Local merchants have a variety of balsamic vinegars. Some are authentic, while others can be flavored with taste and smell. Unfortunately, they all look the same once you take a look at the bottles. The European Union has created different terms to distinguish between the real and the fake vinegars in order to allow us to tell the difference.
The labels are a great way for you to navigate. First, and most importantly, all balsamic vinigars can be divided into three categories: tradizionale, balsamic Vinegar of Modena (IGP), and condimento. The general rule is that the more expensive the bottle, generally speaking, the higher the vinegar's sweetness, sophistication, and viscosity.
Traditional balsamic vinegar (DOP) is the most expensive. This balsamic vinegar is only made in Modena and Reggio Emilia. It has a proudly protected designation of origin (DOP), from the European Union.
This authentic balsamic vinegar is made from cooked grape must. This vinegar is made by pressing Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, then it is aged in barrels until it reaches its peak. Balsamic vinegars must be aged at least 1 to 2 years in order to be considered tradizionale. They also need not contain any other ingredients than grape should.
The label's tone indicates the minimum age: Red means 12 years, silver 18 years, and yellow 25 years ago. Aging produces a sweet, syrupy feel with a smooth, creamy finish. The type of barrels used in the aging process can influence the flavor of vinegars. Vinegars may have light oak cherry and other wood notes.
You should always buy the most expensive bottle if you are making a dish that uses balsamic, such as a pannacotta with balsamic-macerated strawberry topping.
It will be evident. It is expensive (a 3 oz bottle of golden label vinegar can cost $200), so aged balsamic should be used only after cooking. You can drizzle balsamic over the soup, or you can pair it with your favorite cheeses. You should not mix aged balsamic vinegar with strong flavors such as meat or fish. It's expensive and complex tasting, so you want it to be the star of the show.
Balsamic vinegar (IGP) is the most commonly used balsamic wine that can be found in your local grocery stores. It is often called aceto balsamico de Modena.
Look for the letters IGP in the label. This is the "protected geographic indication" and indicates that the balsamic vinaigrette was made, aged, and bottled in Modena (Italy). Although it may not be as stringent as the criteria for traditional vinegars, this geographical designation gives assurance that the balsamic vinegar will meet a certain standard of quality.
IGP balsamic vinegars are made from a mixture of wine vinegars and grape must. The grapes used in IGP balsamic vinigars can be harvested anywhere in the world, but they have to be processed in Modena before being labeled. IGP vinegars are more diverse because of the variety of grapes used. This allows for greater flavor and texture.
The traditional balsamic vinegars are very snug, regardless of brand. However, the taste of IGP vinegars may vary. It is a good idea to look at the price and color of the vinegar. Darker vinegars will be more thick and sweeter, while higher priced vinegars should be complex and nourished by a variety of flavors.