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Balsamic Vinegar

Marysue Bacon

I have a secret item that I purchase in Italy and I tell no one. I go to Italy often as Italy is my passion and my business. I always make a trip to my secret place and purchase several of these highly valued items. I personally could not live with out it and I dare say if you ever have the pleasure you would never live without it again. It was one of those "finds" that you discover quite by accident when you aren't even looking for it.

Years ago I spent a day with a Florence chef friend, real "foodie," and we meandered around Tuscany eating and drinking our way through many little towns. When my friend suggested we stop at a small stone building to have lunch, I was not impressed. It was winter and the building looked cold and rather unkempt. It also did not look like a place where I would want to eat!!

But, I trusted my guide and followed her into a small restaurant with a low ceiling, a large warm fire in the fireplace and rustic furnishings. My first new taste was truffles and I think one needs to get used to that taste, because I just could not eat it. At the end of the meal they brought out their famous apple tart/pie. That did look good, but myohmyohmyohmy they brought vinegar - yes vinegar (!!) to go on top of it. I then knew that this was not a place to revisit because who ever heard of vinegar on top of apple pie?

The bottle was quite small and inside was a very dark semi-thick, almost black, liquid. I turned up my nose and made an "icky" face, but politely said "no, thank you!" At this point my friend turned to the owner who was having his lunch at a table close to ours and said: "she does not want any of your vinegar!!" With that they both laughed heartily. I was shamed into putting a drop onto my finger and trying it. WOW - this was not vinegar, this was some kind of elixir from the Gods. I promptly put several large drops on my apple pie and asked for seconds.

I asked the owner about this astounding sweet syrup he called vinegar. He pointed to a newly built structure behind the restaurant and explained that it had been built just to house 40 separate barrels each of a different wood. The barrels start out large and get smaller as the liquid gets older in age. I visited the room and took a photo of myself with the barrels of this sweetened drug as it was aging.

I asked if I could buy some of this and was informed that it was indeed for sale. I bought 6 bottles and carried them like a new born babe all the way back to San Francisco.

My friends are now as addicted as I am. I recall a recent dinner party when I served vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries on top for dessert and then passed the bottle of this miraculous substance around and one of my friends said "Vinegar on strawberries and ice cream - that does not sound very good!!" On each trip I now bring back a bottle for him too!

Fattoria di Montagliari (click for larger images)

Where to Buy It!

www.villacollegalle.it: Giovanni Cappelli recently moved from Fattoria di Montagliari near Panzano in Chianti to Villa Collegale, an estate just of the main Chainti road (S222) between Greve and Strada. At Villa Collegale, they sell his Balsamic vinegar ("the speciality of the house, aged in precious wood barrels for up to 30 years"). You can visit the vinegar house on request. You can also have a farm holiday (vacation rentals).

2 bottles of Balsamic, 130,000 lire (about $60)


Slow Travel Photos: Larger versions of photos.

www.divinacucina.com/code/cappelli.html: Divine chefs and colleagues of Divina Cucina - Giovanni Cappelli

www.acetobalsamicotradizionale.it: Consorzio Aceto Balsamico Reggio Emila for more information about Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic).

www.villacollegalle.it: Villa Collegalle, balsamic vinegar, wine, olive oil, farm holidays.

Discovering True Balsamico Tradizionale in Reggio Emilia: How traditional Balsamic is made, touring a farm where it is made

Marysue Bacon runs Italian Renaissance Travel. www.italyarttrips.com

© Marysue Bacon, 2005

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