In the 16th century, the first confirmed and genuine evidence of the existence of balsamic vinegar appeared, in Modena, when the Estensi court moved there. These records specifically mentioned the ingredient for this special healing vinegar to be Trebbiano grapes. Details of its manufacturing method markedly stated that these grapes need to be left to mellow in an attic for several years.
The aging process of the vinegar is worth appreciating, because it also has its own role to play in making the taste of the vinegar as mesmerizing as it is. The wine is stored and slowly evaporates in a sequence of small barrels. Each of these barrels is made from different aromatic wood – cherry, chestnut, oak and juniper. These contribute to the flavors of the grapes making it peculiarly delightful and the taste worth savoring. Different producers of balsamic vinegar use the variety of wood for the barrels to produce their own choice of flavor by storing them away for as long as 200 years.
Another assumed oldest record of the existence of balsamic vinegar was written by the poet Ludovico Ariosto Ariosto (author of Orlando Furioso and native of Reggio Emilia) at the Estensi court. His poems mentioning balsamic vinegar date as early as 1500. He had referred to it as “Black vinegar”, which was a mixture of sour soup vinegar and Saba, sweet vinegar, accompanied by a bitter-sweet flavor. This perfectly describes the flavor of this unique vinegar.
By 1700’s balsamic vinegar was with gusto recognized and valued to be a magical and a healing potion. It was believed to have medicinal uses and healing capacity for a wide range of illnesses. The Balsamic vinegar was used by healers and doctors for treating soar throats to labor pains, and was believed to help in treating plague. It was taken as a delicacy and served specifically to aristocratic, royal and distinguished personalities. With time, the aristocrats mastered the art and began making it themselves.
Today it is being manufactured at large scale for commercial use as well and is available all over Europe and some Asian countries as well. The original vinegars are still made in Modena and Reggio by the ancient artisan method, and then are tested by quality control experts. The rights of making these vinegars are still well guarded by the Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin.
However it is important to mention that there are commercial brands from outside Modena and Reggio. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena), is an inexpensive modern imitation of the traditional balsamic vinegar, and is today widely available and much better known than the original Balsamic Vinegars. This imitation is commonly used for salad dressings together with oil. Even after many efforts by imitators, these commercial forms of the actual balsamic vinegar are of lesser quality; the true taste of a balsamic cannot be imitated.