As our adventures continued during our time in Emilia Romagna, Italy, the Keeper Collection team broadened palates and knowledge once more, this time with a trip to Il Borgo del Balsamico. Here, we caught a glimpse into the traditional and ancient practice of making balsamic vinegar that is central to Italian cuisine, as explained by our personal guide Cristina Crotti, co-owner and proprietor of Il Borgo.
A Lesson in Balsamic Vinegar at Il Borgo del Balsamico
As the wrought-iron gates were opened to let us into the enticing garden, we knew we would gain insight into the historical perspective about Il Borgo and Balsamico.
Cristina’s father, Renzo, originally created and built a successful high-end fashion business. In 1971, Renzo sold his company in order to pursue making high-quality balsamic vinegar, and thus Il Borgo del Balsamico was born in the 18th century estate he purchased for a home and Balsamico production.
Today, within Il Borgo del Balsamico lie farmhouses and greenhouses that hold the hundreds of barrels and vats of aging vinegar, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as newly renovated accommodations by Cristina with an onsite bed and breakfast as a base to learn more about balsamic and for exploration in the area.
Cristina shared a story of a local Countess, Matilde of Canossa, and her family who gifted a bottle of “a special vinegar that flowed perfectly” in 1046 to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III while visiting the area, thus an early reference to the dark colored liquid.
Significant time and seasoned barrels are necessary to produce this extremely high quality product. The liquid must be aged for at least 12 years to be called balsamic vinegar, and the grapes used must be local. At Il Borgo, they largely use the local trebbiano variety. After a late grape harvest to insure high sugar, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed to produce a must of juice and sugar. Once the skins and pulps are filtered, the must is cooked over low heat for several hours in vats. Unlike wine that typically ages in cool, dark, temperature-controlled cellars, Cristina explained that they utilize traditional storage in the attic to allow for the seasons to influence the aging. Many of these timeworn aging vessels were actually passed down to Il Borgo del Balsamico from the once noble families of Reggio Emilia and Modena and continue to add prestige to their product. The older the barrels, Cristina shared, the better the vinegar will taste. She uses the solera method for aging and blends older vinegar with recent harvests.
In this short video, Cristina explains how they use several different wood types such as chestnut, cherrywood, juniper and more to provide different tastes for depth and balance in the balsamic.
The Keeper Collection team was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a private tasting with Cristina to compare balsamic vinegars produced at Il Borgo, including utilizing a special container created to assist in smelling the vinegar aromas, as seen here in this video.
Each label, yellow, orange and red, exhibits its own unique flavor profile and is recommended for different food pairings.
This variety has a classic and mildly pungent flavor. Pair with salad greens and vegetables for higher acidity and a clean taste.
This variety has been aged to a more full-bodied flavor and is best used in adding tang when cooking with roasted fish, vegetables or meats.
Il Borgo del Balsamico’s best-seller with a very soft and mild, yet complex flavor coming from its aging process in oak casts. Suggested pairings include cheese, fruit, ice cream, soft-boiled eggs, yogurt and vegetables.
A special thanks to Elio Altare, and his daughter Silvia Altare, who suggested we visit Il Borgo del Balsamico and learn from Cristina Crotti. This was our first balsamic comparative tasting and truly what a treat. We immediately knew we wanted to bring some home for the Keeper Chef to have in his ingredient bag, especially when we learned that it is not currently sold in the US. There are also recipes for food and cocktails that have been developed by chefs that love this product.