What makes traditional balsamic vinegar traditional?
Sometimes a single word can make the world of difference. When it comes to balsamic vinegar, that word is ‘traditional’. How do you know for sure, the word traditional is not a marketing trick based on no tradition at all?
In Modena, Italy, families have been making traditional balsamic vinegar for hundreds of years, cooking and fermenting grapes and then aging the liquid to produce a wedding gift for their children; the same methods are used by producers today. But with modern techniques, there is an inexpensive version available on the market. How can consumers tell the difference?
The EU PDO and PGI system
Two EU systems address this: the European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system and the European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) system. PDO protects the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena through inspection and assurance by a certified body, in this case Kiwa.
From taste test to traditional
“We control the production of traditional balsamic vinegar from the vineyard during the grape harvest to when the must is made and where it becomes vinegar,” explained Giuseppe Bitonti of Kiwa in Italy, whose team of 20 approve all the traditional balsamic vinegar produced in Modena. “We look at how many products they have, how many grape musts they produce and how and how long the vinegar is aged for. We even carry out a taste test.”
It is this control process, according to the EU PDO system, that protects the traditional vinegar and distinguishes it from cheaper alternatives on the market.
Traditional Modena balsamic vinegar checklist
- Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena must be aged for at least 12 years.
- It can only be sold in 100ml registered bottles designed by Giugiaro.
- There are 250 producers (called “Acetaie”), producing 60,000 bottles per year.
- Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from 100% grape must.
- One bottle costs between €400 – €2,500 per liter, compared to the cheaper alternative at €2 – €20.
Video: Les secrets de fabrication du vinaigre balsamique à Modène en Italie
Several millions of viewers in France were introduced to Kiwa on February 10, 2021. One of the major national TV channels, TF1, had an item about traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena in Italy. Part of the over four-minute report showcases how Kiwa colleagues are involved in controlling its quality.
Ooh… A treasure it is, Modena’s well-known seasoner. The TV report first describes it, then travels to Modena to visit one of the best producers of traditional balsamic vinegar – which may only be called ‘traditional’ when it originates in this region. Production and ageing processes are shown, plus an indication of what genuine balsamic vinegar costs – “une fortune”! Some Italian chefs praise its unique taste.
Subsequently, the TF1 reporter explains that Modena’s balsamic vinegar is one of Italy’s major export products, also resulting in quite some attempts to copy it. Therefore, a control body has been set up – and there we see Kiwa's Isabella Pulverenti overseeing a dozen of samples. Several experts examine samples every week to uncover imitations of the traditional vinegar. They look. They smell. They taste. And they award points to a list of properties and qualities.
Watch the video below (French spoken):