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Aceto balsamico di Modena is a concentrated, syrupy, dark brown balsamic vinegar with a deep complex aroma; just a few drops of it in any sauce or salad will give it a unique flavor. But what makes aceto balsamico di Modena so special and why is so expensive? Well, as the name implies, authentic balsamic vinegar is only made, following an age old tradition, in the counties of Modena and Reggio Emilia which form part of the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy. The mosto (grape juice before fermentation is complete) from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes is boiled until it has been reduced to half its original volume; this liquid, which is called sapa, is then put into small casks to mature. The casks are laid out in rows layered one on top of the other and every year the content of one layer of barrels is poured into those of the row beneath, and so on. Each row of barrels is made from a different type of wood, each of which infuses the liquid with its own particular aroma: castagno (chestnut), ciliegio (cherry), gelso (mulberry), ginepro (juniper), and quercia (oak). The process takes a minimum of five years, which explains the rarity and the high price of authentic aceto balsamico di Modena DOP. The special reserve balsamic vinegar is bottled in 200 ml ampolle (small glass bottles) designed by the Italian designer Giugiaro, with those reserved for 12 years having a capsula oro (gold lid) whilst the 25 years old Extravecchio (extra matured) reserve has a capsula avorio (ivory lid).
It is, of course, impossible to try to produce real aceto balsamico at home, but you might want to try this simple recipe for a nice home made aromatic vinegar:
Aceto al limone (lemon vinegar). You will need 1 liter of white wine vinegar and 3 un-waxed lemons. After having washed and dried the lemons, use a sharp knife to remove the rind (be careful to only use the yellow part of the rind); put the rind in a glass jar with a wide opening; pour the vinegar over the rind; close the jar tightly and leave it to infuse for at least 10 days after which time the vinegar is ready to be filtered and bottled. Aceto al limone is particularly good for dressing green salads and fruit salads, it also makes a really good accompaniment for fish.