As Americans we see hundreds of ‘Italian’ products in the supermarkets or malls and tend to quickly make the assumption that they are of the same quality as the products sold in Italy. During my time here in Italy I have been learning an extensive amount about the importance of a product truly being ‘Made in Italy’. From a foreigner’s perspective, a product Made in Italy is associated with high quality and luxury. From an Italian’s perspective, there is a strong sense of pride and passion that goes into making a product that local Italians respect and the rest of the world appreciates. However, there is a big grey area on what is considered to be ‘Made in Italy’. The reason there are specifics about this categorization is because Italian design is one of a kind; it is functional, innovative, aesthetically pleasing and of high quality. Therefore it is understood why a nation full of such great design wouldn’t want to put their stamp on just any run of the mill product.
Yesterday my group visited FICO World Eataly in Bologna… a foodie’s dream. The best way to describe FICO is an educational Italian food park that celebrates the culinary innovations each region of Italy has perfected. One area that sparked my interest was the section about balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamic vinegar has very specific characteristics that makes it a product that is truly Made in Italy.
Traditional balsamic vinegar was first created over 1,000 years ago in the farming lands surrounding Modena. This thick syrupy condiment carries much more than just a sweet yet acidic flavor; it carries centuries of culture and passion. During the Renaissance balsamic vinegar was only owned by nobles and their status was defined by what barrels they were associated to their name. It was not just a condiment but a source of a lot of robbery and jealousy in order to protect family recipes. For a product that can hold this much history it is no wonder why there are strict guidelines about what can be considered a true bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar.
This vinegar demands a long process of over 12 years to age which gives it its unique thick consistency and sweet flavor. It also must be made in the region of Reggio Emilia. Grapes are boiled and then fermented in casks and over the 12 or more years it is fermented it must be transferred from barrel to barrel. Each wood cask or barrel gives the vinegar its own flavor. An authentic vinegar will also have the title “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” and the letters “PDO”.
Here is where I find the whole process to get very interesting… the bottle. “The Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia is sold in the typical small bottle containing 100 cc. and having an overturned tulip-like shape and sealed on the plug with the sealing wax stamp of the Consortium (in order to guarantee the quality of the content) as well as with numbered labels with three different colors (bronze, silver, gold) differentiating the relevant qualities.” (Reggio Emilia Municipality). The small round bottles also represent a very important part of Italian design: cars. Giorgette Giugiaro is an Italian car designer who has also designed the bottle shape for these traditional balsamic vinegars. Much like the Iso Grifo and Maserati Ghibli that he designed, the vinegar bottles have a wonderful curved design. Below are some pictures of the bottles mimicking the flowy lines of these supercars. Interestingly enough, Giugiaro’s great grandfather made balsamic vinegar and the Pedroni family named their extra vecchio balsamic after him. I think that the Italian design in two entirely different industries coming together two celebrate one product is amazing. A bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar is a prime example of a product that is Made in Italy. It carries, cultural and historical significance and emulates the innovation of Italian design.