Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena or Emilia Romagna is much better than the Balsamic Vinegar sold in most shops in the US and other countries.
Traditional Balsamic is aged in barrels for as many as 75 years. The barrels are passed down within a family for generations. The vinegar itself has a complexity and depth of flavor that is unmatched by commercial balsamics. It's texture is smooth and almost honey-like and it's flavor is less acidic and more sweet than commercial balsamic. A few drops go a long way and make a wonderful addition to sauces, cheeses and salads, and even meats! The best balsamics are so sweet and rich that they are best on fresh strawberries or ice cream.
Both Modena and Emilia Romagna have consortiums that certify the quality and production of the balsamic you are buying and stamp it a grade. There are 4 grades of balsamic:
- Gold: This is the most expensive grade, often aged for 25+ years (sometimes as much as 50 yrs!). These are so special and flavorful that they come with an eye-dropper! The consistency is that of honey. The flavor is super concentrated and full. Eat this with something simple (strawberries or high-quality vanilla ice cream) so you can taste all the complex flavors of the balsamic.
- Silver: This is the medium grade. There's a touch of acidity, but the balsamic flavor mostly overwhelms it. This is great with cheese, fruit, etc.
- Red: This is the basic grade. You'll taste more acidity than the other grades and the consistency is more milky. Although it's the lowest of the grades, it's orders of magnitude better than the commercial grade stuff you buy at a supermarket. This is great on meat.
- Commercial: This is made in bulk using a difference process than the above and it isn't tested/rated by the consortium. The quality of the commercial grade in Italy is much higher than that in the U.S. and it's not significantly more expensive. This is for everyday use.
All traditional balsamic is bottled by the
consortium in the same kind of bottle; producers only get to add a "hang
tag" to distinguish their bottle from others. If you're in the area,
balsamic tasting is a great experience. There are tours available from Rome,
Bologna, Modena, etc.
Prices for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar are often lower in Italy, but check some web sites before you go as exchange rates fluctuate and you will want to make sure that you are getting a good value.
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