Liquid Gold: Tasting DOP Modena Balsamic

In Modena, Italy, local families continue the age old tradition of producing DOP (designated origin of protection) Modena balsamic vinegar in the attics of their family homes.  It's one of Italy's most distinct regional foods. Touring the Villa San Donnino as part of the Italian Days Food Experience was an authentic taste of Emilia Romagna and a fascinating part of our food tour in Bologna.

Villa San Donnino family Acetaia (atch-e-TIE-e), the attic where traditional balsamic is made

In the small attic are rows of 5-7 barrels - called a batteria - each decreasing in size from the largest at around 100 gallons and the smallest at about 10. Each barrel contains progressively older balsamic.

The batteria system progressively ages the balsamic

Every winter, through a process called travasi, about 25% of the vinegar in the smallest barrel is removed and bottled, and younger vinegar from the barrel next in line replaces it.

This “topping off” siphoning cascade continues on up the line, with young vinegar replacing the older vinegar that has moved down the line.

 Wood barrels leak balsamic on the floor

Wood barrels leak balsamic on the floor

The largest barrel is then replenished with the cooked concentrate and all are then left to do nothing more than mature and age.

An antique balsamic bottler

Interestingly, tradition dictates that the barrels of the batteria are never changed as the process would be interrupted by a “shock” to the product by using new wood.

This barrel is still in use after over 100 years

The product and the wood must grow­ together. If a barrel leaks, a new one is built around it. 

Allesandro saved the best for last. Tasting each product is the best way to experience just how much age has influenced the balsamic.

Tasting IGP 3 year old balsamic, the lesser quality of all we tried, but still a huge improvement over store bought balsamic vinegar.

Tasting Condiment, a form of balsamic not regulated by DOP. Delicious, but not as rich in flavor as those aged much longer.

Which one here is King?

The gold band indicates this is the 25 year old Balsamic di Modena, though you can tell just by looking at it. One drop is pure heaven.

Balsamic jelly on fresh ricotta cheese

You may think balsamic on vanilla gelato sounds strange, but the taste was out of this world!

A selection of balsamic and other vinegars produced by Villa San Donnino

If You Go


The Italian Days Food Experience will ruin you for forever for Italy's most iconic foods, but in the best possible way, and it's the perfect introduction to Bologna for first timers. Alessandro puts his heart and soul into making it much more than a tour. You'll be a Parmigiano cheese convert and a balsamic lover when the day is done. Book your tour online or at the Bologna Welcome infopoint in Piazza Maggiore. 

Authentic Balsamic, Modena, Italy