What is cooked must

Cooked grape must is present in any Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

But what is it about? How is it obtained? What changes between cooked must and grape juice? Can we cook any type of grape? What is wine vinegar instead?

Lambrusco grape


“Must” is how the product of the pressing of freshly harvested grapes is called: the sweet and fragrant grape juice. The “grape must” is therefore “grape juice”.

Grape juice / must is the ingredient that, following fermentation, will turn into wine.

Sometimes, thanks to the use of stabilizers and anti-fermentation agents, it is prevented from fermenting and can be drunk as it is even after several months. In this case it will be bottled and sold as “grape juice”.

In some areas of Italy, including the province of Modena, the juice is immediately cooked after pressing.

In particular, in the province of Modena, where cooked must is the main ingredient of Balsamic Vinegar, the must of two types of grapes are cooked above all: Trebbiano (white and sweet) and Lambrusco (red).

Cooked musf of Lambrusco grape

The grape must is cooked to prevent the yeasts contained in it from triggering alcoholic fermentation, starting to transform sugars into alcohol. In fact, if left to ferment, the raw must will become wine. Not being fermented, cooked must is not an alcoholic drink.

Cooking is slow and prolonged, for several hours, at a controlled temperature. The juice was traditionally cooked in copper pots, a material now generally replaced by stainless steel. Initially a cooking temperature is reached just below the boiling point, to bring out the natural impurities of the must. These impurities are removed manually by “skimming” the must with ramine or strainers. Then cooking is continued over low heat and at a temperature around 65 ° C for many hours (from 24 to 36 hours).

Generally, the cooked must is ready when most of the water has evaporated, approximately until the liquid is restricted to half its original volume. 

Cooking of grape must


The cooked must has nowadays been included within the certified category of PAT, the Italian Traditional Agri-food Products, recognized by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.


  • COLOR: dark brown with amber reflections. The color of the grapes used should not be misleading: the must, precisely because it is cooked for a long time, will always be dark, no matter whether you use red or white grapes.
  • CONSISTENCY: particularly thick and viscous liquid
  • BOUQUET: with an intense perfume
  • TASTE: sweet and fruity, it can recall fig or plum jam
Freshly cooked grape must



Cooked must is an ancient product as much as grape cultivation. Also known by the name of SABA (or sapa), the cooked must was first of all a natural sweetener, already used in the course of ancient history, in Roman times, who obtained it by cooking the grape must twice: with the first cooking they obtained a sweet sauce called DEFRUTUM (already used as a natural sweetener and energizer); with the second cooking they obtained sapa, a viscous and very sweet compound, doubly concentrated.

The sapa was available to the rich but above all available to the farmers of the past, to cheer up the kitchen with sapa-based desserts on holidays, especially in the cold season.

Our grandparents still remember that delicacy that could only be tasted when the snow fell abundantly in our countryside: a glass full of fresh snow, enriched with cooked must: the first granita in history!

Diluted with water, it became a thirst-quenching and energetic drink.

Cooking room
    • The use of cooked must has remained today in traditional dessert recipes, especially Christmas, where it can be used instead of sugar, giving sweetness, fruity flavor and a brown color to the dough. Many Italian regions have within their confectionery tradition the use of cooked must.

In Emilia Romagna, for example, there are biscuits made with the addition, in the dough, of cooked must, called SABADONI, which are then also wet with cooked must once they are taken out of the oven.

Instead of on the snow, nowadays we can greedily put it on top of a vanilla or cream ice cream, or on panna cotta.

Cooking of the must at Acetaia Sereni

But we must not forget the use of cooked must also on salty food! Fantastic in accompaniment with cheeses, both seasoned ones, also very tasty such as goat or sheep cheeses, but also on fresh ricotta. Naturally, the pairing with the king of cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano, is perfect.

In Modena and its province, cooked must has always been used to make wine vinegar sweeter, today also thanks to regulations that allow to maintain the ancient local tradition, which with the addition of cooked must becomes sweet and sour, dark brown and dense, in effect becomes Balsamic Vinegar!

Balsamic vinegar PGI aging barrels

The balsamic vinegar of Modena PGI, certification obtained in 2009, is in fact made with these two natural ingredients, cooked must and wine vinegar, in different percentages (other ingredients may also be added, but the best quality is the one that has only these two ingredients!).

The lower the percentage of wine vinegar present, the higher the quality of the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI. For example Acetaia Sereni produces Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI with a very low quantity of wine vinegar, only 20%, in its White Label aged 8 years in oak barrels.

Also in Modena and its province is produced the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, what is called the Black Gold of Modena, the one that the Modenese people guarded and still jealously guard today in their attics in the countryside, where it is aged for a long time in batteries of barrels of decreasing measure for a minimum of 12 years. This sweet and sour nectar is made with a single ingredient, our Mosto Cotto, which naturally acetifies inside barrels called Badesse and becomes balanced, intense and pleasant on the palate thanks to long aging.

The DOP certification was obtained in 2000, and since then, also by regulation, not only by tradition, the one and only ingredient of this Traditional Vinegar is cooked grape must.

Grape must's fermentation


In the ancient peasant tradition, cooked must was also used for the treatment of seasonal ills. But above all it was used in the fields, diluted with water, as a natural energizer and thirst quencher. It was then used as a syrup for airway congestion and as an emollient balm for infants.

Even today it is a healthy product with many properties, if consumed in purity, thanks to the richness of polyphenols and antioxidants, which counteract free radicals and cellular aging. It is also used in case of cough and sore throat and in case of intestinal pain due to fermentation.