“Vinegar is more valuable than wine”, which may seem illogical, but do you know that there is a kind of vinegar whose quality is even more taken care of than that of wine?
The Friuli region in northeastern Italy (about 4 hours’ drive from the city of Verona) has a long tradition of making wine. Like many manufacturers here, Midolini company has fine bottles of wine and grape distilled spirits. But what makes Midolini prouder of, is the bottle of balsamic vinegar called Asperum.
Since ancient times, the Romans have known to make fragrant sauces by cooking grape juice. Midolini has revived this tradition for more than 50 years and now owns a balsamic vinegar manufacturing site that is one of the largest in the world. It was once included in the Guinness Record of 1998 with 2,300 cases of vinegar. Asperum vinegar is produced in the same manner as traditional Italian Modena vinegar, with the only difference being using two delicious local grape varieties: Tocai Friulano and Refosco. Tocai is a grape variety used to make white wine in the Friuli region, while Refosco is a red wine grape with the same color and rich taste as Cabernet Sauvignon.
From 30kg harvested grapes to 200ml Asperum vinegar is a complex process. After grapes are pressed to get water, this solution is cooked for 36 hours to lose 30% of the capacity, under the adjusted flame not exceeding 80 C degrees to avoid the effect of sugar formation (caramelization). After the solution is allowed to settle at a temperature of 10 C degrees, the manufacturer adds bacteria to ferment it and incubate for 4 – 5 months. After 3-4 years, the solution is transferred from large to small barrels that are made of oak wood. The oak wood is imported from many countries and is served to make vinegar only, not wine or brandy. But that is not the end product.
Like longer-lasting wines that taste better and are more expensive, Asperum vinegar has a different price range, depending on its shelf life of 15-18 years or higher, from 35 to 40 years. The long incubation time in oak barrels makes a difference in the balance between sweetness and sourness.
A finished jar of Asperum vinegar can be blended from products of many years of distillation. The products are naturally brewed without air conditioning systems. The vinegar barrels are free to “breathe” the outside atmosphere because the wooden lids are open, and the barrels are only covered with a cloth.
It is also interesting that vinegar has a characteristic of sweetness that can be detected by taste-sensitive people. The sweet and sour taste of Asperum is very special but maybe in the judgment of those who are fortunate to taste, that is not enough to explain its high price without a strict production process.
At restaurants that serve Italian or Mediterranean-style dishes, bread dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil is a familiar meal, while guests are waiting for the main dish to be served. It is more common to use balsamic vinegar for making salad or seasoning food. With Asperum, there is definitely no generosity: the cooks just put a few drops on processed or fresh food, such as cheese, fish and desserts.
Asperum is exported to Northern Europe, Austria, Netherlands, USA, UK by Midolini manufacturer, with the price corresponding to its fastidious production process: a 50ml small bottle for 45 euros, a 110ml big bottle for 75 Euro and the cheapest 250ml green bottle for 33 euros. For me, a 50ml bottle of vinegar for 45 euros – 1ml for nearly 1 euro – is too difficult to convince consumers to open their wallets. However, if they try, they will never regret it.