Using And Storing Balsamic Vinegar
All Vinegars Are Not Equal
Do not cook with Balsamico. It is a “finishing” condiment, to be used sparingly either on
raw food or after the food has been cooked. Heating or refrigerating Balsamic damages it.
Do not try to make pickles with Balsamico.
Do not substitute sharp red or white wine vinegars for Balsamico. They will do violence to
your dish and to your meal. One of the advantages of Balsamico is that its mildness does
not interfere with wine, even at the end of a meal. That is where salad comes in an Italian
meal; the healthy raw greens serve as an aid to digestion. Balsamico’s complex sweet
and sourness in the last course of the savory part of the meal leads to dessert. It will not
blow out the palate so that you cannot taste anything else, the way a strong vinegar
does. A sharp vinegar is unpleasant right before sweet food. Balsamic vinegar, on the
other hand, makes a smooth transition from the savory part of the meal to its sweet
Likewise, do not use Balsamico in place of sharp red or white wine vinegar. For example,
one style of Sicilian cooking, learned when the Arabs controlled Sicily, is called agrodolce –
sour-sweet. The Sicilians substituted local sharp vinegar for the sour liquids the Arabs use
in cooking meats and vegetables, like pomegranate juice and sour cherry juice. Balsamic
Vinegar would be a mistake in these dishes.
How to Get Layers of Flavor When You Use Balsamic Vinegar
There is a specific order in which Balsamic Vinegar should be applied to foods, and there
are reasons for it. It is a “finishing” condiment, to be added after foods have finished
cooking, or to raw foods. When you use Balsamic Vinegar on salads or raw vegetables,
this is the order: Salt, Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil. This makes sense. If you put the oil on
first, it would create a barrier that would prevent the flavor of the Balsamic Vinegar from
penetrating the food. If you put the Balsamic Vinegar on first, then added salt, the salt
would not interact with the food, but would alter the flavor of the Balsamic Vinegar. This
way, you get layers of flavor, burst after burst.
With cooked foods: Balsamic Vinegar Last.
With raw foods: Salt, Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil.
How much to use? Very little. For Balsamic Vinegars aged under 12 years, start with half a
teaspoon per portion. For Balsamic Vinegars aged 12 years or more, go drop by drop.
Also, Americans are conditioned to automatically think “Oil and Vinegar,” that you can’t
have one without the other. Not true. Make a break for freedom. Do what the Italians do:
use just vinegar, or only olive oil. Don’t Whisk Them Together. Leaving them separate
allows you to get the full effect of each one. And Don’t Add Mustard. Remember, this is
Italy, not France.
Storage – In the Store
Balsamic Vinegar is such a beautiful dark, rich color. Some stores think it looks attractive in
the window, with the light streaming through it. Light and heat are the enemies of all
aromatic substances. Do not buy vinegar that has been stored in sunlight. Do not buy
vinegar that has been stored near a heat source, such as a vent. These will alter the
flavor of the vinegar.
Storage – At Home
Do not refrigerate Balsamic Vinegar. Cold can alter the flavor. Humidity can cause
condensation inside the bottle. The water will dilute the vinegar. The vinegar might pick up
undesirable flavors from other foods. Conversely, the vinegar might impart flavors to other
foods. Treat Balsamic Vinegar the way you would treat a fine perfume. You wouldn’t leave
the bottle open or set it in the sun or next to the heater.