Balsamic vinegar from Italy, is an aged reduction of Trebbiano or Spergola white grapes. The grapes are boiled to a syrup by being cooked very slowly in open fired copper cauldrons. The grapes are cooked until the moisture content is reduced by over 50 percent. The concentrated cooked balsamic grape reduction results in what is called the “must.” The grape ‘must’ reduction is put into wooden casks and an older aged balsamic vinegar is then added to promote the acetification process. Balsamic vinegar goes through a series of transfers from larger wooden barrels to progressively smaller wooden barrels. This aging process normally spans a period of twelve years. Every year the aging balsamic vinegar is transferred to different wooden barrels made from various wood varieties. In this way the balsamic vinegar obtains rich flavors inherent of the different woods. Popular wood varieties which the balsamic vinegar barrels are made from are: oak, cherry, chestnut, ash and wild cherry. Juniper and mulberry are the most difficult to procure, but are highly sought after for the unique flavors they impart to the balsamic vinegar.
A gourmet shopper can be perplexed about selecting balsamic vinegar at the grocery store. $5.00 balsamic vinegar can be next to $35.00 balsamic vinegar. Often taste testing is the best way to determine a quality balsamic. Inexpensive commercial grade vinegars are really not balsamico at all. Know what you are buying before you purchase.
The Italian producers from Reggio Emilia have designated three quality levels for Tradizionale Balsamic Vinegar.
12 years aged, indicated with a Red level or label.
20 years aged, indicated with a Silver level or label.
And 30-40 years ages designated with a Gold level or label.
Authentic Italian aceto balsamic vinegar comes in 3.4 ounce bottles and sells from $60.00 to $700.00 per bottle. It must be aged a minimum of 12 years. The better balsamic vinegars are aged 25 to 50 years. These balsamic vinegars are nearly liqueurs, rather than a vinegar. Serve them by the drop, never pour them.