Many, many years ago, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III was given a silver bottle containing a celebrated vinegar. The record of this visit was the first written reference to balsamic vinegar. In that time the balsamic vinegar was produced only in the province of Modena, where Henry III was visiting.
Today, Balsamic vinegar is known everywhere and available to shoppers worldwide. But, not everyone know that there isn’t only one balsamic vinegar, excluding all imitations.
Understanding the different kind of balsamic vinegar takes a bit of work: we have the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Condimento Balsamico, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP and all Balsamic-inspired products.
So let’s go explaining the features of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar: the granddaddy of balsamic vinegars
Traditional Balsamic vinegar is only made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, using traditional methods and overseeing from beginning to end by a special certification agency.
It begins with grape must: the must from sweet white locally grown grapes (usually Lambrusco or Trebbiano varieties) is cooked over a direct flame until concentrated and then left to ferment naturally for up 3 weeks, and then matured for a minimum of 12 years in a “batteria”. These barrels are made of different types of wood. Once a year the vinegar is bottled from the smallest cask in the sequence. Each cask is topped up with vinegar from the next cask up, with the largest cask getting filled with the new yield.
Because of the multi-barrel process, a commission of 5 experts’ judges convenes to taste the vinegars and determine an appropriate grade.
Traditional balsamic vinegar can be taste in 3 varieties:
- Fine or affinato, corresponds to a 12 year vintage and it has a red cap.
- Old or vecchio, corresponds to a 15-20 years vintage and it has a silver cap.
- Extra old or extra vecchio, corresponds to a 20-25 year vintage and it has a gold gap.
How recognize an authentic traditional balsamic vinegar
Color and Texture: Traditional balsamic vinegar is glossy and dark brown and it seems a syrup with a velvety texture.
Flavor: The typical flavor of traditional balsamic vinegar is a rich and complex sweetness, with notes of fig, molasses, cherry, chocolate or prune.
Identifications: Traditional balsamic vinegar is usually labelled as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale D.O.P. The only ingredients is grape must, naturally sulphites, none should be added. Also, it is only sold in a bulb-shaped 100 ml bottle when from Modena or in a 100 ml bottle shaped like an inverted tulip when from Reggio Emilia.
Use: Traditional balsamic vinegar is not a cooking ingredient, but it must be taste as condiment to maintain its distinctive bouquet. Try it in a salad dressing or on fresh berries, Pramigiano-Reggiano or creamy desserts like panna cotta or vanilla ice-cream. It’s also great over grilled meats and seafood or at the end of cooking over a rich risotto.
Storage: Traditional balsamic vinegar is stored in a cool dark place to preserve the complexity of its flavor and keep away from other ingredients.
Curiosity: The name “balsamic” came from the vinegar’s original use as a tonic or balm. Indeed, in Italy it is also drunk as a palette cleanser or digestif, especially in special occasion such as weddings.
If you liked this post about traditional balsamic vinegar, don’t miss the next article about Condimento Balsamico!