Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Making in Modena Italy: the Balsamic Cook

Just so we are clear: I love balsamic vinegar.  In absolute terms.  No pre-nup necessary.

Americans in general have sort of a silent love affair with this Italian concoction. We indiscriminately douse it on top of our olive oil and dip our little bread it at Italian restaurants and spatter it all over our salads until the leafy greens are no longer the main attraction.

They don’t do that in Italy.

Me? I don’t care about protocol. I would bathe in it, date it steady, and would even put with some mild domestic abuse from it. This isn’t simple hyperbole.

Evidence?

Here’s a sneak peek at what went down behind the scenes.

Yes. Drinking balsamic by the beer stein, because that is just how I roll.

Yes. Drinking balsamic by the beer stein, because that is just how I roll.

That’s me, our unemployable protagonist, shamelessly drinking this sweet nectar- out of a beer stein (Note- this was not merely for a photo op). Even the Godfather of Acetaia Villa Bianca, where this story takes place, had his mouth drop when he saw my raw unquenchable thirst. So when I had the chance to snag a job making balsamic, you better believe I jumped on it.

And that is how this story begins, in the birthplace of traditional balsamic vinegar – what I dub ‘the good stuff’ – in Modena Italy; where one of my favorite jobs to date took place.

Modena Italy

 

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Making Modena Italy

Definitely too much

Definitely too much

It wasn’t my first time working in Italy. I have dabbled tossing dough in Rome, honed my Michelangelo like sculpting ability making the ancient and rare Piadina Pan, and even hustled tourists in the Vatican hawking tours along side swarms of Bangleshis. Needless to say, I know how to start a work day in Italy.

It usually goes something like this:

8:00 am: Turner slaps snooze button

8:45 am: Oh shit, oh shit. Turner proceeds to nearest Italian corner cafe for ritualistic Italian breakfast: cappuccino, pastry, cigarette, and a shot of espresso.

9:00am: Turner attempts to understand ticket machine at train station. Turner notices five other groups of Italians debating emphatically which button to push.

9:10am: Turner smokes cigarette while waiting for train. Spots Italian beauty in skintight leather pants. Turner misses train accordingly.

9:20: Turner embarks on Italian train to Modena. Shortly thereafter, he realizes he is going in the wrong direction. Distress and Italian swearing ensue.  Turner sees another Italian beauty. All is well in the world again.

10:00am: Turner arrives at Modena train station. Finds another Italian café and has another quick espresso. Turner likes caffeinated beverages .

10:15: An Taxicab jolts in and out of the old city sputtering at passersby “Che Cazzo”  something.  Turner is dropped off at mysterious Villa Bianca whose gates magically open at his arrival

10:20am Turner meets his future inlaws the Biancardi family and his life is changed forever as he revels in the day to come. Learning the secrets of traditional balsamic.

The rest of the day can be better explained via photography without speaking in the third person.

 

I get out fitted with the Balsamic making attire - in this case, what you wear when picking grapes off the vine. Can't believe they gave me a sharp object to play with.

I get out fitted with the Balsamic making attire – in this case, what you wear when picking grapes off the vine. Can’t believe they gave me a sharp object to play with.

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I really get into the spirit.

I really get into the spirit.

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Spirit...until I actually have to work carrying the grapes.

Spirit…until I actually have to work carrying the grapes.

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I even get to take the rig for a ride

I even get to take the rig for a ride

Diva

Diva

Into the grape separator machine they go...

Into the grape separator machine they go…

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Into the juicing bin.

Into the juicing bin.

Confused, as usual.

Confused, as usual.

First batch of juice gets funneled...just like juicing at home

First batch of juice gets funneled…just like juicing at home

Now gotta use a pressure system to push out the difficult children through the grape smasher.

Now gotta use a pressure system to push out the difficult children through the grape smasher.

century old.

century old.

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Occasionally one must kill fruit flies

Occasionally one must kill fruit flies

I take to this job.

I take to this job.

Maybe too much

Maybe too much

Around the villa, even approaching winter in Italy you can find beauty

Around the villa, even approaching winter in Italy you can find beauty

villa bianca

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Eventually the grape juice makes it way into this bad boy for heating and the final prep before it is barreled.

Eventually the grape juice makes it way into this bad boy for heating and the final prep before it is barreled.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – the pure stuff vs. regular Balsamic Vinegar – the street stuff

The pure stuff is aged for 12 to 25 years.

The pure stuff is aged for 12 to 25 years.

Warning: While you will see many Balsamic Vinegars say “di Modena”, only the ones designated “Traditional” or “Tradizionale” is the real deal. 

Truly an art

Truly an art

Traditional balsamic comes from Modena Italy, a city in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. For the tourist hordes that flock every year to the popular Florence, Siena and Venice, it is smack dab in the middle – hidden to those who do not fully understand and appreciate this Italian delicacy. Only balsamic that comes from this region can be dubbed “traditional”, as it is derived directly from grapes which have evolved and grown in Modena (& Emilia Romagna) over centuries and has undergone a very specific process, unlike its uglier cousin which comes from the alcoholic liquid we use to get boozy. Traditional balsamic is the pure stuff – aged in wood barrels for 12 to 25 years and undergoes a complex fermentation and oxidation process that involves fire and knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Like everything else in Italy that involves tradition with perfection in mind: the smallest details matter.

The Italians just do it better.

Oh so good the Godfather hands me a beer stein.

Oh so good the Godfather hands me a beer stein.

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The look of pure satisfaction.

The look of pure satisfaction.

25 years later - you have the real, traditional balsamic. This is what the foodies are about.

25 years later – you have the real, traditional balsamic. This is what the foodies are about.

 

Forget that I Love Lucy shit. No one stomps grapes with their feet anymore for wine or balsamic. Traditional balsamic like anything else classic, takes time, precision, and love of the original.

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I enjoyed being a Traditional Balsamic Maker so much, that I somehow talked the Family into letting me come back with a video crew and shooting a little promo video for their Acetaia. Here a teaser video of what’s to come.

Turner barr
turnerbarr@gmail.com

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

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