Types of Balsamic Vinegar
The categorization of balsamic vinegar has been the source of much controversy for years. In Italy, fierce legal as well as vocal battles have been over the use of names and authentic references. The method of balsamico production will tell the story of true differentiation. Broadly speaking, the balsamic vinegar available on the market is divided into 3 main categories, namely artisan style, commercial, and imitation. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio are the best examples of artisan style vinegar. These are true balsamics made in the traditional fashion in Modena and Reggio. The method has a heritage dating back over 1000 years old. Balsamico such as these are tested and approved by the consortiums of Modena and Reggio. According to Italian mandate, only this variety can have the word ’tradizionale’ on its label. The approved vinegars are bottled in a distinct style unique to its province.The vinegar from Modena is bottled in a small round globe bottle that incorporates a rectangular base. These bottles were designed by Giorgetto Giugiro, an Italian designer, and are specific to the balsamic consortium use. On the label are color designation of age and quality. Colors indicate white for young vinegar and gold for an extra vecchio, a very aged one. The consortium’s panel of tasters prefer older vinegars and hence the average tradizionale from Modena will be about 20 â€“ 30 years. The consortium of Reggio has three distinctions of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, which are ‘Tradizionale,’ ‘Qualita superiore’ and ‘Extra vecchio,’ the last being the premium variety. Every grade has a differently stamped colored label. The bottles for all three are vase shaped with a round seal stating ‘Consortium of Producers of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia’. The tradizionale vinegars of Reggio tend to be sweeter with a more plum-like flavor than their Modena rivals. Reggio’s criteria is often frowned upon by Modena on the grounds of leniency in tradizionale grading.
A few basic characteristics of balsamic vinegar are the same. Fine tradizionale is thick, viscous, a dark purplish brown color, aromatic with a sweet and sour taste. When a bottle is tipped, the vinegar is syrupy and coats the sides of glass. The vinegars can have a myriad of tastes ranging from toffee, old port, caramel, vanilla, plum jam and even chocolate. The first taste is sweet followed by a slight acidity. Different barrels are used for ageing vinegar and changed at intervals. This is why the vinegar is always a harmonious blend of the old and the new and hence no two tradizionale vintages are the same. They are very rich in flavor, thus should be used in very small quantities.
A new category of artisan style balsamic vinegar is being marketed. Some intrepid producers are using unadulterated cooked grape ’must,’ yet make the balsamico in the traditional artisan methods. They then sell a portion of their vintage earlier than the requisite 12 years. Some small producers, who cannot pay the consortium membership tariffs and bottling fees, cannot legally have the word ’tradizionale’ on their label. These special artisan vinegar productions are marketed as a gourmet condiment, but many of the producers are now applying for a special categorization of their gourmet balsamico. Balsamic vinegar is quickly becoming more than just another cooking seasoning. It is taking on a life of its own in the gourmet cooking circles.