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Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia
Acondiment that has won over emperors, kings and dukes with a history packed with zest: the history of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia.
Its name first appears in writing in a poem entitled Vita Mathildis, written by a monk called Donizone. The poem describes an event that took place in 1046 when the Emperor of Germany, Henry III, stopped over at Piacenza en route to Rome for his coronation. He wrote to Boniface, Lord of the Castle of Canossa (near Reggio Emilia) and asked him for some of the special vinegar that "he had heard was made to perfection there".
The medieval monk says that Boniface had a cask made out of silver to contain the precious nectar and sent it on a carriage, and the king "was quite pleased with this magnificent gift". At the time, Canossa castle was home to a formidable array of barrels used for making balsamic vinegar, even if the castle went down in history for the humiliation of Henry IV, the excommunicated emperor who was left to wait outside the castle, barefoot in the snow, for three days before he was received and pardoned by Pope Gregory VII. The first consortia of vinegar producers started to make their appearance way back in the 12th century at Reggio Emilia and Scandiano, out-and-out assemblies whose members were made to swear they would never reveal the secrets behind this precious elixir to anyone.
The vinegar was mainly used for medicinal purposes, such as when Lucrezia Borgia was giving birth, or as a pharmaceutical remedy for sore throats, difficult breathing, indigestion, to cure bites by poisonous animals, fainting, as a heart tonic and, perhaps surprisingly, as a powerful aphrodisiac.
During the Renaissance, balsamic vinegar started to appear on the Noble’s table and was especially favoured at the House of Este.
Ludovico Ariosto, who was born at Reggio Emilia, always made sure he had this noble condiment to hand wherever he went. He even wrote in one of his Satires: "at home, I prefer a cooked turnip that I stab with a stick and peel and sprinkle with vinegar and saba".
Nearer the present day, the aroma of balsamic vinegar can even be found in the archives of local notaries: the lists of the assets of noble families from Reggio in the 19th century point to the custom of enriching the dowries of young noblewomen with sets of barrels of balsamic vinegar. For lovers of fine foods, a veritable invitation to a celebration.
Image taken from the bas-relief by Andrea Acerbi, anartist from Reggio Emilia,depicting the precious gift Boniface gave to Henry III