A prized reserve from Italy is shared with Ann Arbor from La Vecchia Dispensa.
–Grace Singleton, Zingerman’s Delicatessen co-managing partner
The Tintori family has been making vinegar for four generations for La Vecchia Dispensa. They have over a dozen sets of batteria that they take care of and use to produce the traditional DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) balsamic vinegar of Modena. A batteria is a grouping of 5 barrels of different woods that the vinegar is rotated through and aged in. Each of the batteria represents the birth of a daughter in the family. The batteria are handmade for the female births as a gift for their dowry, but many of the sets remain with the family’s collection even after they are married, to be cared for and accessible to all the relatives and future generations.
The batteria that produced this vinegar was built for Anna Maria, the daughter of Gaetano and his Zoraide who were married in 1925. In those years only aristocratic families owned balsamic vinegar barrels. This set was used to offer Anna Maria a Balsamic Vinegar dowry. This batteria is made up of oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, and juniper woods. Every year a small amount of the traditional vinegar is removed from the last barrel in the batteria, the remaining vinegar is moved from one barrel to the next and some fresh grape must is added to the first barrel.
Later Anna Maria asked to keep her batteria in the family Acetaia, and accessible to all the relatives and future generations. For this reason, grandfather Mario, father Marino and now son Simone religiously took care of Anna Maria’s barrels. Simone became the fourth generation vinegar master in 2016.
I am thrilled that La Vecchia Dispensa has agreed to share some of this amazing vinegar with us. The opportunity to taste vinegar from just one batteria would be reserved only for the family that was making the vinegar or with close friends of the family. I am honored that the family at La Vecchia Dispensa values our relationship enough to consider us and our customers as part of their family.
Anna Maria is the sister of Simone’s grandmother. It was his willingness to release this prized balsamic vinegar that has allowed us at Zingerman’s to share in and enjoy the experience, the flavor, and history present in every bottle. He hand-selected the wooden boxes, with the engraved name and year, and wrote the information for the attached scroll that documents the product’s heritage.
I asked Simone to share the importance of traditional vinegars from his family and what they mean to him:
“Tasting a product as old as this is a very emotional experience; your thoughts inevitably go back at least four generations embracing those who started producing it before you.
The barrels from which we collect this very rare product take us back to the memory of our Fathers creating an emotional and loving tie between people who never knew each other.
Keeping these barrels of vinegar alive means passing on to our children and grandchildren the
legacy of our work, which will live on for years after we are gone.”
We’ve been working with and selling balsamic vinegar from the Tintori family at La Vecchia Dispensa for close to 20 years now. They are located just off the historic square in the center of the old town of Castelvetro, southwest of Modena, Italy. We sell several different ages of their balsamic vinegar (read more on that) from the bright and sweet and slightly acidic 6 year aged everyday balsamic to the much more full-flavored and higher density (more viscous and fuller flavored) 16 year aged balsamic that’s excellent for tasting atop Parmigiano Reggiano. We also carry their traditional balsamic vinegars––both the white label which is 12 years aged in wood and the Gold label which is aged 25 years. The Anna Maria vinegar is a traditional balsamic.
To make traditional balsamic, you start with just one ingredient: grape must––the fresh-pressed juice of grapes, skins, seeds, and stems. The grape must is cooked and reduced, then it goes straight into barrels. To start the aging process, it’s mixed with a little of last year’s balsamic, called the “mother,” which kicks off the transformation from must to vinegar. As it ages the balsamic will spend time in at least four different barrels or as many as a dozen. The barrels in a batteria are typically made from a variety of different woods including oak, acacia, cherry, juniper, and mulberry. By the time the balsamic is ready to sell, it will have spent time in each barrel in the batteria. Each type of wood contributes a different flavor. Older barrels add complexity and balance. As balsamics age in wooden barrels, the flavor changes dramatically. Younger balsamics are bright and tart. Older balsamics are syrupy thick with sweeter, woodsy flavors. Normally the vinegar from several different batteria are combined to bottle the white or gold label tradizionale vinegars from La Vecchia Dispensa that we carry, unlike the bottling of the Anna Maria which is the vinegar from just one set of the aged wood barrels that have been in use since 1934.
The flavor and aroma of the Anna Maria is memorable, to say the least! You can smell the rich wood notes, and it has a stunning dark ruby color. The flavor is full and long-lasting. I can detect the flavors of the wood coming through––the mulberry, juniper and oak, as well as cherry and stone fruit flavors. Come in and get a taste for yourself!