Since the end of the Middle Ages, records show the presence of a “tart syrup”, the ancient relative of vinegar, in the areas between Panaro and Secchia, near Modena, but its uses were purely medicinal, rather than culinary. The first mention of vinegar used in the kitchen came in around 1046, when Henry II stopped in Piacenza on his way to Rome to be crowned Emperor. Bonifacio, the marquis of Tuscany and father of Matilde of Canossa, gave Henry a special vinegar that he heard had turned out very well. This is the first record of Balsamico Modena.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar DOP is made with must from Lambrusco, Trebbiano and other grape varieties grown in the province of Modena. The grape must is cooked over low heat until it is quite thick and dark brown. It is then left to rest, activating the natural fermentation, which gives balsamic vinegar its distinctive flavour. The grape must is then transferred to rooms specially designed for vinegar production called acetatie. In these rooms, the cooked must reduces in volume, ages and becomes more refined. It takes 100 litres (26 gallons) of must to make a couple litres of traditional balsamic vinegar and it takes at least three years for the must to finish the two phase fermentation process.
A good balsamic vinegar needs to be aged for at least another twelve years before use, and anywhere between 30 to 50 years to be considered sublime. Balsamic vinegar that has been aged for more than 25 years is called “extra vecchio”, or super old.
When the word tradizionale (traditional) is missing from the label and instead reads “Aceto Balsamico di Modena”, it means that the vinegar was made from wine, not must, and requires less work during aging. Mass produced balsamic vinegar costs considerably less, but unfortunately, is considerably poorer quality.
Not many people would pair duck with vinegar, but it really works well, add this to sweet honey and earthy porcini mushrooms, and you have a wonderful dish 🙂
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the porcini risotto –
45g pack dried porcini mushrooms
300ml warm water
900ml chicken stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
330g vialone nano risotto rice
100ml dry white wine
1 tsp dried wild rosemary
75g butter, cubed
90g freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
(1). Put the porcini mushrooms in a bowl, cover with the water and leave to soften for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water. Strain the soaking water through a coffee filter or a fine sieve into a large saucepan. Squeeze the mushrooms dry, then roughly chop and set aside.
(2). Add the stock to the mushroom liquid in the pan and bring to a gentle simmer. Maintain over a low heat while you prepare the risotto.
(3). Pour the olive oil into a large, heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 6 minutes or until completely soft but not coloured. Turn up the heat and stir in the rice. Cook, stirring, for a minute, then add the wine and let it bubble and evaporate.
(4). Add the chopped mushrooms, dried rosemary and a ladleful of the hot stock and stir until the rice has almost completely absorbed the stock. Continue, adding the stock a ladleful at a time, until most of the stock is used and the rice is cooked but maintains a firm bite. This will take about 20 minutes. Turn down the heat if the risotto bubbles too vigorously or begins to stick to the pan. Add some of the remaining stock and stir until you have a wet, but not sloppy, risotto. Don’t worry if there is a little leftover stock.
(5). Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan. Cover for a few minutes, then stir again and adjust the seasoning.
For the duck and honey Balsamic –
4 duck breasts
salt and pepper to taste
8 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp honey
8 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
(1). Pre-heat your oven to 200C/Gm8. Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper.
(2). Place an oven-proof pan over high heat (if you don’t have one seal the duck in a normal pan then transfer to a baking tray to put in oven). Once hot, sear the duck breast, skin side down. The fat in the skin will melt, helping to cook the rest of the breast without adding any more oil or butter. Once the skin is golden, flip it over and let brown.
(2). In the meantime, quarter the onions and add to the pan, also add 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn during cooking, the sage and rosemary.
(3). Transfer your duck to the oven for 13 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the breast.
(4). Once the breast is cooked, remove from oven and keep it warm while it rests.
(5). Carefully put the pan (it will be hot) back over a medium heat and add the cut slices of cavalo nero. Fry for a couple of minutes till crispy then remove with a spoon and place on kitchen paper to drain.
(6). Remove the excess fat from the frying pan and return the pan to the heat, adding the honey and balsamic vinegar to the herbs.Reduce for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat and pass the sauce through a strainer, collecting the honey balsamic liquid in jug below.
Serve as pictured with the duck carved on top of the risotto, drizzled with the honey balsamic and topped with the crispy cavalo nero.