A Complete Guide to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

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Aceto Balsamico
Photo: Balsamic vinegar of Modena is excellent with Parmesan cheese

Balsamic vinegar of Modena (Italian: “aceto balsamico di Modena”) is one of the most famous Italian culinary specialties in the world.

It has a sweet and sour taste, an unmistakable aroma, and a dark color. Read this guide to discover all the secrets of Modena vinegar!

“Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI” is produced exclusively in the province of Modena, Italy. The abbreviation PGI stands for “Protected Geographical Indication”.

Content:

Ingredients in Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI

If we look at the ingredients in Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI, grapes are the main ingredient for the production of this Modenese culinary specialty.

☝ The PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) label is used to identify a product that originates in a specific place, region, or country. In Italian, the equivalent term to PGI for such products is IGP, which stands for “indicazione geografica protetta”.

The must used to make Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is typically made from grapes grown in the province of Modena. These grapes are typically of the following wine grape varieties:

  • Trebbiano
  • Lambrusco
  • Ancellotta

The grape must used to make this delicious Italian specialty is obtained by pressing the grapes, and the resulting liquid is then fermented and cooked.

☝ The cooking process concentrates the must. Concentrating the must increases the density of the resulting balsamic vinegar, which also loses its alcoholic note and becomes sweeter. The grape must used to produce Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is required to achieve a concentration of at least 20 percent.

Wine vinegar aged for at least 10 years is then added to the cooked and concentrated grape must.

☝Balsamic vinegar regulations state that PGI balsamic vinegar must contain at least 10 percent wine vinegar.

The must used for Modena balsamic vinegar PGI must have a minimum acidity of 8 g per kg. In addition, natural caramel may be added to the must. The caramel percentage cannot exceed 2 percent of the total final product.

Caramel has two important functions:

  • It sweetens the sweet and sour flavor
  • It darkens the brown color

Caramel has two important functions:

  • It sweetens the sweet and sour flavor
  • It darkens the brown color

However, not all producers of Modena balsamic vinegar PGI actually use caramel.

☝Wort is a thick, dark-colored, and cloudy liquid. It is alcoholic due to the fermentation of sugars.

Acetification

Acetification is a process involving bacterial colonies whereby liquids are transformed into acetic acid.

When the must becomes acetic by this process it then loses the alcohol content it had acquired by means of the first fermentation.

Refinement with Barrel Aging

Barrel ageing of balsamic vinegar
Photo: Barrel ageing of balsamic vinegar

Once the ingredients have been mixed together, they are then aged in barrels. This process is called “refining”. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI must be aged in high-quality wooden barrels for at least 60 days.

In fact, the wood used to make the barrel is also important, because it gives the balsamic vinegar a special taste. Modena balsamic vinegar PGI is typically aged in oak barrels.

Giusti's Gold Label Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is aged in oak barrels.

☝ Once refinement is complete, the resulting product is examined by a team of expert tasters.

Only if the product passes these tests can it be certified as “Aceto balsamico di Modena IGP”.

If the aging phase lasts three years, the label is permitted to include the word “aged”. In this case, the word "invecchiato” will appear on the label: aceto balsamico di Modena IGP invecchiato

l Borgo del Balsamico: Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI (red label)

Bottling

Modena balsamic vinegar PGI may be bottled into containers of several sizes, ranging from 250 ml to 5 l.

The regulations also permit PGI vinegar of Modena to be packaged in containers other than glass bottles, such as a bag-in-box.

Giusti Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI, in a 250 ml bottle.

Price

The price of Modena balsamic vinegar PGI can vary between 6 euros, such as the Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI Due Vittorie, to over 50 euros.

The most expensive balsamic vinegars are the aged and prized PGI varieties, such as the Giuseppe Giusti 5 Medaglie d’Oro aceto balsamico di Modena PGI.

The price of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO is much higher than that of PGI. We will talk about the differences between Modena balsamic vinegar PGI and PDO a little later on.

Use in Cooking

Uses in cooking of Balsamic vinegar of Modena
Photo: Balsamic vinegar of Modena is very often used in cooking as a dressing for Mediterranean vegetables

Modena balsamic vinegar PGI is considered to be a highly prestigious and very versatile

ingredient in cooking. As a result, it lends itself to a wide variety of uses.

The sweet and sour flavor of balsamic vinegar goes well with mature cheeses and pasta, as well as raw or grilled vegetables. When added to braised meat at the end of the cooking process, it adds a full-bodied and slightly sweet flavor.

Balsamic vinegar can be used to enhance the flavor of meat and fish, as well as fruit, desserts, and chocolate cake. One particular combination that might seem unusual but is very popular is ice cream flavored with balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar is commonly used as a salad dressing, together with extra virgin olive oil evoo. Just a few drops of balsamic vinegar are enough to turn a salad into something very special!

Great recipe books always refer to Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO (DOP), but that doesn’t mean you can’t use Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI instead. We recommend pouring it raw onto your dishes before serving. If cooked, the balsamic vinegar will lose its characteristic sweet and sour taste.

Not all Modena Balsamic Vinegar is Equal

You may already have heard of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio PDO. It is now time for us to clarify the differences between them.

Differences Between Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI and PDO

Both Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (or Reggio) PDO are artisanal Italian products. The abbreviation PDO stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” (Italian: DOP), while the abbreviation PGI, as we know, means “Protected Geographical Indication” (Italian: IGP).

These PDO and PGI quality marks guarantee the authenticity of these tasty italian dressings a, which are permitted to be produced only in two locations in Italy:

  • In the province of Modena
  • In the province of Reggio Emilia

However, the quality marks do not provide us with much information when it comes to understanding the differences between these two types of balsamic vinegar.

And there are indeed some major differences between balsamic vinegar PGI and balsamic vinegar PDO, which affect all of the following:

  • Ingredients
  • Aging process
  • Sensory perception of the product, including odor and flavor
  • Price

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO is also called Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Italian: “aceto balsamico di Modena tradizionale”) and is obtained by means of a very lengthy manufacturing process.

This is one of the major differences between PDO and PGI balsamic vinegar, as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO must be aged for at least 12 years.

Moreover,it is produced with only a single ingredient: grape must that is sourced exclusively from the territory of the province of Modena.

Only Trebbiano, Lambrusco, and Ancellotta grapes can be pressed to make the grape must used in the production of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO

The must is cooked for at least 30 minutes at a minimum temperature of 80 °C.

In addition, the containers are also different to those used for PGI balsamic vinegar, since the bottling specifications for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena are much more restrictive.

To recap: Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI must be aged for at least 60 days, while Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP must be aged for at least 12 years.</br /> The minimum must concentration for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is 20 percent, while the minimum requirement for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (or Reggio) PDO is 30 minutes at a temperature of at least 80 °C.

Differences Between Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Balsamic vinegar is not only differentiated into PGI and PDO qualities but also according to where it is produced.

As we said before, the “original” (traditional) balsamic vinegar is produced in only two places: the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

Accordingly, there are therefore four types of balsamic vinegar:

  • Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI
  • Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO
  • Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PGI
  • Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia PDO

Production of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO

The production of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO cannot be relocated somewhere else. Since Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO is a protected designation of origin vinegar, it can only be manufactured in the province of Modena, Italy.

Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Modena balsamic vinegar PGI is a sought-after Modenese speciality and the region’s best-selling product worldwide. Unfortunately, for this very reason, it is also the subject of countless imitations.

A Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena was therefore founded in 1993, with the specific aim of achieving PGI recognition for balsamic vinegar manufactured in Modena.

In 2009, the Consortium obtained recognition from the European authorities for Modena balsamic vinegar as an Italian product with a protected geographical indication (PGI).

In addition to controlling the market to protect Modena vinegar from numerous imitations, the Consortium is also responsible for the following:

  • Promoting its reputation worldwide
  • Regulating production and carrying out auditing

The Consortium therefore acts as the “guardian” of the specification and deals with all regulatory matters concerning PGI balsamic vinegar.

The Consortium currently represents 51 producers of balsamic vinegar from Modena.

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