The first historical reference to balsamic vinegar dates back to 1046, when a bottle of balsamic vinegar was reportedly given to Emperor Enrico III of Franconia as a gift. True balsamic vinegar can only be produced in the region of Modena and Reggio in Italy, using traditional methods and production is overseen from beginning to end by a special certification agency.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made with grape must (whole pressed grapes complete with skin, juice, seeds and stem), usually from white locally grown grapes such as Lambrusco or Trebbiano, cooked over direct flame until concentrated until the liquid is roughly half. It is then left to ferment naturally for up to 3 weeks and then matured and further concentrated for a minimum of 12 years in 5 or more sequentially smaller aging barrels. The barrels are made from different types of wood which naturally flavour the vinegar and can include oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper and mulberry. The vinegar gets thicker, sweeter and more concentrated as it ages due to evaporation through the barrels.
Cheaper versions are made using vinegar as well as grape must and are aged for a shorter period of time in larger barrels, making the flavour less strong, and some have colouring added to the mixture.
Traditional balsamic is always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and carries a D.O.P (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta”) stamp- a certification that guarantees quality, production and place of origin.
Heating balsamic vinegar will destroy it’s natural bouquet and should be used at the end of cooking over grilled meats or salads or drizzled over fresh berries, cheese or creamy desserts like ice cream, panna cotta or zabaglione. Although balsamic will last indefinitely it should be stored in a cool dark place to preserve its natural flavour.
Written by Megan Torrens
Picture credits to seriouseats.com