Food, Wine and other Beverages

Italian Ingredients: Vinegar

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Ingredienti Italiani: Vinegar

Follow up to last week’s Ingredienti Italiani post on Olive Oil

Vinegar: Aceto {ah CHE  toh}


Vinegar is wine’s destiny, brought about by exposure to oxygen and specific types of bacteria that use alcohol as nourishment.

Vinegar is one more reason to be thankful for the French. The slow, ancient method of making vinegar was perfected in medieval Orléans, born from a desire to salvage spoiled barrels of Burgundy and Bordeaux wine. The Orléans process involved inoculating partially filled barrels of diluted wine with a vinegar “mother” from a previous batch, and then allowing it to ferment, producing the finished vinegar in about two to three months. Here are some of Italy’s best aceto varieties:

Aceto Balsamico: The tradition of beloved sweet Italian balsamic vinegar should deserve a full feature unto itself. Genuine balsamic vinegar is made by artisans in the towns of Modena and Reggio Emilia from unfiltered, unfermented grape juice and a potent “mother.” In the past it was produced only in the family attic, while the recipe was passed from one generation to the next. Commercially sold Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is aged for many years, sometimes for even more than a century, in sturdy barrels of different types of oakwood to become dark, dense and almost too divine to be called vinegar.

Once fully aged, it becomes sweet and syrupy. And expensive. Aged balsamico is one product where price nearly always indicates quality. The traditional type is protected by a DOP designation of origin in the towns of Modena and Reggio, but imitations abound. The balsamico tradizionale is a unique condiment for meat, fish, and vegetables or the prime ingredient in sauces. Vinegars of 20 years old or more may be sipped from a teaspoon as a cordial or digestive.

These days it’s fashionably splashed or reduced to a thick cream and slathered on everything from salads and cheeses to ice cream and strawberries.

Aceto di Vino: The very best wine vinegars–white or red–are still made using the ancient Orléans process, requiring a lot of patience. The words ‘di vino’, literally “of wine” have been an exploited adjective, divino (divine) for publicity slogans in many brands of wine vinegar.

Aceto di Mele: Apple or cider vinegar is the product of yeast-fermented apple cider or must, which boasts a decidedly apple-like aroma and golden color. It’s a great choice for mixed fruit and vegetable salads, marinades, chutneys and other condiments and relishes.

Aceto di Miele: Honey vinegar is obtained through the fermentation of mead (an alcoholic drink obtained by honey). With its typically bitterish taste, golden color, and intense aroma, honey vinegar is rich in enzymes and minerals.

Vinegar can be used as a potent, low-cost and eco-friendly cleanser. Italian homemakers use white wine vinegar for a multitude of chores around the house, for example using it as window detergent, or used to break the lime build-up in the dishwasher, or as a disinfectant mouthwash after a baby tooth is pulled loose.

Italian mothers always teach their kids how to flush a cup of baking soda followed by one of vinegar once a week for a spotless toilet bowl; or the trick of adding a half cup of vinegar in the washing machine water as a fabric softener.

My mom would rinse my hair with wine vinegar after shampoo, once a week until I was 12. My hair’s always been very shiny.

Photo credits via flickr:

Michele Ursino

Scott Ashkenaz

Andreas Levers

About the author

American-born and Roman-bred Eleonora Baldwin is an active writer, blogger, journalist, gourmet vacation entrepreneur and photographer living in the Eternal City. Her writing appears regularly in several online food and travel columns that focus on Italian lifestyle, culinary customs and recipes, as well as her soon-to-be released cookbook-memoir, due for publication in 2016. Her blogs illustrate dishes, restaurant reviews, and useful tools for parents travelling with kids in Rome. On Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, her most popular blog, Eleonora shared her insider knowledge about the depth of Italian cuisine. She can be spotted in and around the Eternal City guiding epicure travelers to secret food and wine locations, interviewing celebrity chefs, and capturing with her camera the essence, beauty and life that surrounds her.

This article has 7 comments

  1. Stephanie (FoodFreeway)

    Lovely! I love vinegar, it’s very helpful to have this bit of extra info on the different types. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Krista

    What an interesting article! I so enjoyed this. 🙂 I grinned at your story of rinsing your hair in vinegar. I’ve never done such a thing but will simply have to try it now. 🙂

  3. Angela (Travel with a Purpose)

    My grandma used to rinse our hair out with vinegar on Saturday nights when we stayed over, so all her grandkids would have shiny tresses at church the next morning! I remember her adding it to laundry too. She was from Croatia…just across the Adriatic from Italy. Must have been some old world knowledge.

  4. Nancie (Ladyexpat)

    Wonderful post Eleonora! I love balsamic vinegar, and it can be found here in Korea. Plain white vinegar is another story. I have to buy it from a “gray market” store. I often put a little in a bowl, if I’ve cooked something with a strong odor. The vinegar absorbs the smell quickly.

  5. Gourmantic

    I’m a big fan of balsamic vinegar and have invested on occasion in an aged vinegar. A little sip can be enjoyed like a good wine!

    Not keen on washing hair in vinegar. I wonder what it does for coloured hair!

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  7. Wanderluster

    I also love balsamic vinegar. I buy a spiced version in Seattle with hot chili peppers and it’s so good with some nice bread.

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