Balsamic Vinegar is one of my favorite ingredients, and probably one of yours too. Chances are if you like to cook, there is a bottle near your stove, but did you know that it isn’t a Vinegar in the traditional sense? Balsamic Vinegar is not made from wine, but from the Trebbiano or Lambrusco grape that has been harvested and boiled down to a dense and tantalizing syrup.
The syrup, called Mosto Cotto, is aged in casks made from a variety of wood for at least 12 years. The Balsamic Vinegar is aged in seven wooden casks, each successively smaller in size, and imparting an essence of its own: Chestnut, Oak, Acacia, Cherry and Ash. A small portion of true Balsamic Vinegar is poured from the last cask, and new Mosto Cotto is added to the first, and the process continues even up to 25 years or more.
Here are a few interesting facts about Balsamic Vinegar:
- True Artisan Balsamic Vinegar has to be aged for at least 12 years, and is the only Balsamic Vinegar that can legally bear the name Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Comes from Modena, Italy)
- Less than 3000 gallons of True Balsamic Vinegar are released each year
- True Balsamic Vinegar can reach prices from $150 – $400 per bottle
- Most of us have Balsamic Vinegar bearing the name Aceto Balsmico di Modena (not True Balsamic Vinegar. This just means that it hasn’t aged for the required 12 years, and/or it has caramel coloring and other additives, but still has tremendous flavor)
So what’s with all the aging? In a culture where we want to be forever young, and the slightest wrinkle sends us on a mission for the Fountain of Youth in a jar (which I wrote about here), what can we learn from Balsamic Vinegar’s aging process?
Italians have come up with definitions based on the age of Balsamic Vinegar, and I think it will help us make a correlation:
- Young Balsamic Vinegar is called da insalata, and is used in Salad Dressings, Dipping Sauces and Marinades. A flavorful accompaniment.
- Middle-aged Balsamic Vinegar is called medio-corpo, and is medium-bodied and is used to add finesse. Refinement and Delicacy.
- Very Old Balsamic Vinegar is called extra-vecchio or il patriarca, embodies a complexity of flavor that only long aging can develop. It is best served independant of other ingredients…to combine with anything else is considered a waste.
As it turns out, Balsamic Vinegar teaches us that aging is a good thing. It should be highly respected, valued, and appreciated for its complexity. So whether you are young, middle-aged or very old, remember that each age contributes something to life’s table. Enjoy!