Balsamic vinegar is today a worldwide known ingredient that comes in a wide variety of presentations. Its dark glossy texture and sweet and sour flavors have made it ideal as a condiment, but there is a lot more to it.
How come the price ranges from a few bucks to a few hundred dollars for a bottle? Why does sometimes balsamic vinegar seem liquid and transparent and other times it looks like a dark kind of honey?
There are good answers to these questions, but most of them are on the label of the balsamic vinegar bottle you’re holding at the supermarket. You should always check out where balsamic vinegar comes from, that’s where the first clue lies.
The fact is that there are different types of Balsamic vinegar, and choosing the right one can make a huge difference in your cooking.
Choose Italian balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is an Italian product. It was born hundreds of years ago in the region of Modena and Reggio Emilia, in Italy. And it is still produced there today.
Why does it matter where balsamic vinegar is produced?
Mainly because the grapes used to make this dark gold, as it’s known locally, are typical from that region, the wood used in the barrels where the grape must, which results from cooking slowly the grapes, ages for years.
But what makes a real difference in balsamic vinegar produced in this part of Italy, is the fact that old traditions have been passed from generation to generation, combined with modern technology, bettering the production process but still safeguarding the basis of the fundamental customs of the world of balsamic vinegar.
The place where balsamic vinegar is produced is called acetaia and for example Acetaia Leonardi, located in the region of Modena, in Italy, is one of those places where tradition, family and old customs are deeply connected to produce a balsamic vinegar of excellent quality.
Tips for choosing the best balsamic vinegar
In Europe there are certain denominations added to the name of a product, the highest one in the ranking is D.O.P. This is called Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P. and it means the balsamic vinegar has been made following very strict regulations and standards that guarantee excellence in quality, especially when it comes to its flavors and texture.
There is another denomination to look for since the D.O.P. can go up to 200 dollars a bottle. Another option characterized by quality, flavor and texture is the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P..
The I.G.P. denomination has also very strict regulations that guarantee the final product is of the highest quality. Local varieties of grapes are used to make the grape must, which is then mixed with wine vinegar a portion of already aged wine vinegar (at least 10 years) and then aged for a period of minimum 60 days. The production process of balsamic vinegar is fundamental in determining the quality of this ingredient, easily determined by looking at the denominations.
In Acetaia Leonardi, only the highest standards are followed to make sure the traditional production of balsamic vinegar is respected to the letter. As you can see, the production steps are fundamental in guaranteeing the quality of the end vinegar.
Any other balsamic vinegar, usually produced outside Modena and Italy, cannot use the said denominations, is an imitation, and its quality may vary drastically.
If you’re wondering if there is truly a difference between these kinds of vinegar, the answer is yes.
The only ingredient in balsamic vinegar is grapes. Most commonly known types are Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana, Montuni, accepted varieties for the I.G.P. denomination and Lambrusco, Ancellotta, Trebbiano, Sauvignon, Berzemino, Sgavetta e Occhio di Gatta for the traditional balsamic vinegar.
These local varieties are combined carefully and made into a concoction by cooking it for days and consequently aged for years and years in wooden barrels, through a process that involved regularly moving it from one barrel to another smaller, allowing the grape must to absorb the notes and perfumes of the different woods, which enormously added to its flavor.
Going with the right balsamic vinegar will make a huge difference in the quality, taste, and presentation of your dish. The unique texture and flavor of balsamic vinegar have the potential of enhancing your dishes, salads, and even desserts.
A good compromise is going to an IGP denomination, making sure the balsamic vinegar you’re using is of good quality and actually comes from Modena. All that is left is to enjoy the tangy and sweet flavor of this syrupy ingredient.