Balsamic Vinegar Tour in Modena, Italy

{Acetaia di Giorgio in Modena, Italy}
{Giovanna leading the balsamic vinegar tour}
Three years ago, I went to Paris, Milan, and Bologna for spring break during my senior year of college.  Rather than stressing about how my thesis was not even halfway complete, I used that week as a time to re-charge, indulging in culinary delights such as pain au chocolat, tortellini in brodo, and the many small plates (not to mention Bellinis) during the traditional Italian aperitivi hour.  We also had a wonderful dinner at my mother's cousin's apartment in Milan.  But one of the things that stands out is our trip to the Acetaia di Giorgio in Modena to see how traditional balsamic vinegar is made.
{Left- bellinis and small plates at aperitivi hour in Bologna
Right- late-night dessert of brioche in Bologna}
{Bologna train station at sunset}
A short train-ride away from Bologna, Modena is the town in Italy where traditional balsamic vinegar is made.  If you look at the bottle of the balsamic vinegar in your house right now, it will probably say Balsamic Vinegar di Modena on the label, but unfortunately there is a bit of deception going on.  The vinegar you find in American grocery stores doesn't come close to the traditional Modena balsamic vinegar that I tasted that day.  Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is prepared after a  very long fermentation process involving progressive concentration by transferring the vinegar from one wooden barrel to the next over many years until you have the finished product.  It is a thick, syrupy consistency, unlike its watered-down counterparts in the U.S. And the flavor is rich and full of depth, with the perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. The Acetaia (di Giorgio) we visited is the beautiful mansion formerly belonging to the 14 Barberi brothers, and now operated by a descendent, Giorgio Barberi and his gregarious English-speaking wife, Giovanna (who led our tour), and their daughter Carlotta.  The tour included tastings of several different vinegars fermented in different types of wooden barrels such as oak and cherry.  It was interesting to distinguish the different flavors each wood created.  We purchased a (pricy) bottle of vinegar as a souvenir but a little vinegar goes a long way thanks to the flavor, and more than three years later we still have some in the bottle.  Since it is expensive and hard to come by in the states (you can do mail-order on Acetaia's website), I prefer to use it in dishes where it is really featured.  It goes great drizzled over a medium-rare cooked steak or even on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream and strawberries.
{After the tour, a tasting led by Giovanna}
{The thick balsamic vinegar ready to to taste after a multi-year concentration process in wooden barrels}