A good quality balsamic vinegar creates an unmistakable flavor profile without diluting or corrupting the underlying flavor of the featured ingredient. For instance, I will add a few dollops of balsamic vinegar to create an entirely new way of tasting Parmesan cheese. To my way of thinking, the rich vinegar seems to take the somewhat bitter edge off the cheese to soften its impact on the palate. Sure, the taste is unmistakably Italian as only good Balsamic vinegars from Modena can be.
In fact, I will drizzle balsamic vinegar over fresh strawberries and raspberries rather than sugar to create a superb counterbalance of flavors with the acidity of the fruits. In fact, the addition of balsamic vinegar to even the most simple dish has a way of creating something special for your dining guests.
How Balsamic Vinegar is Made
Balsamic vinegar is made in Modena, Italy. It is made exclusively with Trebbiano and/or Lambrusco grape. After a grape must (“mosto cotto”) is created by gently heating the grapes, the rich wine syrup is then stored in a series of ever smaller barrels for a number of years. Traditional vinegars which carry the DOP designation consist exclusively of grape must, while other variations (ex. I.G.P., Condimento) contain a certain percentage of vine vinegar.
Each vineyard and producer uses different woods to age the vinegar and, sadly, there have been many deceptive labeling practices that still confuse consumers. Fortunately, over the last several years, Italian growers have organized themselves into a consortium to insure that bottles are labeled consistently and in accordance with the standards of the consortium.
For more information on the aging process of balsamic vinegar and how it is labeled, please consult a recent article published on Gourmet Living entitled “Classification of Balsamic Vinegar.”