4 min

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.