September 16, 2009

Italian Treasures- Andrea Bezzecchi- Acetaia San Giacomo

Acetaia San Giacomo
Novellara, Reggio Emilia

It is harvest time!

Andrea Bezzechi at the winery buying the mosto for his traditional balsamic vinegar
from Dario at the organic winery Villa Castellazzo
which is also an agritourismo

Why is it that a traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia or from Modena is $125 a bottle? If you ever have seen what it takes to make it, it seems like a real bargain!

  • Start with grape juice and lose 70% in cooking it down.
  • Invest in 5 to 7 different kinds of handmade wooden barrels.
  • Wait 12 years to sell your first bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar ( if you aren't lucky enough to have inherited your set of barrels from dad or grandpa).

True balsamic vinegar does not have vinegar added to it, nor sugar or glucose. It is a time honored traditional condiment for food, passed on generation after generation. The grocery store balsamic vinegars were created for a market that wants things NOW.

Although it may seem expensive in America to buy a bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar at $125 a bottle which is 1/2 cup of liquid gold. Time is the most expensive part in the preparation.

I went with Andrea Bezzechi of Acetaia San Giacomo on his acquisition of "mosto" to start this years batch. The color of the freshly crushed grape juice was amazing. Electric almost.

Andrea brought the mosto back to the Acetaia ( where one makes their Aceto Balsamico) and began the long slow process of reducing it by 70%.

Part alchemist, part mad scientist it takes patience and passion to create this elixer dating back to 30 BC. Andrea showed me written documentation from Virgil and Apicius referring to the cooking of grape juice, called sapa in the Latin texts, now saba.

Cooking the grape juice must stops fermentation and preserves the juice. We tasted a 25 year old saba that Andreas late dad made. It is sweet and rich, much like prune juice, quite concentrated.
I have had saba drizzled on desserts from the south and it is lovely. I use this light condiment often in savory cooking to deglaze a pan for a sauce instead of Marsala.

The saba is then left to acidify naturally and moved into large wooden barrels called Badesse.
From there they being the long slow process of becoming balsamic.

The word balsamic refers to the essence that the saba extracts from the different woods of the barrels used for aging. A set is called a batteria. Andrea's barrels are:

  • Cherry
  • Chestnut
  • Beech
  • Oak
  • Juniper
  • Mulberry
  • Acacia
Barrels are part of your inheritance and when a child is born a new set is added

Once a year some of the balsamic is removed from the smalleset barrel and taken to be judged.
In Reggio, it is not the years, but a very controlled level of quality they look for in flavor and balance.

The balsamic is taken from the next smallest barrel to replace what was removed in the smallest and so on, and the largest barrel in the set is then filled from the Badessa barrels. In the foto you can see the barrels are left open, covered with small cloth napkins and then the tops to help evaporation.

After touring, while the mosto was slowly reducing- we did a tasting of Andrea's products:

Two orange label ( aragosta- which means lobster for the red)
Silver- argento
Gold- oro
and his apple balsamic, Essenza and Condimento, which are not considered Balsamic Vinegars, but condiments.

When I use Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, for me, it is like wearing Chanel profume.
I always get kissed!

That is worth any price. A one ounce bottle of Chanel is $260. You wear a tiny drop at a time and it lasts forever.

The same with a Traditional Balsamic Vinegar( TVB) - one tiny drop is all you need as a portion.
To showcase the TBV, Andrea served us drops on 24 and 36 month old Parmesan Cheese.

For dessert- WOW- a tiny scoop of vanilla gelato served in a shot class with San Giacomo's signature porcellan tastings spoon laying on top to recieve the drizzle of balsamico and some saba on the bottom.

My favorite way to end a meal

A young bottle of balsamico in Italy costs 45 euro a bottle and a bottle holds 100 1ml portions which are an eyedropper full- that is a lot of balsamico at 50 euro cents a portion. In the USA, it would be $1.25 a portion. Now it doesn't seem expensive!

See my recipe for the Montagliari apple tart-
I serve this with a scoop of gelato and drizzle with balsamico- ONLY the traditional!

Because I love my friends and I can.


  1. Travelberg2:34 AM

    Can't wait to taste!!!

  2. Wow, thanks for the balsamic vinegar lesson! So interesting! Gives you a true appreciation for how it's made and why it's so expensive.

  3. Very interesting! Thank you.

  4. Great Post Diva! I learned so much and now can taste that little dark drop on my tongue!

  5. I have a bottle of Andrea's balsamico in my kitchen now! Lucky me!

  6. Barb- did you get yours in Umbria! nice to see his stuff gets around.
    I have quite a collection and find his superior!

    I saw it in LA and Portland too-used it for my classes in the states!

  7. In Bezzecchi we trust ;)


  8. Commosso, sentitamente ringrazio per il bel post che andro' a mettere in quadro.

    Vi aspetto tutti in acetaia! :)

  9. "When I use Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, for me, it is like wearing Chanel profume.
    I always get kissed!" Droplets of wisdom, dear Diva!

    Traditional balsamico dribbled over chopped strawberries and kiwi... taste-bud bliss

    Thanks for the edu-taining aceto lesson, and I love the photo of the purple pyramid! Ahhh, there is so much to learn!

    Lola xx

  10. What an interesting and informative article and what an amazing blog you have here. Now you're making me crave to go back to Tuscany; I've only been to the coast but did spend quite a while in Umbria and Rome. Oh I wish I was there.

  11. George- actually for tradtional balsamic you have to go to Modena or Emilia Romagna, which is where the San Giacomo Acetaia is!!!

    come on back!

  12. Ahh now I know about going to Modena for the balsamico but just reading your blog has made me crave for Italy is what I meant :)

  13. It's really funny when I read Emilia-Romagna instead of Reggio Emilia ... Emilia romagna is the Region, Reggio emilia the province (I know that Judy alreday knew but i've heard that really often in the US)

    Traditional Balsamic could (must) be produced only in Reggio Emilia or Modena provinces, both are in Emilia Romagna region :)

  14. Wow... This must be a site to see!

  15. What a wonderful post - you tell the story with such lovely words and photos. Grazie. Although my heritage is Italian, I have only visited Italy once for just a few days. But it has stayed in my mind and heart and I long to return! Some day, some day...

  16. How timely and now depressing, I just finished my 15 year balsamico purchased in Florence with you last year. It really does last a long time.