Mark Aselstine
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Balsamic Vinegar

People in the wine business, including Matt and I at Uncorked Ventures, like to joke about wine being cellared for too long…..when that happens you have vinegar.

Those jokes made me think about some of the different vinegar choices on the market currently, especially as we see wineries in Napa Valley starting to produce not only olive oil but vinegar as well.

Of course, a winery is going to produce balsamic vinegar.

Much like Champagne though, no winery outside one specific region should be using the name, although the practice is common. Balsamic vinegar is made only in Emilia-Romaga which is just north of Tuscany in Italy.

How do you tell which balsamic vinegars are of the highest quality? Unfortunately, the easiest way to tell is the price. A 3 ounce bottle can often be priced at close to $20, or much, much more.

The process of making the vinegar is both time consuming and labor intensive. It goes something like this. Unfermented grape must is boiled down into a syrup. This syrup is then allowed to ferment and turns to vinegar. The vinegar is then aged at least a decade in a series of progressively smaller barrels of different wood types. Oak, chestnut, cherry, linden, mulberry, juniper and ash are the most common choices although locally grown wood is often used at some point in the process as well. As evaportation occurs the resulting syrup becomes sweeter and sweeter, while flavors become more dense.

So, how should you serve a balsamic vinegar if you happen to find a great example at your local fine food retailer?

Our suggestion, sprinkle a bit (don’t pour!) on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and enjoy what many Italians consider the perfect appetizer.


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