There are a style and a quality typical of Made in Italy; and there are stories that make it possible to confirm how both the style and quality have been affirmed worldwide. There are stories that speak of passion, talent, commitment, and the drive to put oneself and a dream to the test.
One of these stories takes place in Toano, in the zone of Reggio Emilia: the setting is a ‘small, family-run business’, as Andrea Banchio, our protagonist, believes it is important to emphasise.
The Acetaia Balsamica di Elisa e Andrea is the company names after himself and his wife, a business that was born of a challenge. But Andrea will tell us more.
Andrea, how was your passion for balsamic born and how did it evolve into a job?
«We have been making vinegar since 1985, when I was a student at the university in Parma. I had already toyed with the idea of having an ‘acetaia’ and I began with one of my school mates. My passion grew, but I still had no clear entrepreneurial idea, but there was a turn of events in the story.»
Tell us about it.
«In 2009, given a suggestion made by a friend who knew our vinegar, my wife and I participated in a ‘palio di piccoli produttori’ – a sort of competition of cottage industries, in Castellarano, here in this area. Out of twenty-five participants, we came in first. This result made us more aware of our product’s potential. So in 2010, we decided to enter the Palio dell’Aceto Tradizionale di Modena, which is a sort of world championship among producers from all corners of the globe and takes place in Spilamberto».
«Through the ‘alfiere’ – the person responsible for collecting the samples and delivering them to the palio – we brought our vinegar to the manifestation. Remember that this palio is only open to producers in the province of Modena, so we were unclassified in the competition. On that occasion, the tasters had to sample 1233 balsamic vinegars. And that’s when we were surprised…».
«We were evaluated outside of the competition, obtaining a score that was much higher than the vinegar classified as being first in the palio. Even now when I remember, I get chills if I think about the look on the alfiere’s face while he was reading the results. The winner got a score of 317 points, we got 322. After this, our story underwent new developments, seeing to maintain and reinforce our quality.»
So can you tell us about your product?
«I can’t call our vinegar Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena because our production is outside of that territory. But the organoleptic characteristics of flavour and perfume, as the tasters at the Palio di Spilamberto decreed, are excellent.»
What should consumers know about balsamic vinegar that they usually don’t?
«The name of Balsamic Vinegar is often abused, allowing the use of labels that have nothing to do with this products, and above all nothing to do with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. This is because the name represents a specific value and uniqueness. It is the fruit of a product that has at least twelve years of aging, so a very refined. The next grade is twenty-five years of aging for a mature products; in between, naturally, there are various steps. The Acetaia Balsamica di Elisa e Andrea has vinegars that count thirty years of aging.»
What are the characteristics of a mature vinegar aged for many years?
«From twelve to twenty-five, it offers a sensation of sweet-and-sour, which leaves a full-bodied flavour. Longer than twenty-five years, we have vinegars with a sweeter flavour at the beginning and then it reveals an acidic, penetrating and more persistent flavour compared to a younger vinegar. The flavour of this latter is fuller and better balanced.»
Finally, what type of client goes to the Acetaia Balsamica di Elisa e Andrea?
«Our production is limited, only 30 litres per year. A little 100 ml bottle costs 100 euro, so our target is obviously mid-high. Very little for very few. Our clients are evolved, very attentive to perfume and taste, capable of distinguishing between common balsamic vinegar from the supermarket, a product essentially made with wine vinegar, concentrated grape juice, and caramel used as a colouring.»