Balsamic vinegar is a decrease made from grapes, but it is not thought to be a wine vinegar because the grape juice used is unfermented. The unfermented white candy grape juice that is employed is called"must" and stems from Trebbiano grapes.
First, the grape juice is cooked in a copper cauldron till it is reduced by 35 to 50 percent. Then, the decrease is placed (along with a bit of already-aged vinegar to get the process started) into oak barrels to age.
Each year, some of the vinegar evaporates, and the vinegar is transferred into a smaller barrel made of a different wood (chestnut, cherry, juniper, mulberry, cacia, and ash are commonly used). Each wood used infuses a different flavor into the vinegar, making it more complicated and intriguing. And as the vinegar ages and becomes concentrated, it becomes thick, sweet and dark.
This process originated in the northern Italian town of Modena. If balsamic vinegar is made following the standards of Modena (which includes each kind of wood barrel) and passes a rigorous taste test, it may be deemed Tradizionale di Modena. Reggio-Emilia is another Italian city where traditional balsamic vinegar is made (vinegars made here would be called tradizionale di Reggio-Emilia).
These vinegars are expensive and are wonderful for flavoring meat, as a dip for strawberries, and even as a flavoring for a sweet beverage. Some desserts, such as panna cotta, crème caramel and zabaglione, may call for this vinegar.
You might be more familiar with a more commercial version of balsamic vinegar, which has a much shorter aging procedure. Often, some of the traditional barrels are skipped (and in many cases, only oak is used). This vinegar is fantastic for utilizing in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, and pastas. Deborah of Play with Food has it on her list of essential pantry items.
How can I use balsamic vinegar in my cooking?
There are 3 basic age groups of balsamic vinegar, and each is used differently:
The youngest team, 3 to 5 years, is good for salad dressings, dipping sauces for vegetables and bread, sauces and marinades.
The middle age group, 6 to 11 years, is more viscous and is very versatile. Use it in sauces (at the end of cooking), in risotto and pasta dishes, in marinades and blended with mayonnaise or sour cream for a sandwich condiment.
Well-aged balsamic vinegar (12 to 150+ years) is best used after the cooking is finished, and in otherwise mild dishes (nothing spicy or heavily seasoned), so that it can glow on its own. Use it to flavor meat like chicken, steak, fish or veal. It is well-suited to fruit and cheese pairings, such as strawberries, peaches and pears, along with ricotta or feta cheese. It may be enjoyed by itself (just a tiny amount) or added to water (or sparkling water) for a refreshing beverage.
OK, it is in my grocery list. What's the very best kind to get?
If you want the thick, sweet, complex Tradizionale, look for a label that has the phrase Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, which is a term applied only to the top balsamics. Expect to pay a good amount for this vinegar. You will only use it in drops, so it will last a while. Condimiento vinegars will also be high-quality, as they are made in the same way as the tradizionale, even though they may be produced outside Modena.
If you are searching for a more accessible balsamic, check the ingredients to make sure no sugar is added. Often, low-quality vinegar is sour, and brown sugar may be added to help mask its inferiority. True balsamic vinegar only has one ingredient: should. You may also note the age of the vinegar, if the jar is labeled for this information. In general, more aged balsamic vinegar is better.
Some markets will probably have balsamic vinegars that you can buy by filling glass bottles yourself. Often at these stores, you are able to taste the vinegars before purchasing. This is the best way to make certain the vinegar you are taking home with you agrees with your palate and has a balanced flavor.