It’s music for your taste buds – a complementary flavor on celery tacos with pecorino cheese, and arugula, moisturizing sweetness for chestnut desserts. The Duchess Lucrezia Borgia used the “black gold” to soothe the pains of childbirth.
“Aceto” was a contribution of the Romans to civilization that had gone out of fashion for a few centuries. It had its own Renaissance in the sixteenth century, when the Este family reintroduced it to Ferrara. But did not become balsamic until 1747.
The name implies its curative properties. Still today, properly aged Aceto Balsamico is used as a powerful balm. A few drops of this vinegar will transform any dish into a culinary masterpiece.
Aging alone is fake news
Aging claims on labels mean nothing if there isn’t a high score rating on the product to guarantee its quality. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) was granted its status by the European Community in 2000.
The labeling method for balsamic vinegar that based solely on years of age was replaced with the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Protected Geographical (IPG) Indication and its strict guidelines for production in 2009.
The Consortium for protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is the guardian of the product specifications and promotes knowledge about it. To be promoted Aceto Balsamico, vinegar must receive the positive judgment of at least 4 judges out of 6.
Individual producers must identify both the age and viscosity of their vinegar according to a proprietary symbol. The Consortium organizes guided tours to production sites, if you’re interested.
A party for all your senses
When it comes to Aceto Balsamico, sight is as important as smell and taste. How many times instead of watching what we eat or taste, we put it in our mouths quickly? Observing an ingredient helps us to appreciate it and understand it more.
Check for both clarity and brightness, the color – dark brown – and the density. Older does not equate to denser. A less dense Balsamic is for daily use, as a condiment for salads, while a denser one is appropriate for more elaborate recipes or to give an original touch to simple dishes.
Now sniff test – its odor should not be unpleasant. Try to identify the aromas. You should smell wood, fruit, and cooked. A younger and less dense Balsamic Vinegar has more hints of cooked. Wood and fruit are stronger in the more aged.
In a vinegar you use on salads, you immediately catch the scent and then the taste of the grapes and the wine. Assess persistence as well. How long does the sensation stay in the nose? What’s the acidity?
As for taste, you evaluate the body, just as you do with wine. Sweetness vs acidity and the hint of fruit flavors, cooked, and wood.
Ready to cook?
Aged, more aromatic balsamic marries very well with meat and fish. You can use it to sauté, marinate, create sauces and reductions to enrich your dishes. A denser and sweeter Balsamic is delicious on risottos, cheeses, fresh fruit and ice creams.
Try it on panna cotta and omelets for a touch of originality. In the summer, it’s great on skewered octopus, couscous salad with raw vegetables, pomegranate and walnuts, or zucchini Roulade with cherries, soft cheese, salami and fig pies… you get the idea.
It’s lovely when it flavors desserts. Add to Gianduia and Coffee Parfait and Caramel Sauce, and chestnut pies with Ricotta cheese. Orange aspic with a heart of Port and foam made with Aceto Balsamico di Modena PGI is epic. Its flavor marries well to chestnut and caramel.
Aceto Balsamico’s feminine side
To make Modena IGP vinegars, Trebbiano and Lambrusco grape must cook for about 30 hours to reduce and thicken. Once cooled, the must is placed in large oak casks with a mother vinegar base and blended with a maximum of 10 percent high quality red wine vinegar.
Then the vinegar is rotated and aged in a variety of wood barrels for a minimum of two years and blended before bottling to ensure perfect balance and harmony. How traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is produced includes a series of small secrets handed down verbally, from generation to generation. The type of vine from which the must is obtained and the type of wood to build the barrels are full of surprises.
It’s tradition to build a new battery of balsamic vinegar for every female heir, her dowry. This has been going on for hundreds of years. Even today, when you enter the cellars where batteries are stored, you come across an endless number of barrels with a feminine name.