Balsamic vinegar, a condiment used in various cuisines and dishes to impart them a unique flavor, is highly recommended by chefs and food lovers today for its ability to lend a distinct taste to any dish. Traditionally, this type of vinegar was made from reducing cooked grape juice, since the middle ages in the Italian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
These days when we go to the grocery stores, we find different types of balsamic vinegar, priced varyingly, available there. Some are extremely costly while others are comparatively very reasonably priced. For anybody buying this type of vinegar for the first time, it can get very confusing as to which one to select out of the ones available. Here is some information on aged balsamic vinegar that will be helpful to many first time buyers, but first a little info on its production.
Balsamic vinegar is produced the same way as wine. The grapes are kept in copper cauldrons and are cooked slowly on an open flame. They are cooked as long as the water content in the grapes reduces to almost fifty percent. The reduced must is then put in the wooden barrels, and an aged balsamic vinegar is added in it to help in making it acidic and sour.
In the wooden barrel, it obtains the flavor of the wood, that's why every year, vinegar is transferred to a different type of wooden barrel such as oak, chestnut, ash, mulberry and juniper. Balsamic vinegar which is aged for three to five years is referred to as young, the one which is matured for six to twelve years is called middle aged, and the one which is matured for twelve years and above is called old.
Determining the Best Aged Balsamic Vinegar
There are certain standards which are adopted by the syndicates in the two cities, Modena and Reggio Emilia, which determine the ways of producing and aging balsamic vinegar. These consortia also determine things like the shape of the bottle, the foil on top of its cap, etc.
There are three types of aged balsamic vinegars that are available in grocery stores. Out of these, look for true aceto balsamic vinegar, which is aged for a minimum ten years. If you want something which is even better in quality, look for the ones which are aged for more than twenty five years. Such vinegars come dark in color and are syrupy in consistency. They taste both sweet as well as sour and have a sharp acidic aroma.
When choosing this type of vinegar, besides the number of years of maturation, look for the seal; read the label which should read 'cooked grape must', the ingredients list, as well as the word "Tradizionale". The consortium seal should be present, both on the label as well as the cap.
The Modena traditional balsamic vinegar is available only in bottles which are bulb shaped, and if there are red and silver colored labels on it, it means that the vinegar is aged for more than twelve years. If the cap of the bottle is golden, it means that the maturation age is twenty and above. Bottles that come in a box which contain a book of aged balsamic vinegar recipes as well as the entire process of the vinegar production, contain authentic balsamic vinegar.
Another type of vinegar is the Condimento Balsamic Vinegar, which are produced outside Modena and Reggio and they do not possess the consortium approval. Certain companies that produce the "Tradizionale", may also produce this cheaper condimento version, using the same method employed in producing the "Tradizionale". Although price wise they are the best bet, however there is no guarantee of their authenticity.
The third variety are the commercial balsamic vinegars which in some cases might be a cheap imitation of the original, created with cider vinegar and later flavored with caramel to make it somewhat similar to the original. According to reviews in food magazines, this variety tastes well in salad dressings, marinades and sauces, however, is sans the aroma and acidic flavor of the "Tradizionale" and hence is not preferably used in high-quality cooking.
The flavor and taste of the food, depends a great deal on the quality and kind of the aged balsamic vinegar that is used. I hope with the above given tips, you would be able to choose the best and the most authentic aged balsamic vinegar.