Balsamic vinegar history, facts and legends
Balsamic vinegar history is far from complete and the origins of the product are lost in time.
A product based on aged must was used around europe for thousands of years as a sweetener and a preservative.
Sugar beet and cane were imported to Europe only following the discovery of America, and honey was generally too expensive for common people.
The origins of balsamic vinegar are not clear, but chance likely played a major role.
When must was left to ferment for long time, then out of chance a product similar to balsamic vinegar might have been discovered.
Most historical data are based around the province of Modena, where this product originates.
The more important signs are from the Duchy of Estense, based in Ferrara and then in Modena between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Balsamic vinegar was produced in the attics of the Academy of Modena and the ducal palace of the Estense family.
Historic documents confirm that following the Napoleonic Conquest, batteries of the Estense family were put up for auction.
Today, the discovery of just a single barrel of that precious collection would be a tremendous success.
The recipe of the traditional balsamic vinegar was first reported in detail in a letter from Advocate Gazzotti del Colombaro, written in 1862 to its friend Pio Fabriani.
The use of balsamic vinegar in the Renaissance
Nowadays we tend to compare all flavours in terms of sweet or salty.
However, the tradition of sweet and sour flavours was very strong in european cuisines of the Renaissance, in particular the Italian and the French.
Vinegars were an important part of this tradition.
The Estense family in Modena not only produced balsamic vinegar, but also sour vinegar, forte (lit. 'strong') vinegar and wine vinegar.
The latter unfortunately have been lost.
We only know of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena because it was likely the most precious and has mantained during the years and centuries its characteristics unaltered.
From history to tradition
Starting from the 16th and 17th centuries, every family in the territory of Modena, whether of noble, middle-class or rural origins, kept their precious vinegar in actics.
This tradition was spread and handed through the last centuries.
Today in the province of Modena at least 5000 to 6000 families still keep a battery of balsamic vinegar in their attics.
They guard it jealously, and keep it for their private use or their closest friends.
Receiving a vial of home-made balsamic vinegar as a gift is a great honour.
The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has been for centuries at the centre of great events in the history and culture of the people of Modena.
Events that define the lives of a family: birth, graduation, wedding.
Important events were also an excuse to setup and start a new battery of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
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