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Retracing vinegar

Feb 16, 2023

Sulle tracce dell’aceto

(Luca Martinelli - December 2021)

The traditional recipe has bowed to industrial pressure: Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP must remain in Modena or Reggio Emilia for only two months and there’s no transparency when it comes to ingredients. It’s an example of “gastro-nationalism”. We approached the consortium and the certifying body Csqa (csqa.it) to gain information about the provenance of the must. The former replied that “the consortium does not
have this information”, while the latter said that “Csqa does not verify the geographical provenance of the ingredients”, adding that “the entirety of the must used to produce Aceto Balsamico di Modena now comes from Italy”. Nothing is known, on the other hand, about the provenance of other vinegars (wine and aged wine) that are permitted by the production regulations. And yet, the regional councillor for agriculture in Emilia Romagna, Alessio Mammi, talks about Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI as “a speciality [...] whose identity should be defended at all costs against any attempt at imitation and/or usurping of its good name”. Hisstatements made in November 2021 were aimed at Slovenia, which had asked the European Union to be able to sell “balsamic vinegar”. For Mammi, it’s “daylight robbery”, even though the appropriation refers to something for which only 60 days are needed to obtain citizenship and which does not power local economies, such as farming. An industrial product whose production is around 100 mln litres per year, available everywhere in the world is very different than the traditional PDO version, whose production is in proportion 0.0001%.
This type of conflict verges on the surreal between Italy and a country with which there are policing agreements for border control, but which would threaten our food and farming heritage.“Alone, the PDO cannot permit the economic sustainability of any company. That’s why I produce, like many others, a balsamic too, which I label as ‘Balsamico San Giacomo’, without laying claim to the PGI. I do it because I nevertheless only use one ingredient: cooked must,” explains Bezzecchi, which also has an organic agricultural company, where he produces the grapes that make the must as well as purchasing it from another three producers, all of which are certified. The label for Balsamico San Giacomo also states the wording “balsamico senza aceto” (balsamic without vinegar), which means that he does not follow the PGI production regulations. In 2014, Bezzecchi was cautioned by the Consorzio tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena with a final cease and desist regarding the use of the word “balsamico” on the label.
The risk for the owner of Acetaia San Giacomo is that Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI cannibalizes Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale from below.

Today even the aceto contained in the bottles on sale in supermarkets becomes darker and thicker, which are the characteristics of the finer traditional balsamic. These traits, however, are not the product of time, but of machinery, which also enable glazes or pearls to be made from balsamic vinegar. But the competition comes from above too, with the diffusion of non-PDO products but more and more expensive, sometimes much more than the real traditional PDOs, praising extraordinary numbers that don’t reflect a real ageing but general indications (100 refillings, 50 moons…) Clearly, also in this case it is a product of which we have no information regarding the origin of the raw materials or their transformation, but which in addition to imitating the appearance and
flavor of the traditional PDO also tries to exploit its high price.