Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-12-15
Supposing you’ve got one truly exceptional Christmas gift to give, my choice would be a small bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena. Not just any bottle, naturally. Even though all balsamic vinegars officially come from Modena, only Tradizionale-Modena vinegar is made strictly according to tradition.
Used since the Middle Ages, aceto balsamico tradizionale is an exceptional vinegar whose sweet harmonies, velvety texture and aromatic intensity enthral the bona fide gourmet. Just a few drops of this exquisite nectar (which keeps for up to 150 years!) suffice to awaken a salad, transform fish or meat, or give a bit of zing to some cheese or dessert.
Ideally, balsamic vinegar is made from a blend of two grape musts, trebbiano (white) and lambrusco (red). The process begins by heating the musts for 72 hours at 85°C. The deep brown syrup that results is then mixed with old vinegar, thus beginning a fermentation process which will last for 4 to 6 years.
Aceto balsamico tradizionale is not made in cool cellars, but in old attics with creaky floorboards - freezing in winter, stifling hot in summer, and constantly affected by fog and humidity. Far, far removed from our modern, tightly controlled methods, it is these differences in the weather which produce the precious liquids. They are not aged in ordinary containers, but in barrels made from a combination of cherry, ash, juniper, oak, chestnut, mulberry and/or black locust woods.
In Modena, each one of the 270 family businesses which have the right to use the requisite tradizionale label has its own secrets and manufacturing techniques. Some may add a bit of cinnamon and cloves to their vinegar; others a pinch of coriander and liquorice...
How to choose among them? Those of the Leonardi family, vinegar-makers since 1871, are at the peak of the art. Free of artificial colouring or preservatives, they positively shine due to their complexity and elegance. Über-chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Joël Robuchon, who cook for the Élysée Presidential Palace in Paris and the Monaco Royal Palace, make great use of Leonardi vinegar, which they readily serve ‘as is’ with a porcelain or mother-of-pearl spoon to add a little something special to a dish. Sublime and rare, 150-year-old Leonardi vinegar is an ethereal, delicate liquid which may enhance a few grains of caviar placed inside oysters served on a slab of ice: now that’s luxury!
Leonardi Balsamic Vinegar
Via Mazzacavallo 62
Tel: (39) 059 554 375