Greetings Wooters! (Long Post!)
It is a real “Aceto Balsamico di Modena”
I LOVE reading your accolades for this great balsamic.
There have been more than a few posts alleging that this is not "true" balsamic. Let's be careful, because, indeed, this is true, real balsamic.
I will re-post a version of my explanation from a previous offering on Woot.
The distinction has to do with classification which is discussed below. And,there are some new developments regarding the classification of balsamics less that 12 years old, which are Aceto Balsamico di Modena. There is now an IGP classification which guarantees origin and quality of the vinegar. These have been put in place to distinguish between good, real Balsamico di Modena and the industriale junk.
Botte Piccola conforms to the new IGP specification & carries the European seal on the bottle. And further, now Cavedoni is making this vinegar exclusively from must obtained from his own vineyards or 100% Trebbiano grapes.
About the classifications: This is a really big subject, but I will give a short explanation here and direct you to an excellent article where you can read all about balsamic classifications.
The short answer is that Cavedoni Botte Piccola is not a tradizionale classified balsamic – and you wouldn’t want it to be, considering that we sell Cavedoni tradizionale wholesale to restaurants and specialty gourmet shops at the equivalent of $24/oz for a base tradizionale (it must be at least 12 years old; the Cavedoni we sell is 15) and $44/oz for an extravecchio tradizionale. (extravecchio = very old, and must be 25 years old; the Cavedoni we sell is 30 years old).
OK, that puts a 100 ml bottle on the retail shelf at $110 for the tradizionale and $210 for the extravecchio tradizionale. Notice I said 100 ml. Ouch! The Botte Piccola is 250 ml. No wonder the article referenced above states that “Tradizionale remains a curiosity for most consumers.” The Cavedoni tradizionale are also DOP certified, but that is another discussion.
Botte Piccola is a true “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” – Balsamic vinegar from Modena which falls into the general classification of industriale – or commercial balsamic. Here is where the consumer can get into real trouble. There production of tradizionale is very strictly controlled – see the details in the article, but not so for commercial balsamic. Even those made in Modena. They run the range from very inexpensive, poor quality stuff to very good high-quality vinegars.
The low end is very yucky tasting stuff made with lots of vinegar and additives like caramel for color, sugar for sweetness and thickening agents. When a waiter pours balsamic into the dish of olive oil on your table, this is what he is using – and by the way, the oil is lousy too, its bad quality masked by the sweet balsamic. Restaurants buy this concoction in plastic jugs for next to nothing and boil it down to use in salad dressing and glazes (yuck!).
The good quality balsamics which are under 12 years old are a completely different animal. They are made with integrity and no additives with the same care as the tradizionale. There are, however, still differences besides age. The most notable are that the initial cooking process (read the article) for the commercial balsamics is done at a higher temperature and for a longer period to give the sugar formation a jump-start. And, second, the must (this is the pressed grape juice that starts the process) is combined with vinegar. For the tradizionale no vinegar is used. The key to quality control here is not over cooking, and the percentage of must to vinegar. The good stuff is made with a lot more must than vinegar.
So what is a consumer to do? It’s not easy, but you can start with reliable merchants and sources (like Wine.Woot!) and getting recommendations from trusted sources. Also, armed with the little bit of knowledge presented here, the bottle label also tells a lot. Don’t be fooled by how fancy it is.
For instance here is what you will learn on the Botte Piccola label:
It is IGP certified
The ingredients list contains only two ingredients: “Cooked grape must and wine vinegar,” and notice the order – very important – more must than vinegar.
One last thing, if you read the article referenced above, you will see that tradizionale is aged in as many as five different types of wood barrels. Botte Piccola is aged only in oak, because that is what Paolo Cavedoni chooses to use for this product.
Sorry for the long post, but I hope it clarifies things.
Enjoy the Vinegar!