Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia is made from grape must that has been drawn off, filtered, cooked and then aged in special barrels made of oak, chestnut, juniper, mulberry or cherry wood. The barrels vary in size from large to very small. A portion of the vinegar is the largest barrel is transferred to the second largest one, and so on down the row. It takes years to make traditional balsamic vinegar and requires constant care, which results in a high price tag. The same holds true for traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena.
The first written mention of this vinegar comes from 1046 when the emperor of Germany, Henry II, was traveling to Rome to be crowned and made a stop in Piacenza. Henry asked Bonifacio, the marquis of Tuscany and father of Matilde of Canossa, for the special vinegar that “he had heard they made very well there.” It was written in the poem Vita Mathildis by monk Donizone, the main biographer of the countess Matilde, that the coveted vinegar was made inside the walls of the castle, which would become very famous just a few years later for the meeting “of forgiveness” between pope Gregorio VII and emperor Henry IV. During the XII, XIII and XIV centuries, there is proof that vinegar was being produced in Reggio Emilia, Scandiano and other main cities nearby. The vinegar makers joined together to form groups that carefully kept the secrets of how their vinegar was made. Throughout the Renaissance, balsamic vinegar was often found on the table of the king and dukes, especially those of the dukes of Este. When in 1476 Alfonso I, the duke of Ferrara, came into power, balsamic vinegar got a major boost.
In fact, the entire dynasty that governed the dukedom of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Massa until 1859, told stories about traditional balsamic vinegar. Lodovico Ariosta, from Reggio, wrote in the third of his satires dedicated to his cousin Annibale Malaguzzi that “in my house, I cook turnips by putting them on a skewer, cleaning them and covering them with vinegar and sapa (concentrated grape must).” In 1863 in a publication by Fausto Sestini, it is written that “in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, people have made a particular quality of vinegar for centuries that has been given the name Aceto Balsamico due to its appearance and excellent aroma.” During the 19th century, it was recorded in Balsamic Vinegar was included in the dowry lists of the noble families of Reggio. At the time, it was common practice to include quality bottles (or vaselli) of balsamic vinegar and a battery of little barrels filled with vinegar in a noblewoman’s dowry.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia became a DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) product in 2000 and is produced exclusively in the province of Reggio Emilia. It is characterized by its dark, brown, shiny color; its dense consistency; strong, long-lasting aroma; and well-balanced, bittersweet flavor.