Virtuoso Life - March/April 2018 - 62
On the Table
Like Culatello di Zibello, traditional balsamic is made without climate
control; seasonal temperature changes contribute to the product's flavor.
famous for his work with Ferrari - in 1988,
when the consortium systemized the rules
for making it. It's labeled "Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena," not "Balsamic
Vinegar of Modena," and the sole ingredient is grape juice. (Nontraditional versions blend grape juice with various wine
vinegars.) To be certified, along with the
region's only other DOP-certified vinegar,
from Reggio Emilia, it must be made using
the original method, unchanged for centuries. Visitors can see this process in play in
barrels dating from 1512 that Davide Lonardi still uses at Villa San Donnino in Modena,
45 minutes northwest of Bologna.
Lonardi, one of about 125 local producers, offers travelers the chance to peer into
the attic of his 1911 villa and wander among
the acres of grapevines in front before they
stop in the shop to taste his vinegar - alone,
over cheese, or, surprisingly, on ice cream.
Like Culatello di Zibello, traditional balsamic is made without climate control; seasonal temperature changes contribute to
the product's flavor. Under one of Villa San
Donnino's sixteenth-century barrels, a ceramic bowl catches drips falling through the
cracks of the aging wood.
V I RT U O S O L I F E
Things are a bit sleeker - impeccably so -
eight miles away at Opera 02, a winery, restaurant, farm-stay, and acetaia (balsamic
producer). There, few of the barrels are older than the fresh-faced proprietor, 36-yearold Mattia Montanari, even though the
production process - boiling down the
grape juice, filling the barrels, then moving
the aging product from the largest container to the smallest - takes a minimum of 12
years. There's no dust or dripping vinegar
here. A pristine glass wall separates the
air-conditioned lobby from the required
uncontrolled climate of the vinegar loft,
where gleaming lights and uniform batteries of casks give off a "Lamborghini of vinegars" impression.
The vinegars of both acetaie have a complex, round sweetness without the sharpness and cloying caramel notes of the other
versions on U.S. shelves. As different from
their counterparts as fine china is from paper plates, they accomplish the same thing,
but with infinitely more style and finesse.
A Classic, Elevated
Of all Emilia-Romagna's traditional foods,
Parmigiano-Reggiano, the "king of cheese,"
is perhaps the most famous. Still, the delicacy's sacrosanct status has left it a bit behind
the times. While it shows up on nearly every
menu in Bologna, the presentation rarely
changes: a few crumbles, perhaps drizzled
with vinegar. When Antica Osteria Le Mura
opened in the city last year, it hoped to buck
that practice. Rather than outright rejecting
the city's culinary classics (green lasagna,
rich ragù, tortellini in broth), Le Mura split
its menu in two: classic dishes on the left, creative reinterpretations on the right. Diners
looking for the famous and familiar can sit at
the narrow wine bar or at wooden tables and
order their Parmigiano on the salumi board.
But those looking to try something new
will find it in an elaborate asparagus-andParmigiano-Reggiano flan topped with peas
and lemon, as bright as the sun shining on the
contemporary patio out front.
Le Mura's dual setup might hardly be
groundbreaking in many places, but in a
part of the world so entrenched - even legally so - in tradition, these baby steps to
move Culatello di Zibello, balsamic vinegar,
and Parmigiano-Reggiano into the modern
world are a pretty big deal.