It is believed that Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was discovered by accident when a barrel full of grape must was forgotten about in an attic and left open to the elements. Reggio Emilia and Modena are two of the regions in the world where the specific yeast and bacteria needed to ferment and acetify sugary fluids occur naturally. These organisms, which are present in the air, found their way into the barrel, and over the years converted the grape must into alcohol and then the alcohol into acetic acid.
Sometime later, someone found the forgotten barrel and was daring enough to try the resulting concoction. He or she was pleasantly surprised with the thick, dark syrup. It had a wonderful sweetness while still carrying the complexity from the wood barrel and the crispness of a vinegar and thus Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was born.
There is not much written history of balsamic vinegar before the 1700’s, but it is believed to be a 1000 year old tradition. The reason historical evidence is scarce predating 1700 is because it was family tradition that was passed down by demonstrating the process to the next of kin over many years, instead of written directions in a recipe book.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar first became a tradition in these regions when families would start a batch of the vinegar when a child was born. As the child aged, so did the balsamic. On the twenty-first birthday of the child they would harvest the aged vinegar from the final barrel and use it during the birthday celebration. It was also often used as a dowry during an engagement if the child was a woman. Earlier than 1700, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was only available to the artisans who produced it or villagers nearby who were willing to barter for the treasured elixir. For the next few hundred years, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar was reserved only for royalty or for luxurious gifts for nobles in Europe. Only in the last fifty years has the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar been available for sale at all, let alone within the United States.