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The Middle Ages and beyond

Middle ages
The vinegar production technique improved in the Middle Ages and Agresto was first produced using green grapes which, thanks to their fresh and slightly acid taste, could counterbalance the condiment fat.
In 1394 in Orléans the newly established vinegar producers’ association imposed its members to keep the production technique secret, under penalty of expulsion. Hence the fame of the Orléans vinegar and the establishment of a thriving industry. In 1580 the city and its suburbs had 33 vinegar factories also because the local wine, which was fruity and not very acid, was highly suitable for vinegar production.
Orléans also had a favourable geographic position; in fact it was the last navigable port for goods coming from the west. The boats navigating along the river were very slow, also because of the scarcity of water, and by the time the wine got to the port it was ready for vinegar production, by accurately mixing it with the local wine.

Vinegar and the plague
In 14th century, the Black Death spread across Europe and killed one person out of three. Till 1670, every year was marked by the outbreak of the disease, at different levels.
Vinegar was considered good for prophylaxis and in 1720, the year of the last large outbreak in Western Europe, the inhabitants in Marseille protected themselves from this “fever-generating” air by holding a sponge soaked in vinegar “under the nose”, without ever breathing through the mouth or swallowing saliva. The doctors were assisted by nurses holding a basin full of vinegar, where the doctors could wash their hands before palpating the patients. When the plague started to slow down, the walls of the houses where sick people had been were washed with vinegar.

The vinegar of the 4 thieves
A bandage soaked in vinegar was placed around the forehead of Monatti, corpse carriers, to try and prevent them from being infected, as described by Manzoni. Four of them (somebody says seven), during the plague outbreak in Marseille in 1720, could sack the city scot-free thanks to the ablutions and gargles with aromatic vinegar, the ingredients of which were unknown to them.
Eventually they were sentenced to death for sacking and theft, but had their lives spared thanks to this vinegar, which was called the vinegar of the four thieves, after them. A French expert, Misette Godard, tried to prepare the vinegar of the four thieves based on the original recipe kept in Marseille and containing many herbs, cloves, camphor, wormwood and three pints of vinegar.