DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena - Not the easily one that you find at the grocery store!


Do you already know which are the differences between the DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and the IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena?


And also, do you already know why locals love so much the authentic DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and feel it so much into their heart?


And again, do you know why this place is called Acetaia and what does the word mean?


Let's start us to explain you something!


We understood that it is important to first explain the meaning if the word “Acetaia” to the people who come, as it happened that many of them wrote on TripAdvisor or Airbnb reviews “...Acetaia is a very nice and friendly girl...” - referred to Sofia - we appreciate it, but unfortunately Acetaia is not the name of a person, but instead the place itself. Acetaia is the name of the place where balsamic vinager is produced and aged, as in Italian balsamic vinegar is “aceto”, that’s why we call it acetaia and an actual translation doesn’t exist. 


Over there you can see written “Acetaia Malagoli Daniele”: we have just explained what acetaia is, then Malagoli is the family name and Daniele is the owner of this acetaia, Sofia's dad.


After that we can start telling you something more like...


Do you already know the difference between the balsamic vinegar of Modena IGP and the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena DOP? Basically, there are two products in the market:


1)On one hand, there is the one that everybody knows and can find at the supermarket, at the grocery store, in many restaurants all over the world. This is the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and it is certified in Italy as IGP, which means Protected Geographic Indication. I guess this is the product you’ve always enjoyed for dressing your salad for example. This is the product everybody thinks to be the real one. Well, it doesn’t kill anyone and it is good to be used everyday, but it must not be confused with the authentic DOP traditional product.


2) On the other hand, we have the DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – the name is similar but it is not the same: the only word “traditional” is the difference in the name of the two products (balsamic vinegar of Modena vs traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena). We really hope to transmit the difference between these two products, as they cannot be compared, they are different, not even brothers, maybe cousins. 


We are not stating that one is better than the other, we are just saying that these are different products, born for different reasons. The IGP product – the one you can find everywhere – was born to be a business, to make money, as it is a daily and cheap product and can be sold all over the world with no limits. The other product – the DOP one – is the result of a centenary tradition and it is a great part of our local culture since more than a thousand years. 


Moreover, the certification sounds similar but different: 

- IGP = protected geographical indication

- DOP = protected designation of origin


This sounds ridiculous, a person like you, who lives abroad, can understand the difference between the products only for the word “traditional” or the certification acronym? 


Let’s start from the IGP balsamic vinegar and how it is made.


This must be made with at least 2 ingredients, never less than two. Do you have any idea about which these ingredients could be?

The two ingredients are: concentrated cooked grape juice (mosto in Italian, which is not "must" in English, because must means the grape juice together with seeds and skin. In Italian “mosto” means only the grape juice) and wine vinegar. Then, the producers are allowed to add other ingredients like sulphites.

Do you know why do they have to add sulphites? To stop fermentation process.

They also are allowed to add colorants to make the product colour look darker, sugar to make it sweeter, caramel and liquorice to make it thicker. Basically, they try to add ingredients to make it look more similar to the authentic Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.


Moreover, another great difference is the ageing, the number of months/years that the balsamic vinegar has to be aged. How much do you think that the IGP one is aged? Come on, this was born to do business, they don’t have time so much time to wait. If there is nothing written on the label about the ageing, it is aged for two months (60 days). For this reason the producers have to add other ingredients to make it darker, thicker and sweeter, because in 60 days in stainless steel silos, the product cannot reach the same characteristics of the one which ages for many years in wooden barrels. They need a help. Only when you read the word “invecchiato” (= aged in English) on the label, this implies 3 years of ageing in wooden barrels (bigger than the ones you can see in a Traditional Acetaia).

Be careful because the market is busy of fake products. For example, all the references about the ageing being put on the product label, like number of years of ageing for example, are not allowed. Maybe you have seen them many times at the supermarket balsamic vinegar with years of ageing indicated on the label, have you? Like 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 50, 100...looks like a lottery honestly!


Well,  the Italian law does not allow to do that and the reason why stands in the production technique. You don’t know exactly how old a balsamic vinegar is. So, be careful. One of the reasons why we are so glad to welcome people at the acetaia is because we would like to illustrate them the difference between the commercial product and the product of our tradition. People are not obliged to buy our products, but they should know the differences between the products in general and what the law says, because only when people are aware they are able to choose. Otherwise, people trust labels and many times they are fake. So be careful as the years of ageing are not allowed to be indicated on the balsamic vinegar label by the Italian law.


There are other differences that can help you to distinguish the two products:


- The bottle: the IGP balsamic vinegar must be at least 250 ml, it cannot be smaller, but can be bigger. And the colour of the bottle glass is often dark (not like the extravergin olive oil which has to stay in a dark bottle to be better conserved) and this is so smart of the producers, because when people look at the colour of the product they think that it is darker than it actually is and so the product is aged and good. The dark glass helps the product to look darker.

As we said before, this product doesn’t kill anyone. You can use it to dress your salad, to do experiments in your kitchen with dishes. But please, don’t confuse it with the authentic DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. This is made to be a daily product! People all over the world can easily find this product and it means it has a very large production. Do you know how big Modena is? It is not that big, and Italy as well is not a big country. And our grapes are used also for wine. It means we are not able to make all the grapes that the producers of the IGP balsamic vinegar need for this large distribution. That’s the reason why they are allowed to buy grapes from other countries because we don’t have a so much large production in only one province.


Let's now introduce you to the DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena!


The first time we heard some information about the traditional balsamic vinegar is thanks to a Latin poet, whose Italian name is Virgilio (maybe you know him, in English is Virgil). Do you know him? When do you think he was born?

He was born in 70 b.C. in Mantova, not so far from Modena. He wrote Eneide, and also Bucoliche and Georgiche. In particular, Georgiche is a short poem talking about the life in the countryside, for example what people used to do to make honey, corn, oil and he also talks about the traditional balsamic vinegar. He wrote Georgiche in the first century b.C., so it means more than 2.000 years ago. Of course, he didn’t say DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena different than the IGP balsamic vinegar, also because at that time there was only one product, and he calls it “sapa”. If we read what he wrote, we can understand he is talking about the authentic balsamic vinegar, just to understand that this product has been produced in this area for more than 2.000 years.


During the centuries, the balsamic vinegar becomes the most exclusive and important product ever of this area. In the 17th century in Modena there was the Duke, Mr. Francesco D’Este, and he used to travel a lot in Europe and he wanted to bring something to the people who he met at that time, a gift to thanks them. Do you know which where the most precious products at that time? What do they use to bring as special gifts? For example tea, chocolate, coffee, gold, diamonds... however, people had the opportunity to have these products only if they lived near the sea due to the maritime trade, as they were being transported by boat from Asia or Latin America.

Do you know where Modena is on the map? It is not close to the seaside, so in the past it was really hard to have those special products. The Duke couldn’t bring a piece of pork meat for example, it would have be insane, as he used to travel for many weeks. After a while, he had the idea to bring people bottles of balsamic vinegar, that’s why many people in that century started to know the balsamic vinegar and they started to call it Modena’s black gold.

Have you ever heard the balsamic vinegar called Modena’s black gold? For the marketing it is perfect, but there’s also an historical reason, because this product has been the only kind of gold we have ever had in Modena. 


If you know where an Acetaia is, do you understand why it is under the roof and not in the basement?

Because of humidity and temperature. We need the difference of temperature – cold winter and hot summer – and this is the only product that needs this temperature difference. Wine and liquors for example rest in the basement as they need constant temperature. And you can also see that all the windows are kept open, because oxygen is a fundamental ingredient (if we can call it like this) for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar ageing process. 


We have different barrels with different sizes, positioned in a line from the biggest to the smallest one. This line of barrels is called “batteria” in Italian: it is composed of at least 5 barrels that have different sizes and are made of different kinds of wood. 


The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a part of our tradition and locals love it so much. Some of or barrels are customized:

a. One belongs to Wilma Emilia, a young German lady born in October 2018 – so she’s one year old. Her parents came to live in Modena because they work in here. As soon as they learnt about our traditions and Julia (the mom) was pregnant, they asked to Sofia to buy a batteria of barrels for them and take care of it. They wanted to give to their daughter a meaningful gift belonging to her native land, as they don’t know if they will always live here. 


Indeed this is part of our story: the batteria used to represent the dowry of a daughter in the past. When a woman was pregnant, the family used to start a batteria for the daughter, in order to let the girl have a very precious dowry once she would have married, a very special gift for her husband. This is another reason why this product is part of our tradition, this was not born to be a business, it is part of our local culture since generations.

This is the point: to make you understand the value of this product. At the end of the tour, you will taste our products, if you like it we are very happy and appreciate that, but the important thing is to transmit and to breath this sense of tradition. The value of this product stands in the tradition, culture and history that it represents. Balsamic vinegar is in our blood and bones since generations.


Now we’ll talk about the DOP traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena. The DOP one has to be bottled in this specific bottle.


Have you ever heard Modena to be called “the land of fast cars and slow food”? There are many connections between food and cars in Modena and this bottle is a symbol of this association. The DOP traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena needed a special and exclusive bottle for such an exclusive and traditional product. In 1987 in Italy there was a very famous car designer who was working for a few automotive companies. At that time, he was working for Enzo Ferrari, but he also worked Alfa Romeo cars and many others. His name is Giorgetto Giugiaro, who designed this particular bottle, which has been chosen to be the bottle for the authentic DOP Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Only one size is allowed by the Italian law (100 ml) and the glass must be white transparent. This means that the colour of the product is the real one, not as bottles for IGP which we said before that are normally with black glass.


The DOP one has only one ingredient – not at least two as the IGP balsamic vinegar. This only ingredient is cooked grape juice. This means not adding wine vinegar, no sugar, no colorants, no sulphites, no liquorice, no caramel. Well, maybe a bit of patience, passion and love, because it really need those things as the minimum ageing of a balsamic vinegar is measured in years. What do you think is the minimum amount of years of ageing for a traditional balsamic vinegar? By law, the traditional balsamic vinegar has to be aged at least 12 years.


For the DOP one we have two types of ageing:

- The one with the red cap (which can also be white, yellow, green... it’s up to the producer but the red one is the most commonly used) which is called “Affinato”: this is aged from 12 to 25 years. I will explain later why i’m saying from 12 to 25 and not a specific year.

- The one with the golden cap, it must be golden for everybody, and this kind of ageing is called “Extra-old”, “extra-vecchio” in Italian, and it is aged at least 25 years.


So, now you can compare the differences between the IGP commercial product and the DOP traditional and certified product. When we talk about food, DOP is a certification of excellence, it guarantees the best in quality. Other products who have DOP certification are for example the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and the real Prosciutto di Parma. Wines and liquors follow different regulations. DOP is always synonym of best quality and it means that everything must be from the place of the certification. As a result, DOP traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena means that everything must be from Modena, that’s why we can consider it as a limited edition. When our annual production of grapes is finished, it’s done, we cannot make it larger and we cannot produce higher quantity of product. Traditional balsamic vinegar must be produced with Modena grapes. We can use 7 different kind of grapes (e.g. Lambrusco, Trebbiano are the most commonly used). Do you know which grape colour are they? Many people think we only used red grapes as the colour of the balsamic vinegar is dark, but that is not true. It’s up to the producer to choose which kind of grapes use for the production.


For example we only use Trebbiano, which is white, we have our own vineyard. But why the colour at the end of the process of ageing is so dark? Because the only ingredient is the cooked grape juice. The fresh juice is yellow, but after much time of cooking, there’s a natural caramelization of the sugar which make the product darker. It becomes even darker resting in these barrels for years. 

Have you ever find at the supermarket the white balsamic vinegar? In case this is a fraud. The balsamic vinegar colour must be dark because of the caramelization of the sugar after cooking, it cannot exist a white balsamic vinegar. Maybe the IGP one is not as dark as the DOP one because of the ageing, but not white at all.


Do you'd like to learn more and discover this old tradition of Modena? Book your experience!