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Liquid Black Gold: Balsamic Vinegar

I had the pleasure of meeting an up-and-coming chef in Michigan who integrates global cuisines into creative infused dishes.   While educating and exposes his clients to the intricacies of flavorful cooking, he discussed his collection of extraordinary seasonings and condiments to use in both traditional dishes as well as experimental culinary delights to satisfy the most discerning gastronomic palates.   Among his seasonings were quite a variety of vinegars selected to properly enhance his creations including the queen of spices… Balsamic Vinegar.

Most common vinegars are mass-produced, yet there are certain regions of the world known for exceptional strains elevating the flavor of certain foods.  Regions such as Spain known for its Sherry Vinegar created from its popular Sherry Wine base and Asia particularly China for Black Vinegar and Shanxi vinegar and Japan (Rice Vinegar, plum vinegar, and purple sweet potato vinegar).  However, Europe, specifically the Providence of Modena, Italy which includes the municipalities of Modena, Reggio-Emilia and Silamberto hold the undeniable claim to traditional quality balsamic vinegar production.  

For travelers scheduling a future trip to Italy, Modena (located in Northern Italy between Bologna and Parma) is celebrated not only for it balsamic vinegar culture, as Italy’s Motor Valley and home of  automotive brands Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, the hometown of Luciano Pavarotti and where Parmigiano Reggiano is produced. The region offers foodies exceptional Italian culinary delights and a variety of regional wines.

Balsamic derived from the Italian name for vinegar “aceto balsamico”, historically was used for its healing powers and then as a valuable trading and gifting commodity among aristocrats.   Producers of balsamic are families that have passed down this tradition for decades, centuries in some cases with the expectations that the torch will continue to be carried by future generations.   

Unlike, many European kinds of vinegar are derived from wine, balsamic is made with crushed skins, seeds, and stems called  ‘grape must’, from ripe, white Trebbiano grapes, boiled into a concentrated grape juice.  It is then processed by sequential fermentation (rincalzo in Italian) meaning, the juice is moved, annually from larger to smaller barrels made of different types of wood (i.e. oak, cherry, mulberry, ash, juniper, or chestnut) which affect the flavor and aroma.  Balsamic, unlike its sister vinegars, takes the longest to ferment and age from ten to 25 years.   The longer the fermentation, the more concentrated, richer in flavor, and more expensive.  The term ‘aceto balsomico’ is unregulated, but there are three protected balsamic vinegars: 

– Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena); made with reduced grapes

– Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP  (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia); made with reduced grapes

– Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena); made with grapes blended with wine vinegar and produced exclusively in either Modena or Reggio Emilia; less expensive and suggested for daily use

When buying balsamic vinegar keep in mind:

–           the main ingredient on the label should list grape must; if red wine vinegar is listed the product will be more acidic and thinner

–          Carmel color is the other ingredient red flag of a poor quality vinegar which is totally unnecessary for an authentic balsamic

–          Similar to wine, the more aged a balsamic the quality increases

–          Buy regionally for the best balsamic  (see above)

–          Buy from reputable independent retailers

True balsamic vinegar is rich, thick, syrupy, fragrant and close to black in color. Tastes vary, having a range of blends of fruit and woody flavors from the barrel-aging process.  A good balsamic will have more of a liqueur taste versus a vinegary flavor and intense enough to only require a few drops to compliment a dish.  Chefs will use the DOP balsamic vinegars sparingly on an aged parmesan, antipasto meats, steaks, grilled fish and other seafood, lamb chops, pastas and risottos, fruit (strawberries and pears), and sweets such as gelato or vanilla ice cream.
5 Quality Balsamic Vinegars


Acetaia Del Cristo

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

San Giacomo Aged Balsamic Vinegar Tradizionale

La Cà dal Non Traditional Balsamic Vinegar Demetria Extra Vecchio

IGP –  used in dishes and dressings

Acetraia Leonardi Sigillo Argento Balsamic Vinegar

Several of the above vinegars can be also purchased through Amazon or U.S. distributors.  A more extensive list can be found at the Strategist or view the Luxury Lifestyle Awards Balsamic Vinegar Winners

Thank you to the following sources for the educational content on Balsamic Vinegars:

Supreme Vinegar – history of Balsamic Vinegar
Supreme Vinegar – the great vinegar regions of the world
Museum of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Real Simple – If Your Balsamic Vinegar Contains This Ingredient, You’re Not Getting the Real Deal
Wikipedia – Balsamic Vinegar

Hat Tip to the following photographers for capturing the essence of Balsamic Vinegar

Harry axalant – Bottle of Aceto Balsamico di Modena

Regina Ferraz – pizza

Margherita Turrin – Prosciutto Plate

Nik Focht – Vinegar Casks

Brimfulof – Slicing prosciutto

RitaE – Fig Dessert

Hans Braxmeier – Balsamic Vinegar Salad Buffet

Jacopo Fedi –Musio Enzo Ferrari in Modena Italy

Patricia Valério – cheese

Caroline Attwood – Balsamic Vinegar

Nick Fewings – Grilled Squid


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