Cigars and balsamic vinegar is probably not your daily go-to pairing. However, it might be extremely interesting if you happen to have access to a little bottle of that nectar produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia areas of Italy. In this article we refer to the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), whose original name is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, shortened ABTM DOP.
The PDO standard is a strict self-discipline applied by producers and guaranteed by the European Union legislation. PDO means that the production process is codified. Only crushed grape-must is used, cooked, matured through slow acidification, deriving from natural fermentation and progressive concentration (the annual decrease is about 15-25% depending on the size of the cask), and through lengthy aging in a series of small barrels of different kinds of wood, with no addition of aromatic substances.
Therefore, beware: too often many so-called balsamic vinegars are actually normal wine vinegars variously flavored and colored. The difference is not only in the price, it is especially in the flavor.
In fact, as part of the PDO standard, all the product needs to pass a sensory test in order to be put on the market and bear the seal of guarantee which must be added to every single bottle (100 ml for all producers). The bottling only takes place at certified bottling plants.
Wandering in history, the birth of balsamic is assumed to be casual: probably a certain amount of saba, the cooked grape must used as a sweetener in the Modena cuisine, was forgotten in a homemade jar and found only later, when already presenting signs of an initiated acetification… I am sure this piece of history sounds familiar to lovers of Toscano cigars as, in Florence, in 1815, following a violent summer downpour a soaked batch of Kentucky tobacco which, due to the heat, underwent ammonia fermentation…
Proposing a pairing of the two products is not surprising. For this purpose we appreciate the insights of:
- Terry Nesti, who experimented Toscano cigar tastings with many products: from red wine to craft beers, from bitters to the nouvelle vague of Italian sodas. He answered our questions together with Massimo Malpighi, President of Acetaia Malpighi.
- Mario Gambigliani Zoccoli, President of Consorzio Produttori Antiche Acetaie
ABTM Servizi s.r.l.
The organoleptic characteristics of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO
According to Mr. Gambigliani, harmony among acidity, sugars and aromas is the key organoleptic characteristic. The product is also characterized by a high aromatic intensity and a long or very long persistence.
Mr. Malpighi described the ABTM DOP as having extraordinary organoleptic characteristics, rich in mineral salts, polyphenols, and it’s a real concentrate of vitamins. It is full, dense and its scent is extremely complex, but at the same time well identified and distributed thanks to the essences of the woods in which it matures . The ABTM DOP is a sponge, which absorbs the characteristics of the soil in which it is left to mature. It is peated and fruity.
According to Mr. Malpighi , “The 12 year old has lower density and volatile acidity, it is more immediate as it is a less ripe product. The 25 year old, which can still mature for a long time, presents an evolution of all the characteristics of the 12 yo and thus acquires a fully harmonic and mature flavor, intense and persistent fragrance, with high density. “For this reason”, Mr. Gambigliani suggested, “we always taste the 25 yo first and then the 12 yo.”
The pairing approach
The experts recommended trying to find harmony in the pairing: one product should not overwhelm the other, but rather enhance some of the nuances that could remain unnoticed otherwise. “We want a pairing that can surprise us” says Mr. Malpighi.
Mr. Nesti explains that “the only ingredients of the ABTM DOP are cooked grape-must and time. Similarly, the only ingredients of a fine cigar are water, tobacco and time. When pairing a Toscano cigar, we usually choose something that contrasts the astringency, typical of Kentucky tobacco, although the great red wines and some coffees extracted in percolation are exceptions. In reality what I’m looking for is always the balance of two great products which must never overwhelm, but try to gift new perceptions to the palate.”
The extremely intriguing and original combination between the world of Balsamic Vinegar and Toscano cigars always fascinated Mr. Nesti, due to some organoleptic and fragrance characteristics. Here are the pairing he suggests:
Toscano Originale with ABTM DOP 25 yo: “In this case, we found homogeneity between the two products, characteristics in balance for a really extraordinary pairing.”
Antico Toscano with ABTM DOP 25 yo. “The cigar expresses its powerful and intense character, where notes of noble wood are enhanced thanks to the ABTM DOP, blending with aromas of dried fruit, cherries in spirit, toffee and a hint of peat.”
Other pairings experimented by Mr. Malpighi are “Cohiba Esplendidos with a Reserve of ABTM DOP aged 50 yo in cherry wood barrels. A perfectly successful and extremely pleasant combination, since one product glorified the other. Or Nat Sherman VIP with a black label ABTM IPG of 1.36 density, which, having a slightly higher acidity, gives more strength and vigor to the cigar.”
How to taste the ABTM DOP with a cigar
It is recommended to use a small white porcelain spoon and pour some drops of ABTM DOP to fill it. Then light the cigar, puff and taste the balsamic. Hold it for a few seconds on the tongue, while drawing again on the cigar.
We hope you enjoyed the article. When you try the pairing, don’t forget to share your experience in the comments section below!
Featured image credit: Consorzio Produttori Antiche Acetaie ABTM Servizi s.r.l.