The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Barrels

Most people know the commercially produced balsamic vinegar which is used in salad dressings and other dishes. The real balsamic vinegar from Modena has to by law have the words ‘tradizionale’ on the label. Traditional balsamic vinegar is extremely costly because it cannot be mass produced. Only a handful of families living around Modena and Reggio Emilia have the skill and understanding to follow the complicated technique by which the vinegar is aged in a series of casks made of five different woods which in turn give a particular flavour to the vinegar. Some of the casks used date back to the 16th century and even the fumes are heady. Lucrezia Borgia, when married to the Duke of Modena, inhaled balsamic vinegar to alleviate the pangs of childbirth

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena
Traditional balsamico starts life with the must of the white Trebbiano grape, grown in the hills around Modena, which is harvested as late as possible to produce maximum sweetness. The balsamico is then aged in a series of wooden casks. The choice of wood for the casks where the balsamico is aged depends on the Master Vinegar-Maker but they usually start with oak. A typical order would be: Oak,  Chestnut,  Cherry,  Ash and then Mulberry

Although there is a constant “topping up” throughout the year balsamico to be bottled is only drawn from the last cask.

The consorzio, or Council of Balsamic Vinegar, guarantees that balsamico in the special bottles made for them in Murano is at least 12 years old. The bottles marked Extra Vecchio contain balsamico at least 25 years old.

Veal escalope with Balsamic vinegar
(Picccata all’ aceto balsamico)

The balsamic vinegar produced commercially is only a very pale imitation and will not really do very much for the veal in this recipe but a few teaspoonfuls of the real stuff work sheer magic. You do not cook with it. It is added to the pan juices.

6 thin slices of veal, beaten flat
30 ml olive oil
100 ml dry white wine
30g butter
6 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
flour
salt
black pepper

Lightly flour and season the slices of veal and brown in the heated olive oil. Add the butter and when it has melted and coated the meat, pour in the wine. Just before serving drizzle on the balsamic vinegar. In Modena they say you should be ‘frugal but not miserly’.

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