When buying a balsamic vinegar, it can often be challenging to know what to look for. Like wine, balsamic vinegar comes in many varieties, and the origin, quality of grapes, and years of aging all factor into the flavor and quality. In order to find that perfect variety, it is important that you know what to look for and how it might match up with your intended use of these flavors.
It helps to know how balsamic vinegar is made and what unique properties in contains in order to learn how to pick the right varieties for your kitchen. While the prices of bottles of balsamic vinegar can range from inexpensive to extravagant, there are some simple things to be aware that will help you feel prepared when stepping into the marketplace.
Balsamic vinegar is traditionally made from grape “must,” which is whole of pressed grapes, complete with the juice, skin, seeds and stems. This must, typically chosen from sweet white locally grown and late harvested grapes, is cooked over a direct flame until it is roughly halfway concentrated. Then it is left to ferment naturally for up to three weeks and allowed to mature.
It is further concentrated for at least a dozen years in five or more successively smaller aging barrels, collectively known as a “batteria.” In order for the vinegar to take on the complex flavors of the casks, these barrels are usually made of woods such as oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, or mulberry. These wood types provide unique scents and notes that become incorporated into the flavor of the resulting balsamic vinegar.
The vinegar is then bottled once a year from the smallest cask in the batteria. Each cask is then topped up with vinegar from the next cask up, with the largest cask getting filled with the new yield. None of the casks are ever completely drained in an ageing process similar to the “solera” process used for fine sherries, ports, sweet wines, and Spanish brandies. The vinegar gets thicker and more concentrated as it ages is it evaporates through the walls of the barrels.
When it’s completed, balsamic vinegar is typically glossy, viscous, and dark in color, but translucent when in the light. It usually has a syrupy texture, and it yields a very smooth taste. Its rich, complex sweetness will often be accompanied by notes of fig, molasses, cherry, chocolate, prune, or other unique flavors.
Classic balsamic should pick up the flavors of the wood it was matured in, which may give it a slight smokiness. It should be more on the tart side rather than the sweet. The only ingredient is grape must. Balsamic traditionally contains naturally occurring sulphites, and ideally none should be added.
High quality balsamic is best used not as a cooking ingredient, and it would be wasted as an ingredient in a salad dressing. Instead, use it where it can shine by putting a few drops on fresh berries, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or creamy desserts like panna cotta, zabaglione, or vanilla ice cream.
Balsamic can be used at the end of cooking as well. It is outstanding when drizzled over traditional veal scaloppine, a rich risotto, the Italian stew bollito misto, or any number of rich dishes. It’s also great over grilled meats and seafood. Add about a teaspoon per person just before serving to get the best of its flavor. In Italy, for example, really good balsamic is also used as a palette cleanser, aperitif or digestif, especially on special occasions, such as weddings. The name “balsamic” in fact comes from the vinegar’s original use as a tonic, or “balm.”
To best maintain your high quality balsamic vinegar, store it in a cool dark place. Though it will stay available almost indefinitely, this method will best preserve the complexity of its flavors and keep away from other pungent ingredients. Balsamic vinegar will not continue to mature in the bottle, but instead will stay fresh for your use.
With all this knowledge in mind, you are better prepared to engage with any number varieties of Tastealotta’s delicious balsamic vinegar. Our selection offers many choices. It’s fund tasting and trying new balsamic vinegars and finding your favorites. Get creative with your dishes and test out what combinations delight your taste buds and keep your guests enchanted.
You can’t go wrong with any particular choice from our large selection of balsamic vinegars, so SHOP TODAY. You may find that the best combinations come from your boldest instincts. Now that you know what to look for in your balsamic vinegar, you will find that all of our choices have something unique and tantalizing to offer.