Balsamic Vinegar Overview
Balsamic Vinegar is the best-selling vinegar in the United States. It skyrocketed to
stardom from being a well-kept secret 35 years ago. In those pre-historic culinary days,
Americans knew only harsh red and white vinegars. The red vinegar was made from
undistinguished grapes. It was sour and astringent, and its chief function was to make
Americans hate salad. White vinegar, made from generic “grain,” was used to pickle
cucumbers and to set the dye in Easter eggs. And to wash windows.
Nothing prepared Americans for the rich, complex, mellow, sweet-sour, intense umami
flavor and silky texture of authentic Italian Balsamic Vinegar. It took America by storm. It
even made vegetables sexy.
Balsamic Vinegar is a unique Italian condiment. It is still made using centuries-old artisanal
techniques. Everything in its production, from what type of grapes are grown and where,
to the processing and aging, and the labels, are strictly controlled by law.
Balsamic Vinegar has achieved the coveted and rare DOP status.
Balsamic Vinegar – What Is It?
Where there’s wine, there’s vinegar. Right? Not necessarily.
Most of what Americans call vinegar is made from sour wine. That’s what the word means
in French: vin = wine, aigre = sour. But Italian Balsamic vinegar is different. It is made from
pressed grape juice, called mosto (must). So Balsamic Vinegar does not begin with an
acid, like other vinegars, but with yeast and beneficial bacteria. This allows the essence of
the grape, what Italians call the Profumo di Balsamico—the perfume—to develop.
There are two types of Balsamic Vinegar. They were described best in 1839 by Count
Giorgio Gallesio. He said that one, made from cooked mosto only, was “exquisite.” This is
known as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar—in Italian, Tradizionale. It has to be aged a
minimum of 12 years.
The second type, made from fermented mosto and wine, can be aged less than 12 years.
The Count declared that was “also excellent.” No wonder – 8 ounces of Balsamic Vinegar
begins as 70 pounds of grapes.