 that we can find the first stricter description of the kind and at the very same time were founded the first bases of what will latterly become the Production Law: the scientist that worked on it was the count Giorgio Gallesio. Famous for his book “The Italian Pomona”, huge treaty on trees, he spent many days studying the production techniques. His handwritten notes, found in 1993 in Washington D.C. are the most ancient technical document describing the Production Law of the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. He describes the two different kinds of balsamic vinegar: the one with just cooked must and the other with cooked must and wine vinegar. The latter surely had the best spreading, nowadays known as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, due to it’s easiness of production and for everyday use.

At the end of the ‘800 balsamic Vinegar of Modena firstly appears in the most important trade shows with big results not only in Italy but also on foreign markets.

Some of the producers of the time are still operating and of those ancient productions has remained the participations paperwork, photos and some bottles too, regularly put on sale at the beginning of the ‘900. The very first Production Law, solicited by some producers is of 1933 and regulates the production of “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” to avoid harming the secular and typical industry.

This is one of the very first recognition of origin for a food product and is also the first formal recognition of the existence of the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena as is still produced. Some thirty years later, in 1965, D.P.R. n° 162 of 12/02/65 on fraud repression in wines, musts and vinegars, will fix the rules for the vinegars and will recognize special qualification denominations for traditional techniques productions, among which we can find Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.

Thanks to the clear Production Law in the following years other companies start to produce Balsamic Vinegar. In 1994 following the big success that balsamic Vinegar of Modena was scoring to customers many producers pushed for a common Production Law for the whole supply chain to protect the denomination from frauds. This commitment has evolved in the Production Law as recognized by European Union trough PGI in July 2009. this reckoning not only protects a capital of knowledge and tradition but also one of the symbols of food culture of Modena.

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