The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that 'balsamic' is not a protected concept and therefore not exclusively Italian. The verdict is a blow to the professional association of vinegar makers from the Modena region.
Not a protected regional product
Although balsamic vinegar originates from Italy (and more specifically from the province of Modena), the term 'balsamic' in itself is not protected, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The statement means that the word can be used freely, even by vinegar producers from outside Italy. That is a relief for German vinegar producer Balema, which sells a "Deutsches Essig-Brauhaus 1868 Balsamico".
The full label "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" ("balsamic vinegar from Modena") has been protected by a so-called 'protected geographical indication' (PGI) since 2009, offering regional products protection against counterfeiting. In the case of the full label, only vinegar from Modena may use that name, Dutch news source RTL Z explains.
An association of Italian vinegar producers therefore insisted that Balema should remove the name balsamic from its labels. The case finally came before the Court of Justice of the European Union, which has now rejected the Italian claim.
In its judgment, the Court states that "the protection of the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ does not extend to the use of the non-geographical terms of that name". In short: while the whole term may be protected, the individual words are not and for the Court of Justice of the European Union, the term balsamic is nothing more than an adjective to indicate a characteristic sweet-sour taste.