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balsamic vinegar

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
hi everyone..on a respite from a grant proposal and reading the forum to relax ;) I thought, once again, of one of the most pestering questions I have had:

are the exorbitant prices attached to the various balsamic vinegar bottles really really worth your money? The acidity (which was the most important detail based on articles I had read a long time ago when I first discovered this heavenly concoction) is the same across the board: cheap, expensive all have it at 6%. There are differences in the sweetness of the vinegar but I have bought expensive bottles (I consider $25.00 for vinegar a lot-or am I wrong?) that were less sweet than cheaper versions. Almost all claim to be from Modena, almost all are imported, so where lies the truth? I have seen in various delis here in town and upscale supermarkets tiny bottles for $100.00. Let me pick your brains please.

:confused:
post #2 of 20
Hand crafted artisan balsamics are worth their heady prices. If you can't taste, don't buy on those. These are to be used in drops and sparingly.

As for the commercial factory true balsamics, they can be fairly good. Again, taste if you can. Look for the tradizionale label on the bottle. Modena is one of the origin cities, but there is another whose name escapes me right now.

The Splendid Table has a good section discussing balsamic vinegars. That's definitely worth seeking out and reading at a library or maybe in a bookstore.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #3 of 20
I recently saw where a chef reduced a more pedestrian balsamic to concentrate the flavors and apparently the quality was similar enough afterwards to be used in a quality product.
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My latest musical venture!
http://myspace.com/nikandtheniceguys
 
Also
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
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post #4 of 20
Hi ZouZouni,

I hope your enjoying your respite.

The first time I had a "True" aged Balsamic vinager was when I was in Napa valley in 1990...I was eating at a restaurant called Tra Vigna, with Madeliene Kammen..the chef their (Micheal Chiarella) was friends with Madeliene and he brought to our table a 25 year old balsamic vinager and 4 demi tasse spoons.
We each had a taste..WOW it was something like I had never had before in my life..truely something wonderful..like having good quality wines for years..and then jumping to a first growth in an outstanding vintage.

He would serve this in Tra Vigna over a wood fired steak with gorganzola and a drizzle of the balsamico :) I forget the price, but i remember in being very expensive. I have a bottle of 12 year old balsamic vinager which I bought from sid wainer last year, I still have half a bottle and it is only four onces.

Balsamic vinager takes it's name from Balsamic, which means health and giving (I think..right pongi?)

The Vinager from modena, I think more of an artisanal style..way, way supior to factory produced balsamico.

Like patch said in his post..always look the traditional lable of authenticity. This means it has gone through a "Blind"tasting,not unlike wine,and then approved by the guild of balsamic makers.

Because the vinegar had become so fashinable,there is a great deal of factory produced balsamico on the market.

The wonderful aged balsamico are made from the must of a special variaty of grape that through acidifiacation and fementation looses almost half it's volume, this takes one year. the proccess is quite romantic (imho) the young zesty vinager is siphoned from one cantainer to another in a "Batteria sp?) of barrels of smaller sizes. each barrel is made from a different wood which adds it's own aroma and charector to the balsamico

What I find so interesting, not unlike the production of sherry on exposed roof tops in Spain, the proccess in Estes palace and homes in the regien are similar, this is we're the tempature plays a key role in the delelopment..the hot summers help to evaperate and consintrate the balsamico, and it relaxes and matures during the winter months.

I love this stuff over vanilla ice cream or strawberries(I think in another post Anneke offered a recipe for strawberries and balsamico)it also makes a great(if not expencive) digestive after dinner hence the name of a cure all.

For me it's worth it to pay for these aged treasures, there are cetian things I am willing to pay for..the best olive oils and vinagers definatly being among them...

I believe the youngest of the aged balsamicos is three years old,and should not cost more then $20/25 a bottle.

Alsa I know I posted this somewhere befoe, I make a "mock" aged balsamico by simple very slowly reducing standard basamico with a touch od raw sugar and you end up with a nice consentrated syrup to play with.
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 
CC, lots of food for thought both you and phatch. would the label of authenticity say something like
" consorzio aceto balsamico di modena" and have a bottle number?

second question: you say you have a bottle of very old very expensive balsamiko. do you use this in salads? and if so, are 5 drops enough?

third question: you can;t taste it-of course you can't. which deli/supermarket is going to open a 40 dollar bottle of vinegar for you? you have to rely on word of mouth or prior experience. any favorites?

the word "balsamo" in greek means soothing to the heart, to the mind, to the soul.
post #6 of 20
zouzouni,

Yes to question # 1

As far as salads go....there is absoluty nothing more sensual then a few drops of aged balsamico, a wonderful evoo and shaved parmigino over a little fisse with sea salt and milled black pepper, so to question # 2 yes.

it's true..not many places will let you taste aged balsamico, but I remember last year in Chicago at the NRA show, I was eaither with Nicko or Momoreg and we just hung out at Sid wianers booth and tasted the best balsamicos in the world, truffle butter,wild French asparagus the most unbelievible raw goats cheese and conserves an on an on!!!
So you need to go to a quility food show an d smoosh a bit
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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post #7 of 20
And don't forget balsamic on strawberries! :lips: :lips: :lips:
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #8 of 20
Umm,
Suzanne...

I did say that in my first post:D
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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post #9 of 20
For the great stuff, the Modena seal is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

Reggio's seal is Consortium of Producers of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale de Reggio Emilia .

For the factory styles, those seals are unavailable. People who know recommend Fini, Giuseppe Giusti, Elena Monari Federzoni, Cavlli, Cattani. I don't see those very often in my area though.

The better importer delis in my area at least do have tastings available. Not always at a moments notice, but more commonly around the times they advertise a tasting to educate the community and boost their sales.

Also ask what your various restaurants are using and note their flavors to help you make a determination.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #10 of 20

Sorry, CC

:blush: Must have gotten distracted. :(
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #11 of 20
One more labeling tweak. Every balsamic vinegar bottled in Italy will bear a code for where it was bottled. Look for API MO or API RE. These don't guarantee quality, merely bottling location, but it's a start.

As an example, a grape must and red wine vinegar concoction from Costco with various aspects of the must of an age up to 18 years qualifies for the balsamic API MO label. And it's not horrible stuff, but not great either.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #12 of 20
Interesting point patch..

some things to keep in mind in regards to the bottles and what they say..all the bottles of the tradizionale have the same shape bottle, they are actually requestered and they are patented and can only be use by the members of the balsamic consordium.in addition to them being requestered,after the vinager goes through nearly 90 test for quility are they then bottled and each bottle has a written history..amazing.

each producer is aloud to produce X amount of balsamico...so, seeing it takes 12 years to make a tradizianal and 25 to make a trad etra vecchio..it is easy to watch over the producers of the fine balsamico's...

it's like buying a Cabernet from California or paulliac...you need to know what percentage of cabernet in in the bottle...these appilation controls are very strick, as is the consordium
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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post #13 of 20
Ditto for the strawberries...but I personally think that a freshly picked heirloom tomato, its acid and sweetness intensified with a sprinkling of the best balsamic, can be sublime.

Also try a sensational perfumed puree of fresh chestnuts flavored with balsamic that demands none of the usual work to peel the nuts. They are halved, shells and all, and simmered in red wine until tender. Then the pulp is simply scooped out and sieved to make a perfect marriage with a few spoons of balsamic and some cream.

Casanova’s Chocolate Sauce

Try this sauce with poached pears or as a fondue for dipping strawberries, bananas or biscotti. Boil ¼ cup balsamic vinegar until reduced by about half and very syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in ½ pound finely chopped dessert (semisweet) chocolate and 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream, place over low heat and heat gently, stirring frequently, until chocolate melts. Then increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon; if necessary, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces. Serve the sauce warm or at room temperature. The sauce will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with cream. Makes 1½ cups sauce and serves 4 to 6.



The reason for such a high cost: Only a tiny proportion of balsamic production is the real thing. Less than 3,000 gallons of genuine Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale are released each year, all of it made in Modena, or in nearby Reggio Emilia. Traditizionale is made from freshly pressed juice ("must") of the Trebbiano grape that is boiled down by more than half to a dark syrup laden with sugar, which leads to the distinctive sweetness of the finished vinegar. The syrup is transferred to oak casks to ferment in the open air and then starts the long evaporation and aging process that makes artisan balsamic vinegar unique.

Over the years the vinegar mellows and intensifies by evaporation as it is transferred to ever-smaller casks of various woods, ending with one of juniper. Measure for measure, prices of the best balsamic match those of a top Bordeaux or Pinot Noir wine. When buying balsamic, the key word on the label is tradizionale, the guarantee that it was made and aged in Modena by traditional methods. Balsamic vinegar does not deteriorate after opening as oxygen is part of the aging process, so treasure your best bottle and use it on special occasions. To subject such nectar to heat would be an insult.

Happily for us cooks, more modest and affordable everyday versions of balsamic vinegar, costing $20 and up, are also made in Modena and elsewhere. These are the vinegars that are so valuable as marinades, as flavorings in sauces and dressings and that can be simmered a short time without serious damage to their character. There are a lot of bad balsamics out there, too, at their worst made simply of white vinegar and caramelized brown sugar. On the whole you get what you pay for, so be sure to read the label.
K

«Money talks. Chocolate sings. Beautifully.»
«Just Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt.»
«Coffee, Chocolate, Men ... Some things are just better rich.»
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K

«Money talks. Chocolate sings. Beautifully.»
«Just Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt.»
«Coffee, Chocolate, Men ... Some things are just better rich.»
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post #14 of 20
CC- That was me with you last year. Yes, a very memorable experience indeed. My husband got me a nice aged balsamic for my birthday last year, and I have wild strawberries in the garden. What could be better?

Hey, CC- let's not forget those yummy anchovies at Sid's booth!
post #15 of 20
What could be better you ask???

That you didn't buy the last batch of frias du bois from gilberties!!

Now you have the berries..and I have none :)

Oh, the sicilian white anchovies..unforgetable...
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
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post #16 of 20
Off topic, but CC, what are friends for? You can steal berries from our garden any time.:)
post #17 of 20
I generally use Guiseppe Giusti - one of my favourites is a honey jelly served barely set over ice cream -
honey, 30-40 drops of Balsamic, water, vanilla, gelatin........
post #18 of 20
Since you guys have already been more than exhaustive:) there are very few things more I can add about Balsamico...
As you said, the real Aceto Balsamico can have on its label two possible definitions: "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" or "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" both allowed by a specific Consortium and followed by a progressive number.
Sadly, none of those definitions guarantee a good quality by itself, since Aceto Balsamico is not protected by a DOC (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata) which is, in Italy, the only certification which ensures to a food product its original features and a really high qualitative standard.
So, also the bad or ordinary stuff can exhibit the same numbered label of the top products. More, the same producer can make many different Balsamics with a different quality...this is, in example, the case of Fini and Monari Federzoni, that sell excellent Balsamico and awful stuff for suckers as well;)
I can't suggest to you any label for two reasons...the first is that I don't know which brands are available in US, and the second is that I buy only average products for cooking as I always get the "real" product as a present from a family of friends which has been making it for 100 years at home :D
The only advice I could give you (but many of you already know it) is that the really good balsamico is VERY expensive, up to $30-40 for a small bottle...so, if it's cheap it's not the real one but normal vinegar mixed with must and colored with caramel:(
Only your palate can judge!

BTW: The word "Balsamico", although coming from the Greek (with the meaning zouzouni explained) in Italian is usually meant as "Aromatic, intensely flavoured" and sometimes "giving benefit to your health": i.e. another thing that is typically "Balsamic" are the sugar drops for sore throat ("Caramelle Balsamiche") which obviously are not intended for culinary use ;)

Pongi
post #19 of 20
pongi, since i will be in italy next week (as you may recall from another posting), which balsamic labels do you recommend looking for while in rome or tuscany?
post #20 of 20
jbuder,
when saying that I have no experience of "great" commercially available Balsamic I was not joking. Luckily, I never needed to spend all that money to buy it as I really have always got it as a present. Don't be surprised because before its "commercial boom" (about 20 years ago) Balsamic was exclusively, but pretty extensively, made by scratch in the families of Emilia Romagna, the region where my family comes from.
In any case, as I said the brand is not the most important thing. Balsamic is produced by both small local producers and big industries that make any other sort of vinegar AND many types of "Balsamic"...the original one, matured for many years, and the mock ones, taking advantage from the name of the product and its brand.
The very best Balsamics are those produced with the traditional procedure and matured in small barrels (I could say "barriques"!) for many years (usually 12 or 25). They're sold in 100 ml bottles with a characteristic round shape and the label "CONSORZIO ACETO BALSAMICO TRADIZIONALE DI MODENA" (or "DI REGGIO EMILIA"). There are many brands, small (Pedroni, Malpighi and so on) and big (Monari Federzoni, Fini, Galletti) but in any case the highest quality coincides with the highest price...never less than $40-50, but you'll get the Grands Crus of vinegars! :bounce:
Luckily, the same producers usually make also less matured Balsamics (3, 6, 8 years) which are sold with the label "ACETO BALSAMICO DI MODENA" and are less expensive...but never less than $ 15-20 for a 250 ml bottle if they're made in the traditional way. The problem is that the bad stuff can have the same features...except for the taste and the price. If you're paying $4 for a 250 ml bottle, even if it's made by Monari Federzoni or Fini is rubbish.
So, the only advice I can give you is: think as you're buying a wine. Decide in advance which is your budget, enter a good Deli shop in the town centre (NEVER in a supermarket! They have only the rubbish) and ask for the corresponding item. If you can afford a price higher than $20 it's likely you'll be satisfied in any case...VERY satisfied if you pay more than $40 :)

Pongi
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