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The making of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – I

Hi everyone, my name is Giuseppe Pedroni and I’m the owner of a small farm in the province of Modena.

“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a type of balsamic vinegar produced in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy”

Here we are in the vineyard where we have our Trebbiano di Spagna grapes. 100% Trebbiano di Spagna. This vineyard is used exclusively for the production of traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena (or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena). It is the best type of grape to use for this product, because there are high quantities of sugar in the berries close to the stalk, but stable acidity levels in the smaller berries further down the bunch.

This type of plant does not produce large quantities of grapes, but it has a distinctive type of must and perfume. When the fruit is cooked, it has an exceptional aroma, far superior to other grape varieties, which is why we choose to use it for our product. It has a far superior must to other grapes used to produce balsamic vinegar in this area, which mainly include other varieties of Trebbiano and Lambrusco.

Our tractor is now positioning itself on one side of the vine, whilst the harvester will ride over the top. From behind, you can see how the machinery beats the vine, causing the grapes to fall onto two small conveyor belts that bring the grapes up into the harvester. All that’s left on the vine are the bare stalks.

This method enables us to harvest the grapes almost intact, which is an important element in achieving a superior quality of wine. They are as pure as possible, helping to ensure the wine is made in the best possible way, using the most advanced technology available – such as this next generation machinery you see here.

Inside the machine, you can see the beaters, which vibrate at variable speeds to shake the vine and cause the grapes fall onto the conveyer belts below. The grapes then move up through the machine on further conveyor belts with containers attached, and into a sorter, which separates the grapes from leaves and stalks. So this job gets done out here on the field right on top of the harvesting.

Automatic harvesters have been around for about 20 years. Previously, they only existed in France, and the best ones are French. They came to Italy about 15 years ago. These machines are modified to suit Italian vines, as French vines are generally shorter. The soil here in Emilia Romagna is incredibly rich and provides the vines with all the nutrition they need, so we can cultivate very robust vines which grow very well. The black tube you see along the vine here is our irrigation system, which feeds the plants with water from local sources – another factor that helps us to produce grapes to the highest possible standard.

This is the oldest part of our vineyard, where my great-grandfather planted these three rows of vines. We use a manual harvester for these vines, because they are so old that they aren’t suitable for the automatic harvester. As you can see, these vines have quite impressive trunks – pretty large – which is because they are 60-70 years old.

“Trebbiano di Spagna: the best variety of grape to produce Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena”

Now we’ll go ahead with the harvesting of our Trebbiano di Spagna, which, as I mentioned earlier, is the best variety of grape to produce traditional balsamic vinegar. This bunch demonstrates that perfectly – the smaller grapes at the end have high acidity and the larger grapes near the base are high in sugar. So even though this variety does not produce very large quantities, its naturally high levels of acidity make it very suitable for transformation into vinegar.

Let’s harvest some of these grapes so we can take them in to be crushed, and then the must can be cooked.

We have had heavy rain over the past few days, and as a result, these grapes have been slightly damaged. This would be a problem for wine production but not for traditional balsamic vinegar. This is because once these grapes have been crushed their must will be cooked. So from a hygiene point of view there are no issues because the must is sterilized through the cooking process.

The harvester has reached the end of the vine, so it’s time to unload. The collection wagon is positioning itself to collect the grapes, which are already partly crushed. We try to ensure that the least possible amount of time passes between harvesting and bringing the grapes in for processing in order to obtain a high quality product.

The collection wagon will now travel to the cellar where the grapes will be processed.

The cellar is a few hundred metres away. We’ll go there now to see the next steps in the process.

First of all, we weigh the load to see how much we have harvested.

“Ok, go!”

We have 2755 kilos as you can see here on this print out. But we have to subtract the weight of the wagon.

2755 kilos, the wagon is 1370 kilos, so we have just under 1400 kilos of Trebbiano. This shows just how little this variety of grape produces, considering this harvest was from four vines.

The next phase in the process is to position the wagon so that this machine can process the harvest. It removes any remaining leaves, stalks or other impurities from the grapes.

As soon as we open the hatch the must comes pouring out. The destemming machine below removes any stalks and leaves that the harvester missed. The must comes pouring out before the grapes. The must is not pale green, but rather a pale yellow. Colour is another indicator in the production of high quality traditional balsamic vinegar. It is quickly becoming brown, so the final product will be darker than those made with other varieties of grapes.

My grandmother used to say sgualtir l’uva, which means “crease the grapes”.

I’m going to go up and see how much is left in the container. We should be nearly finished, but I need to check to be sure.

“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: pushes the grapes and must out”

Inside the container, you can see the feeding screw, which pushes the grapes and must out. It is a slow operation, because the machine has to process all of the grapes and there isn’t very much liquid to lubricate it.

The destemming machine gets rid of the parts of the harvest that we don’t need – the leaves, the stalks, and the grape skins. The grape must is then sucked out through this tube and into a vat.

We can follow the tube all the way to the vat. Here we can see the level of product inside the vat and you can see that the pulp is already starting to separate from the liquid. Water and glycol passes through here and the temperature is reduced so the contents of the vat is chilled. You can see how the condensation has frozen at the top of the vat. Our aim here is to reduce the Trebbiano di Spagna down before we transfer it from the vat to the press.

Now let’s turn on the pump to churn out the must, and then we can open this tap on the vat. At this point, we have a lot more must than we do pomace. The must is pumped out into the press.

The press is slowly filling up, and as you can see, the must is already starting to drain out. The machine turns slowly so that the pomace is completely pressed and we get as much juice as possible.

We’ve turned the pump on and the must is draining out – as you can see the container is already almost empty – and it is transported into this tank. It enters the tank through this tube here. We can release the must from the tank by opening this valve, and transfer it back into our boiler to be cooked.

“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is part of the most ancient, authentic traditions of Modena”

Here we have our Trebbiano di Spagna, which has already started to change colour through the natural process of oxidisation. Once it is cooked, it becomes even darker. From this boiler, we will begin the process of creating traditional balsamic vinegar. It all starts with the cooking of the must. This process dates back 2,000 years to the time of the Romans, who used it as a sweetener and as an ingredient in the winemaking process. 2,000 years later, here in Modena, we have developed our own process which results in traditional balsamic vinegar, but which has the same origin – cooked must. There are no other vinegars in the world that are concentration-based. Normally, vinegars are principally alcohol-based.

The probe that you can see here in the boiler constantly monitors the temperature of the liquid. We keep the temperature at around 90 degrees through an automatic system that regulates the burners underneath. This ensures the must never boils – if it does the must can get a slightly bitter taste, which can be a little unpleasant.

The foam that you can see are residual impurities rising to the surface of the liquid, which is mostly sugar at this stage. This purification happens for the first hour or so of cooking.

We have just turned on the mixer. Mixing the liquid keeps it homogenous and creates a vortex, which brings the foam into the centre. This helps to bring out any residual impurities such as any remaining pomace.

Let’s turn on the boiler. When the liquid reaches our set temperature, the heater will automatically turn off. It will automatically come back on again when the temperature falls.

15 hours have passed and our liquid has reduced by about 25%. The reason for this is because the water that was in our Trebbiano grapes has evaporated.

“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made from the must of the characteristic grapes of Modena”

Next, we’ll transfer our must into a steel container. It will slowly start to ferment and develop alcohol, which is what we need it to do before we can turn it into traditional balsamic vinegar.

Let’s have a taste of the product we have created. As you can see, it has already changed colour. The must has already become a little more transparent after 15 hours of cooking, as the sediments have settled away to the bottom of the container. It’s still a bit hot – you can see the condensation on the glass here. It’s about 30 degrees.

This liquid will become about 10% alcoholic, which is the level we need in order to transform it into traditional balsamic vinegar. By next summer, the alcohol in this cooked must will become acetic acid.

At the moment, it has a sweet taste. But as I mentioned earlier, Trebbiano di Spagna has a certain amount of acidity to it. So it’s slightly dry as well.

Here we have the cooked must that you saw just now. Thanks to this tube, we can empty the tank very quickly. Let’s follow the tube to see where it goes.

This is where the alcoholic fermentation starts. The sugar in our cooked must will become alcohol – around 7 or 8% to 10-12%. Sometimes it even gets to 13%. It depends on the level of sugar in the must.

“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The art of waiting”

This is an important phase because the alcoholic content will enable us to transform the cooked must into vinegar. Acetic acid bacteria mean the alcohol will acetify in our barrels – but this won’t happen until next year.

 

Watch the whole reportage

THE MAKING OF ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE DI MODENA – I

THE MAKING OF ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE DI MODENA – II

THE MAKING OF ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE DI MODENA – III

 


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