When talking balsamic it’s important to understand there are very different degrees of quality for this unique condiment. The original version, the so called Traditional Balsamic vinegar, is what gave worldwide fame to this regional delicacy. Not to be mistaken with balsamic condiments, or IGP certified, produced in much larger quantities not even nearly as sophisticated. Compared to its industrial rivals Traditional Balsamic vinegar has a very small production. It is the representation of traditional knowledge passed down for generations throughout centuries. The only ingredient is cooked must, which is then “aged” for at least 12 years – a concentration of deep complex flavour.
Here is how it goes: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is the most controlled and regulated food product of Italy. It is made using a series of barrels of decreasing size, called a battery. The battery is exposed to cold temperatures in winter and high temperatures in summer, which reduces the content of each barrel by approximately 15%. The product is ready when it has aged one year in each barrel, beginning from the largest one. When it reaches the smallest one it is ready for extraction. The result is a continuous blend of different vintages and is characterised by rejuvenation. Each year the finished product from the smallest barrel is removed and bottled while the contents of each barrel are transferred to the next, with the first barrel being filled with new must. This long and caring process provides the vinegar with a concentration of taste and a viscous texture. All imitation, non-regulated products add sugar to create density. A small bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is obtained from 70 – 90 pounds of grapes, and the process takes at least 12 years. It’s something very special, to be used occasionally and on very specific foods.
Being such a precious and fine food, cooking with it is a waste as heat would destroy it’s essence, and it would be wasted over a salad. Best with:
- Vanilla gelato and strawberries
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Panna cotta
- Meat ravioli
Interesting facts: A good traditional balsamic vinegar uses barrels of at least 4 different types of wood in its battery. A small bottle of this kind of vinegar is obtained from 30 to 40 kg of grapes (66-88 pounds).
Tips on how to recognise the REAL product:
- The name must contain the word TRADIZIONALE and the certification DOP
- The texture must be viscous
- No ingredients apart from must
- No vintage statement