On National Geographic Traveler we talk about Balsamic Vinegar

In the autumn edition of National Geographic Traveler now on the newsstands, the topic is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena …


In Modena and its surroundings, among slopes caressed by the vineyards, a condiment fruit of patience, dedication and healthy madness unites one generation after another.
The Ghirlandina tower is like a pencil on the first day of school, its perfectly tempered tip soars towards the sky coloring it pink. This is how Modena welcomes me, and in a moment the memories come to my mind as a child in the Emilian countryside just outside the city: when the wind was right, my grandmother used to bring her forefinger to her mouth, inviting me to silence.
“Listen the Red-car”, she said to me, referring to the Ferrari racing on the track in Maranello, just a few kilometers from us. The wind of the engine really brought the roar of the engine, like the rustling of leaves. In the pantry of his kitchen, then, it never misses a bottle of vinegar; it was the good one of the farmer Geppino who lived on the coast of a river with his dogs. He had a small barrel from which he took this black delight that filled my mouth with flavors and the nose with smells, impossible to replicate.

The land of fast cars and slow food, people say, and these two fleeting memories are enough but more alive than ever to confirm it. Moreover, it is said that Enzo Ferrari refused to sit at the table of his favorite restaurant if Balsamic was missing.
The one produced by the vinegar producers in the province of Modena is the only one in the world that can boast the word “Traditional”, as well as being protected by the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) since 2000. To obtain it, it is necessary that the vinegar factory, the vineyard, grapes and grape-juice are certified by the Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena which promotes the culture and dissemination of the product. (…)
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena must be at least 12 years old, and after 25 years it acquires the title of “Extravecchio” and it can only be bottled in a special bottle designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. All the rest is a simple seasoning, or the most common P.G.I. Balsamic Vinegar (Protected Geographical Indication).

On the other hand, in Emilia Romagna culinary excellence has always been a rather serious affair: when a female daughter was born in Modena, families were customary to start a battery of barrels. The 25 years of the girl and Balsamic Vinegar would have marked the perfect maturation of both: a custom that still exists nowadays.
Balsamic Vinegar is a bond of blood, I knew it as a child, and it is surprising to notice that years later it is still like this: a condiment like a thin thread that connects one generation after another.

Francesco, of Acetaia Sereni, taught me that! He welcomes me to the family farm, a hermitage of peace in the hills outside the city. Here, where the traffic is a distant memory and the slopes are caressed by the vineyards, he tells me that the barrels date back to the early twentieth century, when his great-grandmother Santina, a housewife always ready to offer a meal to passers-by, began to produce some Balsamic. At the end of the 90’s, Francesco’s father Pier Luigi bought an old farm, turning it into Acetaia. I smile when Francesco tells me that when he was a child he used to go to school with a little bottle of Balsamic Vinegar in his backpack so he could use it on food for lunch: the vinegar was always part of him, and it was natural to turn it into a job. Since Santina’s time the barrels have grown, reaching 1800 barrels. Seeing them all together is incredible: the sunset sun makes them shine and their curves seem waves of a rough sea.
It is difficult to describe the smell of an Acetaia (vinegar factory), because each one has its own unique and non-replicable one, which offers different emotions and images.

Article by Francesca Rabitti. Photos by Alessandro Barteletti.