If you are looking for a holiday destination which is warm and sunny, with lots of culture and history, Modena in Northern Italy could the place for you. There’s stunning gothic and baroque architecture such as the Cathedral and the Ducal Palace, but the city is perhaps best known for its connection to the balsamic vinegar. The condiment is so important to the town that there are many local events and celebrations, such as the Festival of Balsamic Vinegar held in June.
Balsamic vinegar has a long tradition in Modena, dating right back to the Middle Ages. Held in great esteem by chefs all around the world as a delicious condiment, balsamic vinegar is made from reduced white Trebbiano and Lambrusco grape juice, which is then aged in barrels. The end result is a thick, shiny syrup with an incredibly rich and complex flavour, produced by the different types of wooden barrel the balsamic vinegar is stored in during the ageing process.
The best – and some would argue, the only authentic – type of balsamic vinegar is known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. This bears no resemblance to the cheap balsamics you might find in a local supermarket. Thick, rich and sweet, it’s a luxury condiment that deserves to be savoured. Commercial grade balsamic vinegar is known as condimento balsamico and either has not been aged for the minimum 12 years or has been produced outside the Modena and Reggio Emillia regions. The imitation balsamic vinegar sold cheaply around the world is known as Aceto Balsamico di Modena, and has added ingredients such as caramel and thickeners.
If you’ve never tried the thick, glossy Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, it’s difficult to appreciate just how different it is from the salad dressings you may have tasted in the past. An expensive condiment, it is used in small amounts and typically added after the cooking has been completed, to allow the flavour to shine through. Because of the intensity of this true balsamic, it makes the perfect accompaniment for desserts; try spooning it over pears baked in syrup and adding a dollop of ricotta cheese – simply divine!
You can of course still use Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale for salad dressing too, or drizzled over cooked meats (for a mouthful of heaven try it with cooked pork loin chops….). But if you have a bottle of the really best balsamic, why not consume it like a local - and enjoy a thimble full of the amber nectar all on its own, as a post-dinner digestif? Go on, give it a try; you might be surprised at how wonderful it really tastes…