International Cooking School

Balsamic Vinegar

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena has a fascinating history reflecting the romantic battle between the sexes, adultery, religion and bribery dating back to the 1500's. Probably evolving from a barrel of wine centuries ago, this vinegar became so prized during the Middle Ages that it was considered a family treasure and given as gifts to bribe Kings and Popes.

Originally part of a woman's dowery, la batteria, a system of barrels containing varying ages of the vinegar, has been the domain of women. With their almost daily nurturing of something simple found in the home, after the chores are done and the family is fed, aceto balsamico has become one of the culinary foundations of women's empowerment in Italy today, worth millions of Euros. Now entire families are devoted to making balsamic vinegar the family business.

Usually handed down from grandmother-to-mother-to-daughter, it is typical to see the generations tending to the barrels together often with the tiny granddaughter watching intently while holding her mother's hand. The blending - the success of aceto balsamico - is developed over decades of personal dedication and experience, using instinct and sight, smell, taste and touch. Even hearing plays a part, for when you get really close to the barrel and listen ever-so-attentively, sometimes you can hear the gentle fermentation transforming this cooked grape juice into treasured thick syrup.

To make outstanding traditional balsamic vinegar, the producer must have rows of le batterie, of barrels, dating back several generations so the vinegars can be artfully blended. To be the best, these barrels must rest in the vinegar attic called an acetaia, not in a climate-controlled basement. The acetaia is open to the elements so the wooden barrels expand during summer flavoring the vinegar then contract during winter and consequently, the vinegar takes a winter hiatus. It takes decades to develop a full-bodied, balanced balsamic vinegar that passes the examination of the consorzio, is bottled in a special flask and labeled as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. (Any new producer, with barrels dating back only one or two generations at most, is limited in his quality and age of vinegar. If the barrels are new, and the "aging" area is climate-controlled or located outside the specified zone, the product is not traditional balsamic vinegar.)

In our courses, you will cook with the real Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. You will have a wonderful experience in a private visit with a multi gold-medal winning producer, at a respected traditional acetaia, with barrels dating back for several family generations, more than 150 years.

For cooking, there is no other vinegar like this in the world, whether it's French champagne or its precursor, Verjus, Chinese red or black, Japanese rice, Spanish sherry, distilled vinegar or British malt, best used for marinades, salad dressings and sauces. Since Balsamic Vinegar is created with the long, slow system of aging, similar to the solera system used for making sherry and some of Tuscany's Vin Santo, the resulting Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is not sharp or pungent. Instead, it is sweet, mildly tart with complex fruit, rather intoxicatingly addictive, the perfect anointment for many dishes. Like Vitamin C, aspirin or an apple-a-day, this culinary specialty suits numerous daily meals, as part of a marinade, in salad dressings, in raw and cooked sauces, in desserts and even as a flavor enhancer for fresh fruit. (Yes, that apple does taste so much better.) In class, we'll show you creative ways to enjoy it. Pssst...dab on a few drops of fine aceto balsamico as perfume.