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Darrell Corti, owner of Sacramento’s beloved Corti Brothers, is an old fashioned and trusted shopkeeper. He is an expert in the production and history of the food and beverages he sells in his artisanal grocery and ensures that his staff is well trained to carry that knowledge to the customer.
Corti handpicks the majority of his specialty products in his extensive travels and during biweekly wine tastings. He also utilizes his relationships with local artisans.
Sebastian Bariani, co-owner of Bariani Olive Oil, is an artisan producer in Sacramento who has known Corti for 19 years.
"We have a long relationship with Mr. Corti. Corti Brothers was the first retailer to buy our olive oil," said Bariani, "he was an influential factor for us to keep producing. We could not wish for a better friend to represent my family's olive oil."
Corti is not just any local shopkeeper. Rick Mindermann, store director and personal assistant to Corti, explained that Corti is world renowned for his contributions to the food world. Such accomplishments include the introduction of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar) to the United States.
Corti was able to find a producer in the late 70’s after selling Mr. Mossimo Violi, a collector of rare spirits, a prescription bottle of prohibition era whiskey. Massimo turned out to be a hobbyist and maker of traditional Balsamic Vinegar and Corti began importing the Violi family vinegar in 1982.
The type of balsamic vinegar that the majority of Americans buy today began emerging on the market in the mid to late 1970's and is known as industrial balsamic vinegar. This vinegar is made by combining grape must (crushed grapes), wine vinegar and often times, sugar. Although these vinegars have a purpose in the modern American kitchen, they are all an imitation of true balsamic vinegar.
Traditional balsamic vinegar has been produced since ancient civilizations. It is remarkably different from industrial vinegar and is identified by its thick syrupy density, caramel flavor and balance of sweet and sharp acidity.
Today the product is made largely by hobbyists under strict monitoring by the Consortium of Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. The product is made in only two geographical regions - Modena and Reggio Emilia, according to the Consortium’s website.
Due to the intensity and long production time required to make traditional balsamic vinegar, an estimated equivalent of between 2,482 and 2,758 wine bottles are distributed each year in 3.5 oz. bottles, according to Mindermann. These bottles sell for anywhere from $100 to $500 and beyond.
The vinegar is made by boiling down grape must to about 50 percent of the original bulk. It is then aged in a series of barrels constructed from a variety of woods. At the end of each one-year cycle, the emerging vinegar has reduced, and a portion is distributed to the next consecutive barrel until a small amount is removed from the final barrel after a minimum of 12 years, the minimum time of production for certification.
On the production of the vinegar, Mindermann notes, “The most important age is the age of the barrels. It is a blending of old and new material, imparting flavor to the product that is passing through.”
The final vinegar is bottled in consortium owned glass so that the product is protected from fraud. When consumers buy the vinegar in these bottles with the certification seal, they know it is the real product.
By educating the consumer and selling this precious elixir, Corti Brothers has played a pivotal role in the protection of this product and many others, earning Corti the Cavaliere Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana by the Italian Government in 1992, the Italian version of knighthood.
The vital factor in the protection from fraud for both the consumer and the product is having a shopkeeper like Corti making the delivery. Not only do many consumers trust the verification of the products, there are opportunities to experience alternative trusted products without the high cost.
The Violi family also makes three vinegars named "Paseone," which is constructed in the traditional manner. It is not certified, but there is a clear option to trust that the product is a close sibling to the certified version that they produce because Corti himself has personally inspected the manner of production and the barrels themselves.
“We are shopkeepers; we want to teach if our customers are interested in learning... A shopkeeper knows the realm of his business. It is something that has kept us in business for a long time,” said Mindermann.
After tasting the 12 year vinegar made by the Violi family, it is abundantly clear that it is a unique privilege to have this knowledge in our city.
Below is the complete interview with Rick Mindermann.
Click here for audio.