Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena D.O.P.
We have heard of grape must (freshly pressed grape juice) being used to produce wine. But when this must is cooked, it can be turned into a condiment which gives a different flavour and zing to your food. We’re talking about traditional balsamic vinegar (TBV), which finds its home in the traditions of Modena in Italy. Interestingly, it’s a tradition for a new battaria (a series of barrels to produce TBV) to be purchased when a girl is born into the family!
The grape must is mainly from the Trebbiano grape. Other grape varieties used sometimes include Lambrusco, Ancellota, Sgavetta, Berzmino, Occhio di Gatta, or Sauvignon. The must is boiled down to 30-50% of its original volume, cooked (not boiled) for around 12 hours (the cooking time can go upto 24 hours depending upon the producer) at a temperature of roughly 70°C so that the water, sugar, and grape juice form a concentrate. The cooked must is kept in a ‘mother barrel’ where it undergoes acetic bioxidation and fermentation by yeasts and acetobacteria.
In the first year, the must is poured in 5 aging barrels (number may vary), of decreasing sizes. These barrels, or battaria (battery), are of different woods – mulberry (concentrates it), oak (imparts a vanilla fragrance), chestnut (provides tannin and darkens it), cherry (sweetens the flavour), juniper (imparts a tangy flavour) – keeping in with the flavours to be imparted to the liquid. These barrels are covered with a mesh cloth to allow for evaporation and reduction of the liquid. By law, 20% of wine vinegar needs to be added.
The must remains in the barrels till the end of 12 years which is the minimum required ageing period. The ageing period may be longer (The oldest traditional balsamic vinegar of Boni Roano is 143 years old!). At the end of 12 years, a small portion is withdrawn from the smallest barrel to be bottled as 12-year-old TBV. Then, each barrel is topped up with the preceding, larger barrel to compensate for the finished vinegar taken for use and annual evaporation loss. Before bottling, the TBV is tasted and tested by the Consorzio Aceto Balsamico di Modena for quality, after which it is bottled for sale.
The process is completely manual and takes place in the natural temperature of the area. The barrels are usually stored in attics since they are suitable places for very hot temperatures in summer and cold temperatures in winter, and which favor fermentation, acetification and maturation processes.
During Grasparossa 2013, I had the privilege of visiting two family-run enterprises, producing TBV with an age-old family recipe for decades.
Boni’s Acetaia, is in existence for more than a century. They produce 100 litres of TBV each year in 100 ml bottles. They sell TBV of three types – young (15 years), mature (30 years), and old (50 years). The three differ in both taste and viscosity, the oldest one emitting the most complex flavours and aromas of the three.
La Vecchia Dispensa houses its barrels in Modena’s famed Prison Tower, located in the Piazza Grande (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). They produce both DOP and IGP balsamic vinegar. The IGP category is not TBV, but is balsamic vinegar for commercial production and aged for a shorter time.
Just a few drops of balsamic vinegar adds a different twist to your ready dish (TBV is not used for cooking) – be it meats, salads, cheese, eggs, vegetables, or even desserts and fruits! In fact, a teaspoon on its own serves as a digestive after dinner and according to many ensures a good sleep!
Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) Cheese D.O.P.
I visited a production unit of “The King of Cheeses” – Parmigiano Reggiano, more commonly known as Parmesan, the origins of which date back to nine centuries ago, right in and around the area of Modena. It started with the production of huge cheese wheels by the Benedictine Monks in the Middle Ages, without the use of additives and preservatives.
Even today, Parmigiano-Reggiano is the same – a natural product made from raw cow milk – and is a cheese with Designation of Protected Origin (DOP). So, the Parmigiano-Reggiano designation can be applied only to the cheese produced in the area of origin and using artisan methods specified in the Production Regulation (precise production methods, special diet of dairy cows, and rules for use of marks).
16 litres of milk (the milk has to be produced in the area of origin) produces 1 kg of cheese. The cheese is produced only once a day, early in the morning from milk that arrives in the morning and afternoon. The morning milk goes straight into production, while the afternoon milk remains all night so that the best part, the cream, rises up in the morning (the cream is used to produce butter). Each kettle produces two wheels of cheese and each wheel weighs roughly 48 kg. The only ingredients used are raw milk, rennet, and salt, and the technological process is carried out by artisans who transform the milk into cheese by hand, using expertise and the utmost care.
After the production process, the cheese is put into plastic moulds to be shaped into wheels, and each wheel receives a ‘mark of origin’ at the beginning of the ageing process. Each wheel is checked after 10-12 months by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano, and only after passing the quality test, does it receive a ‘grade selection mark.’ The minimum maturation period is 12 months, but it is only after 24 months of ageing that the cheese reaches its full potential.
We tasted three kinds of cheese, each of a different age, and they varied both in texture and taste.Overall, it was the colour that helped to recognize the age of the cheese.The 12 month-old cheese was not too hard, very tender, and provided a fresh taste of milk, cream, and fresh fruit. The 24 month old cheese was drier in comparison, with a grainy texture, and was reminiscent of spices, dry fruits, and cooked vegetables.The 30 month aged cheese was the easiest to digest and more crumbly than the other two.
The cheese has great nutritional value and has been included in many orbital diets in the past for astronauts going into space!
Prosciutto di Modena DOP
Drop in to a friend’s home in the Emilia-Romagna region, and chances are that you will be offered Prosciutto Ham (also known as Parma Ham or Modena Ham) as a snack. The production of Modena Ham is governed by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Modena.
An essential part of the diet of the region, this ham is produced in a traditional method since more than a century, with only salt as an additive. It is easily distinguishable from other meats by the bright colour of its cut, its savoury taste, and slightly sweet smell. It is essentially a lean meat with a good balance of fat and proteins, which pairs it well with wines from the area, especially Lambrusco!
So next time you visit the Emilia-Romagna area, look out for these products! Or if you’re lucky enough you might soon find them more visibly on the shelves of Indian grocery stores. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has somewhat made inroads into the Indian market.We’re waiting for traditional versions of the other two!
Rishi Vohra, CSW
Rishi Vohra is the Mumbai Correspondent of delWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators - USA. He has done an MBA in Sustainable Business from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law from WWF-India. His debut fiction novel, ‘Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai,’ is a bestseller and was recently awarded an honorable mention in the General Fiction category at the Hollywood Book Festival, and was the only book from India to be awarded at the festival. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Grasparossa 2013, Lambrusco, Modena, Italy, Emilia-Romagna, Prosciutto