Balsamic vinegar in our A-Z - Cooking Index
Balsamic vinegar is an Italian vinegar traditionally made in Modena, a region in Emilia Romagna. It is usually dark brown and has a thick, syrupy texture. It improves with ageing and the very best balsamic vinegars are aged for 25 years or more, at which point they are often very sweet and have a complex taste more akin to a desert wine. Some Italian restaurants will even serve a small glass of balsamic vinegar with certain desserts, most often fresh strawberries.
Many grape varieties can be used to create balsamic vinegar but the Trebbiano grape is the most common. White grapes and their juices are boiled down until they become a thick syrup. The syrup is then placed in a wooden barrel to age, the best vinegars are left for up to 25 years to mature. The more commercial process involves just a few months maturing in a steel barrel.
Balsamic vinegar has a reputation for being very expensive and the very best vinegars are phenomenally expensive (as much as $300 for a 250ml bottle). Supermarkets now stock much cheaper balsamic vinegars and they bare little resemblance to the expensive versions. The most expensive vinegars taste like a fine wine or liqueur.
'Real' balsamic vinegar only comes from two sources - Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena) and Regfio Emilia (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale de Reggio Emilia).
Balsamic vinegar is used in everything from salad dressings to a background flavour in stews to a simple dressing for meat and fish. Generally speaking, the younger vinegars will be used in Italy for salad dressings while the better, older vinegars will be used as simple dressings for meat and fish. Vinegars between five and ten years old are often used to add extra flavors to pasta dishes or meat stews.
Balsamic vinegar established a reputation as a ‘trendy’ ingredient in the 1980s and many chefs are over-eager to drizzle their dishes with low grade balsamic vinegar.
Another good way to enjoy top quality balsamic vinegar is with the best quality parmesan.