At The Market: Balsamic & Wine Vinegars
No other Italian food can be more confusing to purchase than Balsamic and wine vinegars. We, at DeLallo give you some pointers to ensure you are buying an authentic product.
True commercial balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, Italy and should state so on the label, otherwise you are just purchasing a condiment vinegar that is not a true balsamic. Commercial balsamic vinegar is made from wine vinegar, grape must, and caramel color. True commercial balsamic vinegar is strictly regulated: it can only be grown in Modena, with grapes from the Emilia Romagna region, and must aged for a minimum of 2 months. Golden or white balsamic vinegar is also available and is preferred when the sweetness but not the dark color of balsamic is desired. It is a good choice when making pan sauces for fish or chicken, or light-colored salad dressings.
True (tradizionale) balsamic vinegar is regulated even further and has its own "DOP" (Denominazione d'Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin). It must be aged for either 12 years or 25 years and never has caramel added, as the lengthy aging process naturally produces the sweetness, thickness, and acidic balance that true balsamic is so prized for. Because it is aged for so long, true balsamic does fetch a high price (in the range of $150 for a 100ml bottle) and is usually reserved for special occasions.
Culinarily, it is used as a drizzle for fresh and aged cheeses, fresh figs, cured meats, or even to sweeten a bowl of strawberries or ice cream.It can also be consumed as a digestive at the finish of a meal.
Red wine vinegar: For the best quality, look for aged, single-variety red wine vinegars, produced from one grape variety, often Chianti or Cabernet.