Imagine investing money, energy, time and patience for twelve years to get a single drop of something known in Modena, Italy as “Oro Nero” …. “Black Gold”. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 12 years before you can call it “Traditional”, a word said proudly by Sofia Malagoli, of the Acetaia Malagoli Daniele.
Before visiting the Acetaia, I had never really reflected on the word tradition and what it means. In Italy, there are so many “traditions” in every aspect of life. Much in the same way an artisan passes down his craft to his children, the craft of making Balsamic Vinegar begins in one generation and lasts for many.
The Story of a Tradition – The Acetaia Malagoli Daniele
Daniele Malagoli is an Engineer and a man with many passions. A travel lover, a citrus gardener, a collector of beautiful things and an aficionado of Balsamic Vinegar. Walking through his beautiful home, an antique barn and country house that he and his wife completely renovated to become one of the most breathtaking in the area, you quickly note his passions.
From the solarium filled with lemon trees to the entrance adorned with antiques, the most noteworthy of his “collections” is in the attic of the house, where you will find one of the largest “batterie” of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar producing barrels in the entire world.
In the 90s, he and his wife Barbara Piccinnini, owned a hotel that they managed in the area. High school sweethearts, they longed for a family, yet after over a decade of fertility treatments and several miscarriages they had accepted the fact that their family would remain in two. At that point Sig. Malagoli had already started dabbling in his passion of creating Balsamic Vinegar by buying a “Batteria” (collection) of barrels.
Although he would have loved to expand his collection, he was faced with the thought that there would be no one to leave it to, and then a miracle happened. After almost 15 years of trying to conceive, the couple had a successful pregnancy and Sofia Malagoli was born.
It is a little known fact that in this part of Italy it is an ancient custom for well-off families to give their sons a house as a dowry and their daughters a “batteria” for Balsamic Vinegar! Not long after Sofia’s birth, her mother Barbara was pregnant again with her sister! One of the special characteristics of the Malagoli collection is that every Batteria is a double! Two of each size barrel in a set, one for each girl!
The word “Batteria” in Italian, when referring to Balsamic Vinegar, refers to the collection of barrels “le botti” used in the aging process. From the large “Botta Madre”, or Mother Barrel, to the final smallest barrel, where after 12 long years, a producer is finally able to extract a small quantity of Balsamic Vinegar that they can finally call “traditional”.
In fact, in order to be considered TRADITIONAL Balsamic Vinegar it MUST be aged a minimum of 12 years, which means at least 12 “botti”, must be in the “Batteria”. In Italy, there is a regulating body that controls all aspects of production and quality and certifies Traditional Balsamic Vinegar to be D.O.P. (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta – Products of a Protected Origin). Each certified bottle receives a numbered label that guarantees origin, production and taste!
Only after a Balsamic Vinegar producer has passed all of the regulation tests, are they allowed to bottle their product in a special 100ml bottle, designed by Giugiaro and reserved for the TRADITIONAL product. A red seal is used for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar aged between 12 and 25 years and a gold seal for that aged between 25 and 45 years!
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Considering the process it takes to get a single 100 ml bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar D.O.P., it is no wonder that they call it “Black Gold”! Many people do not realize that white grapesare usedin the creation of Balsamic Vinegar! Absolutely nothing is added to the grape must to get this deep “ruby red” color, it is a completely natural change that occurs as a result of the caramelization, fermentation and aging process. After the vintage the must is slow cooked for 30 hours, and the final color is achieved during the 12 – 45 year aging process in barrels of different woods from Cherry to Rover and Mulberry wood, each lending the vinegar a different characteristic.
Sofia lead me into their vineyards to watch as the vines were being pruned for next season. The Acetaia Malagoli Daniele hand picks all of their grapes at the very end of the season, when the grapes are their ripest and sweetest. They are passed directly into a press, and then into a stainless steal pot where they are slowly cooked for 30 hours. Sig. Malagoli checks on the “mosto cotto”, cooked grape must, every hour until it has achieved the right percentage of sugars.
Sofia reminds me that this is an ancient process, with references to “mosto cotto” going back to Virgil in the 1st century B.C. In fact, as part of their personal collection the Malagoli family has a bottle from the 1100’s of Balsamic Vinegar with the cork still in tact! After 2,000 years I would say “tradition” is an understatement!
One of the things I found fascinating about Balsamic Vinegar was how necessary it is for the vinegar itself to feel all temperature changes in each season. It must be kept in the attic and it is only created in a certain region of Italy known for its real “four seasons”. In Modena we have a humid, hot summer, a damp spring and a chilly fall all perfect for a balanced fermentation process. Barrels are placed on their side and each barrel has an opening so that it can fully “breathe”.
Every barrel is 80% full and each year vinegar is taken from the largest barrel, “la botte madre” and added to the one beside it, like this, after 12 years all barrels have Balsamic Vinegar in them, and finally some can be removed from the smallest barrel for bottling. New cooked must is only added to the mother barrel and never to the others, and the transferring of balsamic vinegar from one barrel to another only occurs in the winter, once the enzyme process has stopped.
Spending the late afternoon with the Malagoli family was a wonderful experience. It is incredible to think that these types of ancient traditions have survived over thousands of years and are still a real part of every day life in a territory full of heritage.
About the Acetaia Malagoli Daniele
The Acetaia Malagoli Daniele has only begun commercializing their Traditional Balsamic Vinegar over the last three years under the direction of Sofia Malagoli, read about her and her inspiring story to transform her family’s passion here.
Their products are available throughout Italy and by direct order, you can also contact them for wholesale and import / export inquiries. The Malagoli family invites visitors to arrange for a private appointment to visit the Acetaia, and if you are in the area I highly recommend you pay them a visit. I plan on visiting again during the harvest, where volunteers are welcome. One of my absolute favorite experiences was participating in a vintage last year with my son, you can read about the experience here.
The Acetaia Malagoli Daniele is also available for private events and functions. I’ve mentioned before that people often wonder about the connection between fashion and these types of stories that seem to have nothing in common. In reality, they are very closely connected and the Acetaia Malagoli Daniele has hosted several fashion shows and fashion related events onsite. Later this month I will be attending a private cocktail and brand launch hosted in their beautiful restored home and I can’t wait to share it with you!
Visiting & Info
Acetaia Malagoli Daniele
Via Celeste 9, Castelfranco Eimilia (Modena), Italy
+39 338 2640322
+39 059 927246
For a guided tour and visit and to purchase directly or via wholesale please contact Sofia Malagoli +39 338 2640322
A Balsamic Inspired Giveaway
Please do not forget to enter this luxury giveaway for a Balsamic Vinegar inspired prize package featuring a 100 ml bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar D.O.P. by the Acetaia Malagoli Daniele along with a 3 piece jewellery set created in Murano Glass, inspired by the slow and long decent of a drop of balsamic vinegar. From the “Mutina” collection created by Susanna Martini, Murano glass jewellery artisan and owner of the boutique La Gioja in the centre of Modena. Read an interview with Susanna, part of HAND MADE – The Artisan Series on Reasons to Dress here.
This set is valued at 195 Euro ($212) and this giveaway is open internationally, until April 6, 2015.