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The Process behind the Potion
In Modena, the making of traditional balsamic vinegar follows a precise set of time-honored rules which some say date back as far as the 13th century. Trebbiano grapes are harvested, as late in the season as possible for maximum sweetness, from the land that lies between the valley of the river Secchia and to the west of the river Reno. They are pressed, but before the juice can ferment, it is simmered gently over an open flame to reduce it by as much as seventy percent. This concentrated grape must is filtered and cooled, and then slowly, slowly transformed through a complex aging process. The liquid passes through a battery of five casks, each of a different wood, and each smaller than the last. The casks of oak, ash, cherry, chestnut, and mulberry range from sixty down to twenty liters. The timing of each topping up of the smaller barrels with balsamico decanted from the larger ones is determined by the sugar content as well as the personal sensibility and artistry of the particular producer, and there is no rushing the process for the finest results. The balsamico must experience the cold of winter and the heat of summer for at least a decade to achieve the rich overtones that grace the ideal balance of sweet and piquant.