The best Balsamic Vinegars have nothing else added to them - only the grapes.
There is a lot of confusion
about balsamic vinegar. On the grocery shelves you will find $3.00
bottles next to $25.00 bottles (often the $3.00 bottles have fancier
labels). But, buyer beware! Not all balsamic vinegars are what they
appear to be.
Standards adopted and
administered by consortia in Modena and Reggio Emilia govern every
aspect of how balsamic vinegar is produced and aged. This includes the
bottle shape and even the foil that covers the cap.
According to the Cook's Illustrated
Magazine, March 1, 2007:
Tasted straight from the bottle, there was
no contest between supermarket and traditional balsamic vinegars. Even the best
of the commercial bunch - while similarly sweet, brown, and
viscous - couldn't compete with the complex, rich flavor of true balsamic
vinegar. With notes of honey, fig, raisin, caramel, and wood; a smooth,
lingering taste; and an aroma like fine port, traditional balsamic is
good enough to sip like liqueur.
Guide To Balsamic Vinegars:
What is balsamic
vinegar? Balsamic vinegar is a reduction made from
grapes, but it is not considered a wine vinegar because the grape juice
used is unfermented. The unfermented white sweet grape juice that is
used is called must and comes from the Trebbiano grapes.
You will find lots of balsamic vinegars in
your local stores. Some are worth their high price and others are not. Often,
the less expensive ones may suit your needs just fine. While there is
really only one “True” balsamic vinegar, there are actually three types
of balsamic vinegars that you will encounter on your next shopping
experience. Determine which type of balsamic vinegar is for you to use
in your cooking and different recipes:
True aceto balsamic vinegar comes in 3.4
ounce bottles and sells from $50.00 to $500.00 per bottle. It must be
aged a minimum of 10 year. The better balsamic vinegars are aged 25 to
50 years (these are not to be poured, but used by the drop). Dark in
color and syrup in consistency, they have a flavor that is a balance of
sweet and sour. Tradizionale has a mellow acidity and a sharp aroma.
Look at the seal, list of ingredients,
and the cap for clues.
Read the label for cooked grape must, the
word “tradizionale,” and the length of time vinegar has aged.
Follow these helpful clues offered by The Vinegar Institute:
- Make sure the consortium seal is over the
cap, as well as on the label.
- Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is
only bottled in the distinct bulb-shaped, 100-milliliter bottle.
- Modena brands use red and silver labels to
indicate aging of 12 and 18 years respectively.
- A gold cap indicates a minimum age of
- Look for a bottle that comes in a box with
a book containing recipes and a description of the process of
manufacture and recipes.
- Locate traditional balsamic vinegar of
Modena in fine gourmet shops
Find a good-quality medium-priced one to use in your cooking.
commercial grade or "cheap" balsamic vinegars work great in
vinaigrettes. Lesser balsamic vinegars
have brown sugar or caramel added to mimic the sweetness of the better-quality ones.
If a company
produces a "traditional" balsamic vinegar, they will also produce a less
expensive, but high quality vinegar as well. This is the same vinegar with
the same heritage but not aged as long. You can have confidence in
purchasing these balsamic vinegars.
CHECK YOUR LABELS!
Short History of Balsamic Vinegar:
Until approximately 25 years ago in the late 1970s, true balsamic vinegar or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, as it is called in Italian, was an Italian artisan
product relatively unknown outside of Italy.
The same country that
brought you such notable artists as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci,
as part of the Renaissance, also provides a culinary artistry that
offers incomparable quality and taste - the wonderfully adaptable aged
balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico di Modena. Balsamic vinegar can only
be produced in the regions of Modena and Reggio in Italy.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale has actually been being made for nearly a thousand years,
but never for commercial use. It was a well kept guard family secret to
the rest of the world and relatively unknown even to other Italians.
Instead families would pass it on as an heirloom, give it away in very
small vials to friends, or bequeath it to a daughter as part of her dowry.
historical reference to balsamic vinegar dates back to 1046, when a
bottle of balsamic vinegar was reportedly given to Emperor Enrico III of
Franconia as a gift. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a disinfectant.
It also had a reputation as a miracle cure - good for everything from
sore throats to labor pains.
For more information on the history of traditional balsamic vinegar:
History - History of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Production of Balsamic Vinegar:
The production of balsamic vinegar
resembles that of wine making. Balsamic vinegar is an aged
reduction of white sweet grapes (Trebbiano for red and Spergola for
white sauvignon) that are boiled to a syrup.
The grapes are cooked very
slowly in copper cauldrons over an open flame until the water content is
reduced by over 50%. The resulting "must" is placed into wooden barrels
and an older balsamic vinegar is added to assist in the acetification.
Each year the vinegar is transferred to different wood barrels so that
the vinegar can obtain some of the flavors of the different woods. The
only approved woods are oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, a cacia,
juniper, and ash. The age of the vinegar is divided into young – from 3
to 5 years maturation; middle aged 6 to 12 years and the highly prized
very old which is at least 12 years and up to 150 years old.
Ideas for serving Balsamic Vinegar:
Recipes using Aceto balsamico tradizionale vinegar:
This is the top-grade and absolute best balsamic vinegar.
True aceto balsamic vinegar comes in 3.4 ounce bottles and sells
from $50.00 to $500.00 per bottle.
Traditional Aceto Balsamico is used sparingly as a condiment or
seasoning. This balsamic vinegar works best
uncooked, as a drizzle to finish a dish.
To purchase top-quality authentic Italian Balsamic Vinegars,
check What's Cooking America's Gourmet Food Store below:
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia
(aged a minimum of 12 years)
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (aged 20 to 30 Years)
Anytime Balsamic Shrimp
An all-time favorite grilled shrimp dish, and it couldn't be simpler. Just brush the aged balsamic vinegar on the shrimp as you grill them.
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare and serve fresh Spring asparagus. It is so simple to do and so good
Baked Sweet Onions
These baked onions are so simple to make and so good, plus these onions are low calorie!
This is heavenly! - You'll love seeing the surprised look on your guests faces after they take the first bite.
Fig Brulee with Balsamic Vinegar
I have to make this every year when fresh figs appear. If you have a blowtorch, it takes all of 30
seconds, looks really cool, and tastes great.
Fresh Figs with Fleur de Sel, Aged Balsamic, and Hazelnuts
This is one of my favorite late-summer/early-autumn desserts and a lovely way to end a meal.
Fresh Strawberry Granita
When fresh strawberries are in season in your area, this is a must make!
Grilled Fig and Arugula Salad
The combination of flavors in this delicious salad will send you to new heights in
flavor. Your guests will absolutely adore this salad.
This Tomato Bruschetta Is the most wonderful appetizer during fresh tomato season. Try it and you'll be hooked!
Watermelon Cubes with Aged Balsamic Vinegar
This charming little amuse is comprised of two ingredients, and when there
are only two, they had better be the best there are! When Aged balsamic vinegar is paired with watermelon,
Recipes using genuine good-quality balsamic vinegar:
This is a good-quality balsamic vinegar that is usually aged around ten years.Use in recipes calling for larger quantities of balsamic vinegar.
good-quality balsamic vinegars, check out What's Cooking America's Gourmet Food Store.
Asparagus with Balsamic Viniagrette
Balsamic Chicken with Pears
Balsamic and Dijon Glazed Ham with Roasted Pearl Onions
Balsamic Maple Vinaigrette
Balsamic Beef Stew
Basil Infused Vinaigrette
Betsy's Black Bean Salad
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Garlic and Basil
Cabernet-Cherry Filet Mignon
Cherry-Tomato Salad with Tarragon
Chocolate Panna Cotta with Port-Balsamic Cherries
Couscous Salad with Dried Cherries
French Onion Soup
Fusilli with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Basil
Goat Cheese & Balsamic-Honey Crostini
Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper in Balsamic Vinegar
Green Beans with Balsamic-Shallot Butter
Grilled Balsamic-Dijon Chicken
Grilled Rack of Lamb with Pinot Noir Marinade
Grilled Sweet Peppers
Honey Mustard Dressing
Italian Panzanella Salad (Bread Salad)
Juniper Berry Vinaigrette
Molten Chocolate Cakes
Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
Oxtails in Caramelized Gravy
Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Parma Salad (Prosciutto Di Parma Salad)
Pinot Noir Syrup
Red Potato and Green Bean Salad
Roasted Balsamic Pearl Onions
Roasted Balsamic Sweet Onions
Roasted Beets with Blue Cheese and Pecans
Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Tomato Tart
Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce with Fresh Ginger
Roasted Pork Loin and Vegetables
Roasted Rainbow Potatoes
Roast Salmon with Pinot Noir Syrup
Seared Tuna with Gingered Plum Ragout
Shish Kebobs (Portuguese Espetadas)
Spuma di Tonno - Tuna Mousse
Stuffed Grilled Artichokes
Tuna Salad Sandwich
Watercress and Mushroom Salad
Wilted Balsamic Spinach Salad with Asparagus
Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Recipes using imitation commercial-grade balsamic vinegar:
The fact is, there are no standards or controls in making this grade
of balsamic vinegar. It is a mixture of wine vinegar, sugar, water,
preservatives, caramel, and flavorings. This grade of balsamic vinegar is
found in most of your supermarkets and grocery stores.
Don't waste your money on pricey traditional balsamic vinegar if you're
going to toss it on salad or cook with it.
I very seldom use this grade of balsamic vinegar. My main use of this low quality of
balsamic vinegar is to make the Faux Aged Balsamic Vinegar, also
known as Balsamic Reduction. If desired, you could also use this grade in the vinaigrette recipes.
Artichoke Mushroom Cannelloni Lasagna
Faux Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Learn to do as the Italians so - reduce your inexpensive balsamic vinegar with a
little brown sugar. It's a good second to the aged balsamic vinegars!
Grilled Balsamic Chicken and Peaches
Grilled Green Beans with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette
Oxtails in Caramelized Gravy
Prime Rib with Balsamic Glaze
Slow-Cooked Balsamic Pork Chops and Gravy
Spiced Grilled Pork Chops