As I mentioned in previous posts, I spent some time in Italy a couple of years ago. One of the places that I vividly remember was the Mercato Centrale in Florence. This is the main market and houses a variety of commercial activities, as well as cultural and artisanal ones. Along the years this place has become the cities barometer. It is where people of all classes, from the artisocracy to the bourgeoisie mingle as they look for traditional products, as well as for an informal friendly chat. There you will find people looking for good value and natural products, tourists in search of fine wines, and Italian or foreign students spending their money to savour Tuscan delicacies. All mixed together, with the voices, colors and perfumes of a place that gives real pleasures to the senses and filled with incredible meats, cheeses, breads, pasta, fish, olive oils and vinegars. It is truely an experience that my daughter and I must have spent several hours exploring.
Of all the places in the market our favorite was a place called Baroni Alimentari. There they had cheese, wines and liquors, meats, fish, pasta, pickles, pate’s, honey & jams, olive oils and the best were the balsamic vinegars.
Never in my life had I experienced such incredible tastes as with their traditional balsamic vinegars drizzled over the most luscious parmigiano reggiano. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. There we sampled so many different varieties along with getting a tutorial on each and everyone.
Did you know that in medieval times balsamic vinegar was thought to have medicinal value, believing that they contained soothing qualities aiding in relieving pain? Years later it was set aside for special celebrations or set aside as special gifts for dignitaries.
Balsamic vinegar is dark in color and has a thick syrupy texture due to the high sugar content and condensing of the syrup with flavors that range from tart to sweet.
There are specific standards that go into the making of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. Great must is put in large barrels and placed in the attic for years to rest, then transferred from barrel to barrel as it reduces in size. It is transferred to different wood barrels in this order:
each one giving the vinegar a distinct flavor.
The grapes only come from the Emila-Romagna region a process that only takes place in a specific region called Modena.
After the 12-25 years of aging the traditional balsamic vinegar is taken to the Consorzio which grades the balsamic vinegar on color, taste and texture. After graded and approved it is bottled and given a serial code so that it can be authenticated.
Because so much care has gone into making traditional balsamic vinegar is gets granted the DOP status which stands for Denominazione D’Origine Protetta (Denomination of the Origin of Protection)
If you travel anytime soon to Florence be sure to make a morning or afternoon trip to the Mercato Centrale and visit Baroni Alimentari and all the other incredible vendors. It is something you absolutely can’t miss.
Hi, I’m Vicki Bensinger! I have been teaching culinary classes throughout Missouri since 1992. I offer personalized private culinary classes for individuals and small groups in the comfort of your home or organization.
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