About Balsamic Vinegars
Making Aceto Balsamic is an artisan draft, with each master craftsman incorporating his or her own techniques, e.g. type and number of wooden casks; the time liquid spends in each cask; temperature of the attics where the casks are stored; and, in the case of condimento, the amount and quality of the red wine vinegar added to the must. So, each product has its own nuances of flavor, depth of aroma and color, degree of viscosity. But, drop by precious drop, a characteristic of all authentic balsamico is intensity. In use, a little goes a long way. In the case of the tradizionale, we recommend that it be used as a table condiment-to drizzle, to drip, to dress food already cooked. Use the condimento for cooking. TASTE! EXPERIMENT! ENJOY!
Authentic Aceto Balsamico
Produced from unfermented, boiled grape juice (called 'must'), rather than wine, and aged for varying periods of time in different woods, this flavor enhancer is often called and labeled balsamic vinegar. However, it is more accurately known as Aceto Balsamico, and described as a 'condiment' rather than a 'vinegar'. All authentic balsamicos start with grapes with a very high sugar content (usually the Trebbiano) and go through the same production process. That is, the must is aged for varying lengths of time in casks of different woods. The differences between the 'condimento' (or 'commercial') and the "tradizionale" is that the latter fulfills certain rigid content, production and taste standards which result in the official tradizionale 'seal' granted by Master Testers. One of the significant differences is that condimento may be a blend of must and red wine vinegar; tradizionale is 100% must.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
To receive the appellation Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, either of Modena or Reggio, balsamics of these regions must be not less than 12 years in casks of different woods, be from must, and undergo rigorous production examination and taste testing by Master Testers.
In Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena), if the vinegar passes, either a white or gold cap is placed on the bottle, then an official paper seal is placed over the cap. A white label means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a gold label bearing the designation extravecchio to show the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
In Reggio Emilia (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale de Reggio Emilia), a red, silver or gold official seal is applied to the glass container. Both glass containers (Modena and Reggio) are of a specific configuation. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years and a gold label that designates the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
The color of the cap (Modena) or seal (Reggio) provides a quick indication of the minimum time the liquid has aged in the casks, or, in some cases, the level of quality, based upon the number of points granted by the Master Tester. But the seals are the authentication indication.
By Italian law the term tradizionale can apply only to balsamico produced in either Modena or Reggio.
Balsamic means 'like balsam'. And balsam is an aromatic resin. Balsamic vinegar simply refers to the fact that it is thick, resin like and aromatic. Balsamic vinegar is a rich-tasting, dark, smooth, perfumey, almost syrupy textured and deeply flavoured vinegar that can be used to provide extra flavor to roasted vegetables, roasts and even used on strawberries in season to render them heavenly.
It can only be produced in the regions of Modena and Reggio in Emilia-Romagna, Italy because of appellation controllee status. The first historical reference to balsamic vinegar dates back to 1046, when a bottle of balsamic vinegar was reportedly given to Emperor Enrico III of Franconia as a gift.
Balsamic vinegar was sold in pharmacies in the 15th century and used often as a disinfectant and to heal deep cuts from swords. It also had a reputation as a miracle cure, good for everything from sore throats to labor pains.
Authentic balsamic vinegar is very expensive.
If a grocery store offers balsamic vinegar for a few dollars for a 8 oz. (250 ml) bottle, you can be sure that it is commercial vinegar coloured with caramelized sugar.
Only 3000 gallons (approximately 11,400 litres) of authentic balsamic vinegar is released annually. This should give you an idea how precious it is. An 8 oz (250 ml) would cost depending on location $150.00 (in 2002) and extra vecchio double that.
Balsamic vinegar is made like no other vinegar. It is an aged reduction of grapes made from the 'must' (unfermented juice) of mainly the Trebbiano grape, other grapes used are Lambrusco, Ancellotta, Sauvignon and Sgavetta. These 'musts' cannot have anything added. The must is then boiled down very slowly in copper cauldrons until the water content is reduced by over 50%. And then it is infused with "mother vinegar" from older balsamic vinegar to assist in the acidification process. ('Mother' is a stringy, slimy substance that forms on the surface of vinegar, composed of various yeast and bacteria [especially mycoderma aceti] that cause fermentation in wine and cider, and turn it into acetic acid - vinegar).
The liquid is aged in casks of ash, cherry, mulberry, oak, acacia, juniper, and chestnut, the only approved woods. The order of which changes at each company.
Aceto Balsamico Tradizinole di Modena must be aged for a minimum of 12 years and Aceto Balsamico Tradizional di Modena Extra Vecchio for 25 years. Compensation for evaporation occurs by employing smaller barrels for each consecutive year, i.e. the first year aging occurs in a 50 litre cask, the 2nd in 45 litre etc.
The finished vinegar is then presented to the DOC, a governing body similar to those that govern the quality of French and Italian wines. Balsamic vinegars without this designation on the label are usually unaged, aged for 6 months to a year in stainless steel tanks, or aged for 2 to 12 years in wooden barrels.
The difference is like a bottle of expensive fine aged wine or gettting a box of wine packaged 3 weeks ago.
Now you know what to look for in your next bottle of balsamic vinegar