Current Issue #488

For the Love of Vinegar

For the Love of Vinegar

From cleaning roman soldiers to dressing salads, vinegar has a strange and storied history. What’s next for vinegar in Australia?

My obsession with balsamic vinegar began on a recent trip to Reggio Emilia and a day spent with Andrea Bezzecchi and his family, who have been making traditional balsamic on their property for generations. And when I say traditional, I am referring to a tradition so special it is protected by the European Union. It wasn’t until I stood inside a room full of randomly sized barrels – carefully crowned with a square of white cloth, followed by a cork and then a layer of dust indicative of how long it has been aging for – did it hit me just quite how steeped in history this process really was and how protecting it for generations to come was imperative.

For-Love-Vinegar-Adelaide-Review-traditional-balsamic-annabelle-baker-food-for-thoughtTraditional kegs of balsamic vinegar

Balsamic production has a long history and the ancient Romans commonly used is as medicine, for cleaning and, of course, as a condiment in the kitchen. Roman soldiers reportedly used it to keep their bodies clean during battle and those who were lucky enough to have it during the 17th Century outbreak of the plague in Northern Italy were thought to be spared from an almost certain death. But, what really fascinated me was the story of Matilda of Tuscany, a female influential ruler in the 11th Century. This rare tale of a woman in a country, whose history was so heavily dominated by religious male leadership, had me hooked. In fact, she is one of only three female remains immortalised at the Vatican. Balsamic producers’ in Modena and Reggio Emilia recount the tale of when Matilda rode into negotiations with a flask of balsamic vinegar, so prized it was the ultimate offering but from what I have read, it ended with Henry VI challenging Matilda in 1095 for her lands and castle. Matilda prevailed and it ultimately led to his retreat from Italy and furthered her rise and influence on history.

For-Love-Vinegar-Adelaide-Review-traditional-balsamic-annabelle-baker-food-for-thoughtBottling balsamic vinegar

It’s not only Italy that has a love affair with acid in the form of vinegar; China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea have all mastered their versions, too. Our love for vinegar no matter where it is from got me thinking about how Australian vinegar will be remembered. Will it be something we are known for? Will Australian vinegar influence our cuisine? We are definitely centuries behind the rest of the world when it comes to producing this common kitchen ingredient. In fact, our snobbish attitude towards vinegar producers has most certainly stunted this even further. But great Australian vinegar is out there and it is growing in demand and production. Its journey is just getting started and I look forward to a time when we have created something synonymous with our cuisine, landscape, history and tastes.


Brussels-sprouts-salad-adelaide-review-balsamic-vinegar-recipe-annabelle-baker-2016 Annabelle Baker is a director of Edible Exchange


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