The best part about having friends who are chefs (besides getting invitations to their house for dinner) is they know all the best places to eat and where to get the best quality products.
For all practical purposes, we just drove up to Maurizio’s house. His German Shepherds started barking up a storm, and Mr. de Petri walked out. Andrea introduced us and told him I wanted to know more about how balsamic vinegar is made.
I love doing things like this because it literally opened up a whole new world to me.
Before the visit, I knew that certain balsamic vinegars could cost $200 for a relatively tiny bottle. I knew that the stuff they sold at the supermarket was the “fake”(albeit not bad tasting) stuff. But that’s pretty much where my knowledge on the subject matter started and end.
During the tour, Maurizio explained that traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena P.DO is made using an ancient process. It begins with whole grape “must” that is crushed, cooked, and reduced by about 50%. It is then fermented naturally for about 3 weeks. Then its flavors are aged and concentrated in progressively smaller wooden barrels “batteries” for at least 12 years before the official body will even consider deeming it “aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena D.O.P.”
The tour was filled with interesting tidbits like how he has barrels that are over 200 years old, left to him by his great-grandmother. He also explained that they cut holes into the barrels and then cover them with white cotton fabric. That way the balsamic vinegar can breath, evaporate out and still stay clean of dirt during the multiyear process.
When it was all said and done, we got to taste the final products: the 12 anni (12 years) and the Extravecchio (extra old).
Both were dense and rich, completely unlike products usually sold at the supermarket. I was surprised that I could still distinctly taste grape juice in the 12 anni. While the extravecchio gained an additional level of balance that was easily detected even to my untrained (in matters of vinegar) tongue.
I enjoyed the visit so much that I came back about a month later with a different group of friends.