Last week we indulged in a culinary tour that was quite unique and most enjoyable. Our first stop after leaving Bologna was to the Malpighi Balsamic Vinegar factory. The parents of our good friend Brian Cook suggested this establishment to us as an interesting and pleasant introduction to the intricacies of balsamic vinegar. Brian's parents were lucky enough to live in Bologna for several years and we were so happy to have their personal recommendation for this outfit...and they certainly didn't steer us wrong!
Monica Righi met us at the door and we were welcomed warmly into the gracious tasting area. There, she laid out several bottles of different types of vinegar produced on this family farm. First we tasted an orange vinegar that was so different and refreshing. We immediately thought of using this product as part of a marinade for fish or for a dressing for a citrus-based salad. Next was an apple vinegar, different from cider vinegar...much sweeter and more mild. Then came the actual balsamic vinegars. We started with a six year old, then moved on to a twelve year old and finally the grand-daddy of them all, the 25 year old product. The six year old vinegar was perfect for a salad dressing or marinade, the twelve year old was sweeter and denser and the 25 year old was almost syrupy and very intense. Of course, we had to make a couple of purchases and we are now the proud owners of our own bottle of 25 year old balsamic vinegar. We are awaiting the right moment to crack that baby open and maybe drizzle a few drops on some good parmesan cheese.
After our tastings, we were escorted up to the attic, where the barrels of vinegar are kept. They age their vinegars in the attic where it is drier to help with the evaporation of the liquid. Every barrel is open on the top, with a linen handkerchief over the hole to protect the vinegar from dust. Every year as the liquid evaporates, a certain percentage of the vinegar is moved from one barrel to the next, always diluting an older barrel with a younger one, and then allowing them each to evaporate for another year.
It's a very complex process, one which requires dedication and a long-term investment. In order for this or any vinegar to achieve the desired Balsamic of Modena label and the official bottle, it must pass inspection, both through taste tests and through visitations and observations. While many vinegars from other regions or even from as far away as China may be bottled in Modena and sold as balsamic from Modena, only the officially sanctioned vinegars will bear the seal of the cooperative that handles the quality control.
Malpighi vinegar is available in the USA at Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table. I can't wait to go home to see if I can find it at the mall! Check it out...it's worth the trip!