The earliest references to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena date back to ancient times.
The Romans used cooked grape must, which they called sapum, as a condiment and sweetener, as well as for medicinal purposes. In his work De Re Rustica, the Roman writer and agronomist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella describes the distinctive reaction of the grape musts of the Emilia area, which continued to ferment and acidify even after it was cooked.
Over the centuries, the noble qualities of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena became so well-known that it was sought after and enjoyed by the most important figures in Medieval history: in 1046, for example, when Henry III of Franconia came to Italy to be crowned the new Holy Roman Emperor, he sent gifts to Boniface of Canossa (father of the better-known Matilda) to receive a small bottle of the precious vinegar in exchange.
It was not until the Renaissance, however, that this precious “black gold” gained widespread renown, and in notarial deeds and wedding lists of the time we find frequent references to “bottles of vinegar”, an indication that it had become something so valuable that it was passed on as a legacy or included in a dowry.
At the time of the House of Este, the techniques for ripening sugary grapes had evolved significantly, and Modena vinegar became increasingly well-known and widely used; by the mid-18th century, the name had begun to be accompanied by the term balsamic.