Archive for the ‘Balsamic Vinegar’ Category

Balsamic Vinegar Tips and Hints

• When using balsamic vinegar, do not use aluminum pots or containers. The pan or marination container should be non-reactive.

• Balsamic vinegars are not recommended for pickling or herb infusion purposes.

• Check the label if you are allergic to sulfates. Not all balsamic vinegars have sulfates, but many less expensive choices do.

• Heat sweetens balsamic vinegar and boils out acidity. If you want to mellow out the flavor, heat it. If not, use it without heat or add at the very end of the cooking process.

• A teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar can wake up the flavor in a bland soup, stew, or sauce.

• If you must, substitute sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar for balsamico. It won’t be the same, but it will give you a hint on how good it could be if you used balsamic vinegar.

• A sprinkle of balsamic vinegar on fresh sliced strawberries or raspberries with a bit of sugar really brings out the flavor of the fruit and will have you addicted.


Balsamic Vinegar Age and Price

The youngest balsamic vinegar tradizionale is aged 12 years
By Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, 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.


Balsamic vinegar is not a wine vinegar

By Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, Guide

Balsamic vinegar has become all the rage in America, thanks to creative chefs at upscale restaurants. It is difficult to believe that this robust product of the vine has only come to be appreciated within the last two decades in America, when Italians have been enjoying it for centuries.

The rich, slightly sweet flavor of balsamic vinegar readily lends itself to vinaigrette dressings, gourmet sauces, and brings out the sweetness of fresh fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, and peaches.

Its flavor and complex fragrance is exalted over its lowly cousin, red wine vinegar, just as red wine vinegar leaps ahead of white vinegar. Before delving into a myriad of balsamic vinegar recipes, learn a little bit more about it and how to use it.

What is balsamic vinegar?
How does a lowly vinegar come to reap such praise? As far back as 900 years ago, vintners in the Modena, Italy region were making balsamic vinegar which was taken as a tonic and bestowed as a mark of favor to those of importance.

Although it is considered a wine vinegar, it is not a wine vinegar at all. It is not made from wine, but from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.

Sweet white Trebbiano grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup and then aged under rigid restrictions. The syrup is placed into oaken kegs, along with a vinegar “mother,” and begins the aging process. Over the years it graduates to smaller and smaller kegs made of chestnut, cherrywood, ash, mulberry, and juniper until it is ready for sale. All of these woods progressively add character to the vinegar. As it ages, moisture evaporates out, further thickening the vinegar and concentrating the flavor.

Some balsamic vinegars have been aged for over 100 years. It is this aging process that makes true balsamic vinegar from Modena in Northern Italy so expensive.


How to Buy Traditional Balsamic Vinegars from Modena, Italy

Types of Balsamic Vinegar
There are many brands and styles of balsamic vinegar. Some are cheap but the good ones are very expensive and when you understand the work that goes into producing them, you will understand why.
To make Traditional Balsamic vinegar, juice from the white Trebbian grapes (called must) is simmered in copper kettles over wood fires for hours. The water evaporates, intensifying the flavor of the must. This must is then added to a large wooden barrel filled with previously aged balsamic vinegar where it slowly ferments.

Over a period of years, the must is transfered to smaller and smaller barrels which also contain older balsamic vinegar. The younger vinegar is added to the older vinegar which is subject to evaporation and the process goes on and on for at least 12 years until the vinegar is in the smallest barrel which holds 10 liters of vinegar.

Traditional and non Traditional
To be a “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” it has to be produced in Modena and follow the process described above and regulated by the Consortium of the Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. The vinegar is designated DOC or Denominazione di orgine controllata numbered and sealed with a Seal of Guarantee.

Non-Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is a blend of red wine vinegar and the must from a traditional balsamic vinegar. It may be aged but most times is not. It varies from inexpensive to somewhat expensive depending on the new ranking it receives by the Balsamic Vinegar Consortium (CTAB), and independant goverining body.


FARE OF THE COUNTRY; Italy’s Aged Balsamic Vinegar

By ANNE MARSHALL ZWACK; ANNE MARSHALL ZWACK is a writer who has lived in Florence most of her life.
Published: January 03, 1988

In Modena, until not long ago, a girl could hope to find a husband only if she could make pasta and if her dowry included a little barrel of balsamic vinegar. Eating well is very important in Modena, hometown of Luciano Pavarotti and Ferrari cars, as it is in next-door Bologna and throughout the region of Emilia-Romagna, the gastronomic heartland of Italy.

Balsamic vinegar may be relatively new to stores and menus in the United States, but around Modena they have been making it for centuries – it is mentioned in documents as early as 1046. Lucrezia Borgia recommended balsamic vinegar to alleviate the pain of childbirth, and during the French Revolution it was included in the auctions of luxury goods confiscated from aristocrats. Indeed, some balsamic vinegar has actually been around for centuries. Many families in the region have in their attic a batteria, or set of working vinegar barrels, that has been handed down from generation to generation for over 100 years, and the dukes of Este -the noble family that held sway over the Duchy of Modena throughout much of its history – were said to have aged vinegar for up to 360 years.

Climate is one reason that this vinegar, known as balsamic because of its curative properties, has always been made in Modena. Extremes of temperature are essential to its production, and Modena has the requisite hot and humid summers and very cold winters; in one recent, but admittedly exceptional year, the temperatures were so extreme that they ranged from 31 degrees below zero Fahrenheit to 100 above. The low-lying landscape is another reason, since it is said that making balsamic vinegar is impossible above an altitude of about 2,300 feet.


Balsamic Vinegar is Italy’s Famed Elixir

More like wine than vinegar, genuine balsamico gets complex flavor from lengthy aging in lots of wood
by Paul Bertolli

“Aged balsamic vinegar tastes like time itself,” says Paul Bertolli.

Everyone who loves to eat has experienced a private moment of awe over some particular food or drink. Such moments refuse description—it’s impossible to reduce to words a perfectly ripe pear, the luscious synthesis of a slow-cooked braise, or vintage wine that has found its way to fullness. We’re first riveted by the utter singularity of what we sense; then we’re caught up in a complex architecture of taste. We praise the gardener, cook, or winemaker, and rightly so, but what caused our reaction can really only occur at the hands of nature, under the sealed lid of the braising pot, or by the secret alchemy of time.

The first time I tasted real aged balsamic vinegar, I felt awe. I was asked to extend my hand to form a well between my thumb and wrist. Into this crevice my host poured several heavy drops of a dark, shiny syrup as thick as molasses from a small, heavy flask. What began as a simple contrast between sweet and sour deepened into penetrating layers of flavor that mingled the aromas of wood and cooked fruit, harmoniously balanced on a taut line of acidity. From there it moved into a more evocative dimension that sent me on a goose-chase for descriptors—cedar chest, dried fruit, stewed cherries, tobacco, but also something more mysterious and hard to describe, for aged balsamic vinegar tastes of time itself.

Not everything labeled balsamic vinegar is the real thing
Before it was introduced to the American market in the late 1970s, balsamic vinegar was known only to those who might have had the chance to hear of it or taste it on their travels through the Italian cities of Modena or Reggio Emilia and the surrounding countryside. Balsamic vinegar’s roots go back to antiquity. In the Emila-Romagna, it remained a guarded family tradition that existed well outside of commerce. Today there’s hardly a supermarket that doesn’t carry on its shelves at least half a dozen brands of balsamic vinegar in a confusing variety of shapes, sizes, prices, and claims of vintage. Because there are no U.S. standards of identity for balsamic vinegar, both the imported and domestically produced ones vary widely in their approximation of the real thing.

Balsamic vinegar in the kitchen
My friends in Italy have taught me how to think about balsamic vinegar in the kitchen. Cooks and devotees use both condimento and tradizionale, and they often speak of three general weights of vinegar: young (three to five years old), middle-aged (six to twelve years old), and the very old (twelve years and up, sometimes as old as 150 years). For suggestions on using the different kinds, see Balsamic vinegar is best used simply. Balsamic vinegar is always a blend of the new and the old; vintage designation does not apply to balsamic vinegar the way it does to wine. If a year is marked on the bottle, it refers to the year that the barrel battery was started.

Balsamic vinegar is best used simply

High-quality balsamic vinegar, whether young or old, is best enjoyed simply. Here are some ways to try it.
• Whisk young balsamic vinegar with shallots, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the vinaigrette with a salad of radicchio, frisée, arugula, dandelion greens, crisped pancetta, and toasted walnuts; top with thin shards of aged Parmesan.
• Spoon old balsamic vinegar over pears baked in simple syrup and accompanied by a dollop of fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese.
• Drizzle a teaspoon of extra-old balsamico over aged beef tenderloin that has been seasoned with salt and pepper and seared in a cast-iron skillet.
• Drizzle middle-aged balsamic vinegar over risotto made with leeks, white wine, turkey stock, and Parmesan just before serving.

Italians call young balsamic vinegar with pronounced acidity da insalata—vinegar to be used with oil as a salad dressing; or for pinzimonio, a vinaigrette used as a dipping sauce for raw vegetables. Each diner improvises his own pinzimonio from cruets of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper in the middle of the table. Young balsamic vinegar is also used to spike pan sauces and marinades.

Middle-aged balsamic vinegar is a more viscous vinegar. Italians call it medio-corpo, and this medium-bodied vinegar is used to add finesse to sauces and braises at the end of cooking, to give dimension to risotti and pasta dishes, and to enhance mayonnaise and other sauces.

Very old vinegar is called extra-vecchio, and affectionately, il patriarca. It possesses flavors, texture, and complexity that only very long aging can confer. Extra-vecchio ennobles just about any food deserving of its company. It would be a waste to mix very old balsamic vinegar with other ingredients or to pair it with highly spiced foods or complicated flavors. Its sapid perfume is best released on warm or at least room-temperature foods. It stands best alone and reveals its full potential used sparingly on unadorned prime cuts of beef, fish, poultry, or veal. It’s delicious on sautéed liver — foie gras and old balsamico is a glorious combination; still, you won’t be disappointed if you substitute fresh calf’s liver or even duck or chicken. Unmarinated wild game is particularly well suited to a few drops of old balsamic vinegar — loin of fresh venison, pigeon roasted pink. So is wild duck, as well as choice cuts of fish such as tuna, halibut, or sole. Certain fruits in their prime of ripeness deserve balsamic vinegar’s benediction — pears, wild strawberries, and peaches are exquisite, as are mild, creamy cheeses such as fresh ricotta. Perhaps the best way to enjoy old balsamic vinegar is to pour yourself a thimble glass full after dinner and savor it all by itself.