Posted: 15/04/2019

Balsamic buyers should take note after fake vinegar seizure in Italy


Seggiano co-founder David Harrison said not every supplier of balsamic vinegar is as scrupulous as his company

Speciality food retailers should take extra care sourcing their balsamic after the Italian government seized a large quantity of fake vinegar, made with poor quality grapes.

Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture warned last month of the allegedly fraudulent use of “table”, or low-grade, grapes – rather than wine grapes – after seizing 9 million kilos of must and wine products worth about £13m with fake authenticity documentation.

Simone Tintori, chief executive and export manager of Acetaia La Vecchia Dispensa, in Castelvetro di Modena, said: “The grape must seems to be obtained from what we call table grape and not wine grape. The IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) rules strictly [requires use of only] seven different varieties of wine grape.”

David Harrison, joint chief executive of Italian Real Foods and founder of Seggiano, which supplies artisan balsamic vinegars from Modena, was not surprised to hear of the fake balsamic because of global demand.

He told FFD the only way retailers could be sure they are selling the genuine article would be down to confidence in a supplier’s reputation.

“If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true,” he said. “Not necessarily everyone is as scrupulous as we try to be.”

Andy Harris, “chief vinegar officer” of Vinegar Shed, a fine food business with a large selection of top-end small-batch artisan vinegars, said the scandal could change consumer habits for the better.

“I don’t think it will stop people buying balsamic but, for someone like me who is trying to educate people away from balsamic and onto better quality wine vinegars, hopefully it might make people have a second look at expensive, good quality wine vinegars.”

Sally Colter, co-owner, of Mrs Bumbles Delicatessen in Burford, Oxfordshire, buys 5kg containers of balsamic vinegar from Anthony Rowcliffe & Son, which the shop dispenses in jars and sells by the bottle.

Colter said she trusted Rowcliffe’s product. “It’s not like your one-off little bottles where you really have no idea where they are coming from.

“You often get the little man who knocks on your door and says they’re selling this and that. Balsamic vinegar is one of those things. I don’t buy from them because I don’t know the provenance of it,” she said.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency told FFD its National Food Crime Unit was monitoring the situation but there was “no indication of UK criminality at this stage”.

This story appeared in the April issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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