When my Italian neighbors took out a wooden box containing a slender vial of Balsamic vinegar (Balsamico Tradizionale) and exhorted me to take a giant spoon of the precious liquid, my life changed at that moment. No longer would I be able to stomach the sugared and still astringent industrial version of "balsamic vinegar." The years it took (at least 12) to make the viscous liquid were well worth the effort.
Despite the fact that every supermarket in the world seems to have its own cheap, unaged version of "aceto balsamico di Modena," traditional Balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico tradizionale is a whole different condiment. That's why every foodie on the planet will want to:
1) Taste real balsamic Vinegar (look for aceto balsamico tradizionale DOP* in distinctive 100ml numbered bottles)
2) Take a pilgrimage to the Balsamic Vinegar Museum in Spilamberto, Italy.
* DOP, Denominazione di Origine Protetta designates food products whose origins are identifiable in the taste, texture or "perfume" of the product and produced in a specific region with all ingredients coming from that region, in this case the Reggio Emilia and Modena provinces.
Where is Spilamberto and the Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale?
Spilamberto, a town of approximately 11,500 people, is located in the Modena Province of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, 17 km southwast of Modena. State Road SP623, called the "Via Modenese", passes through Spilamberto. To reach Spilamberto by public transportation: from the Modena train station take city bus no. 7 to the Bus Station and then take the bus to Spilamberto.
The Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale is located on via Roncati, 28, in Spilamberto. It is a small museum where you can learn of the process of making Balsamic vinegar through a movie, exhibits and a guided tour. Balsamic is being made in a battery of barrels in the museum, so you can smell the wonderful perfume the process gives off.
The Museum has a brochure and a guide in English that can be downloaded from the web site.
Balsamico Tradizionale Labels
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar comes in slender bottles with three colors of labels that pertain to aging of the vinegars: orange for at least 12 years, silver for 18, and gold for at least 25 years.
More on Spilamberto
Besides the Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, you'll find the Villa Fabriani, an 18th century villa which houses Spilamberto sculptor G. Obici's "The Narcissus at the Fountain" and the Castle of Spilamberto, founded in 1210. Spilamberto is found along "La Strada dei Castelli" (Road of Castles). You can download the Castles in the Province of Modena brocure (PDF).
Spilamberto is accessed through the Medieval entrance tower, the lower floors of which house the small archaeological museum.
The Nature Route is a walking/biking path along the Panaro river with poplars and willows.
Other Culinary favorites of Spilamberto are Nocino, a liquor made from green walnuts harvested on the night of St. John, and Spilamberto Amaretti, a variation of the ubiquitous Italian cookie.
Nearby is the town of Vignola, the castle of which is in a good state of repair and was known as the "sentry of the Panaro river."
The Festival of St. John (Fiera di San Giovanni) is held in Spilamberto on in late June, revolving around agricultural products, crafts and local industries. There is a street market on via Obici at that time. The Palio di San Giovanni is held at the festival, where the 12 best Traditional Balsamic Vinegars are chosen out of more than 1000. For more see: Italy’s twelve best traditional balsamic vinegars
Restaurants near the Museum in SpilambertoWe had a very nice meal at La Tana dei Tassi on Via San Giovanni, 25 in Spilamberto. Two courses of lunch, including steak with porcini mushroom sauce for two with wine and coffee came to just over 50 Euros. Cheaper is Friends on Via Tacchini 7/9, where you can get sandwiches or pasta (or food to take out).
Spilamberto Bed and Breakfast
Bed and Breakfast Balsamico is about 200 meters away from the museum of Balsamic Vinegar, and is reasonably inexpensive.
Books Mentioning Spilamberto
The Vinegar of Spilamberto (check prices), by Doris Muscatine is about food and the traditional preparation techniques of Italian cooking.