The Art of Balsamic Vinegar with Fabrizio Cazzola
Ever wondered what makes a balsamic vinegar buono? Wonder no more; we chatted with Fabrizio Cazzola, a professional balsamic producer and co-owner of I Solai, the newest organic balsamic vinegar in our market. He gave us the full rundown on what qualifies an authentic, high-grade balsamic. Now, we can never look at balsamic vinegar the same.
From the beginning of the call, it was clear Fabrizio is very passionate about balsamic vinegar and was eager to present his extensive knowledge in the art of perfecting balsamic. At some point during our interview, he even sent me a whole 40-slide presentation that listed out all the processes, definitions, and classifications that I Solai teaches its workers and partners. He said that even with what we talked about, “We should meet again, because there is so much more.”
So let me try to explain Fabrizio's passion-speech and what I read when scouring all 40 slides.
First off, there are two classifications of balsamic vinegar: Traditional (DOP) and IGP.
Within DOP there are two subclassifications: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia. You can probably tell by the names that the difference is the region of production. I Solai specializes in Modena balsamic vinegar.
The difference between DOP and IGP, however, is more complicated.
DOP, like the name suggests, is traditional balsamic vinegar that links back to centuries of balsamic vinegar production in Italy. It requires at least 12 years of aging (for the Modena balsamic), a specific type of bottle, and an extensive fermentation and refilling process.
Meanwhile, IGP is a later version of balsamic vinegar when producers wanted to find a faster production process. Instead of aging for years, IGP involves using wine vinegar to speed up acidification, which allows producers to age it for a minimum of two months.
Now that the two versions have been explained, it is important to understand the key components of balsamic vinegar production, and how those components tell the consumer whether the balsamic they find is worthy of praise or scorn by Italians.
First, the density. The density, according to Fabrizio’s presentation, is the most trustworthy indicator of the balsamic’s quality: “Today, the high-density standard is associated with a higher quality product and, in truth, it is not wrong.” The target density for I Solai is between 1.30-1.35 but the total range for decent balsamic vinegar ranges from 1.25-1.37. This density is reached by careful consideration on how much water is evaporated by the reduction, or cooking, of the grapes.
Second, the amount of wine vinegar. Fabrizio’s pro-tip: good balsamic vinegar will have grape must listed as the first ingredient, not wine vinegar. Some brands use too much wine vinegar, which mellows out the flavor and turns the balsamic into a lighter color — which in turn leads to another problem of artificial coloring. The ratio also complicates acidity, another indicator of the production of the balsamic vinegar. There needs to be at least a 6% acidity; however, nowadays some companies do not even include their acidity according to Fabrizio, much to his annoyance: “I saw so many fake balsamic vinegars.”
Third, the ingredients themself. Fabrizio uses only organic ingredients. However, in Italy, organic is the normal. Authentic balsamic vinegar has always known organic ingredients — GMOs are forbidden. And when it comes to perfecting the art of balsamic vinegar production, Fabrizio knows that any subtle advantage in quality ingredients can make the slightest difference. “What we’ve noticed is if you use the right raw materials, you create a better product.”
However, Fabrizio is adamant on the distinction between his mentality towards organic and the idea of organic in America. In Italy, producers are not organic for the sake of having the label “organic,” they are organic because the ingredients are better and it is the traditional way of harvesting nature’s gifts.
At the end of the day, balsamic vinegar production is both a complicated science and a beautiful art. Fabrizio has shown only the tip of the iceberg to the contrasts between artificial and genuine balsamic vinegar. As Fabrizio said to Carla and I’s laughter, “If you take a detergent and put it in the barrel for 12 years, you still have detergent. The most important thing is the technique.”
Just like many traditions, authentic balsamic vinegar production must be honored and preserved.