The youngest balsamic vinegar tradizionale is aged 12 years
By Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com Guide
Balsamic vinegar age and price
At a minimum, the aging process can take up to twelve years for true balsamic vinegar which is legally labeled aceto balsamico tradizionale. The longer it is permitted to age, the higher the quality and price. Indeed, some balsamic vinegars, depending on age, can cost hundreds of dollars for a mere half cup!
Less than 3,000 gallons of genuine balsamico are released each year. It is so highly prized that it is considered disgraceful to cook with it. Rather, connoisseurs profess that genuine balsamico should be enjoyed in its virgin form, untouched by heat, much like a fine aged whiskey. As little as a half teaspoon of this expensive aged vinegar is enough to give flavor to a vinaigrette dressing to serve four.
Luckily, there are less expensive balsamic vinegars available for home cooks. A pint of imported Italian balsamic vinegar, aged for less than twelve years, can be had for under $20 and is suitable for vinaigrettes, sauces, or marinades. As the age decreases, so does the price, but many new products use carmelization and coloring in cheap balsamic vinegars.
Since the flavor is so intense, most recipes calling for balsamic vinegar use 1/4 cup or much less, enabling the cook to stretch that pint a long way. Overuse of balsamic vinegar can actually ruin a dish, so use it sparingly when experimenting.