Balsamic vinegar is one of those foods that has gone from zero to hero in a relatively short space of time. Half a century ago, in a place like the UK it would have been a strange foreign curiosity. Today, balsamic vinegar is a favourite for dribbling onto salad with olive oil and salt. But the real stuff, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, is something else.
Compared with supermarket style aceto balsamico, the thick, dark, aromatic liquid is much thicker, harder to find, and very expensive. In the heartlands of Emilia-Romagna, people get given a small cask of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale when they get married. They savour drops of it on pieces of Parmesan, or on meat or fish, even on strawberries and ice-cream.
Connoisseurs evaluate its quality by placing a small drop on the anatomical snuffbox on the hand, rubbing a little so that it warms, and then inhaling the heady fragrance. The liquid is definitely in the same league as Brunello and Sassicaia.
You can find out more about this amazing product at a festival held at Spilamberto, near Modena, on 24 June 2012. The "Palio di San Giovanni" is a competition for Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale that will put top local producers to the acid test. In addition, the Fair of San Giovanni runs from 20 to 24 June, and you can also see the Museum dedicated to Balsamic vinegar (www.museodelbalsamicotradizionale.org)
All in all, it's a recipe for a great long weekend.
Find out more from the Consortium that protects proper Balsamico Tradizionale, the local tourist office (phone +39 059 767 089, and the two hotels in the area, Hotel La Cartiera , and Hotel San Pellegrino.