Finding the right Balsamic
The purchase of balsamic vinegar can be extremely confusing, especially if you are new to the world of culinary purchases. The price of each bottle may vary from $3 to $25 at a store and yet be kept alongside each other. Two words to keep in mind : caveat emptor â€“ meaning ’let the buyer beware’. The production of authentic balsamic vinegar is totally governed and protected by Consortium of Producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, and Reggio Italy. These products are endorsed with a seal of the Consorzio, which guarantees that they met the requisite standards in the blind taste conducted by five experts. The Consortium has now issued a rule that does not permit the declaration of ageing on the labels, as the production method is such that the correct age cannot be proved.
Commercial balsamic vinegar is usually nontraditional and accounts for a large portion of the balsamic vinegar available in the USA. Production of authentic balsamic vinegar is a long and tedious process and also very labor intensive. This is why it is so expensive and available in limited quantities. If you want to buy only traditional balsamic vinegar, here is a simple five point guide that will help you ensure that you get what you are paying for :
1. Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced only in Modena, or Reggio in the south of Italy.
2. True balsamic vinegar can be divided into 3 groups â€“ Young (aged 3 to 5 years), Middle â€“ Aged (aged 6 to 12 years) and Old (aged for at least 12 years and can go upto 150 years).
3. Authentic balsamic vinegar is quite costly and some of the older ones can cost as much as $500 for a 3 ounce bottle.
4. The best quality balsamic vinegars do not contain any additional ingredients â€“ just the grapes. The lower grades will have caramel or brown sugar added to make it sweet.
5. Commercial balsamic vinegar is not governed by any rules regarding the ageing process. The material of the storage vats is also not specified. Such vinegar is not limited by technological and geographical boundaries. The traditional balsamic vinegar is made by boiling Trebbiano grapes that are grown in the Modena, Italy region. The residue ‘must’ is then aged in wooden casks made of a variety of woods ranging from oak to juniper. Each type of wood contributes its distinct aroma to the final product.True balsamic vinegar is just filtered and is not subject to any thermal or chemical treatment. No additional spices are added to it. Authentic balsamic vinegar is:
- Certified as aceto balsamico di Modena by the Italian balsamico consortium
- Grown organically
- It is considered a ’2 leaf’ level â€“ labeled as traditional only when the sweetness overpowers that of red wine vinegar thus making it an ideal seasoning for marinades or even as a drizzle over finished dishes
- It is aged for a minimum period of 3 years and endorsed with the true ‘hourglass’ label
Balsamic vinegar is matchless when it comes to aroma and taste and this is why it is so successful as a compliment or a finish to dishes. Each bottle is subject to tests and scrutinized by experts. Some of its distinguishing characteristics are listed below :
Appearance : Glossy and limpid
Color : A rich and dark ruby color
Density : A fluid with a syrupy consistency
Aroma : A distinct, persistently delicate smell that is pleasant and vinegary
Flavor : A blend of sweet and sour. It will have a rich and full flavor with many levels to tantalize the taste buds
Acidity : About 6 per cent
Authentic balsamic vinegar of Modena, Italy has distinctly extraordinary characteristics that make it one of the most sought after seasonings all over the globe. It has found its way to the treasured stores of the gourmet chefs as well as to the tables of the most famous restaurants.
Though expensive, this delightful product is used often to enhance the flavor, texture and aroma of a number of dishes. It goes well as a drizzle on boiled meats and roasts. Balsamic vinegar also compliments strawberries and radicchio, aged cheeses, onion and fresh and steamed vegetables.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Modena