Recipes and News

Visit to La Vecchia Dispensa

We recently took a trip out to visit our balsamic supplier, La Vecchia Dispensa, at their home in the village of Castelvetro di Modena, about 20 minutes outside the town itself. As the newest member of The Oil Merchant, it was fascinating to see where my favourite product comes from.
Aside from the warm hospitality, wonderful food and beautiful scenery that we were lucky enough to experience, the trip was an opportunity to cement our understanding of Balsamic Vinegar, how it's made and the sometimes complicated rules and regulations which surround its production (due to its now 'protected' status). The understanding of the latter was definitely helped along by the former! We cannot recommend the area enough, and ate some completely wonderful food, made all the more delicious, of course, by the exceptional Balsamic Vinegar that finished many of the dishes.
One of the most breathtaking (and knee-shaking) moments of the trip was the very steep ascent up the old prison tower which stands overlooking the checker-board square in the village centre. This is where the family keep their oldest barrels; its warmth in the summer and coolness in the winter make it ideal for balsamic production, and most of the batteries have lain there for generations. You can see us in the photo above leaning down to sniff some of the 60-year-old barrels, which release a rich, musty and highly acidic aroma.
For me, the most striking element of La Vecchia Dispensa is the consistent family narrative which surrounds the whole production. Historically, when a daughter became betrothed, her father gave a battery of balsamic vinegar barrels as a dowry. Consequently, many of the older batteries in the tower are inscribed with a daughter's name and a date. The Prison Tower walls are hung with old family photos where Simone, our guide and the son of the current Master Balsamic Maker, Signor Marino Tintori, was able to point out the corresponding namesakes. Balsamic Vinegar only started to become a commercial venture in the last half-century, but on this visit we were able to see how long and significant its history is to the region of Modena.