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clumsycook

Favorite balsamic vinegars

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I've lately become obsessed with good balsamic vinegars of modena---anyone have recommendations of good brands or places to buy from? Also, if anyone has any advice or tips on how to buy I'd love to learn.

Thanks in advance.

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I don't think it is a traditionally aged balsamic - but I love the one from Napa Valley Harvest. The bottle says it is aged "up to 18 years in wood casks" so maybe it is a blend? It is fairly sweet and somewhat thick. I love using it to make a vinaigrette. And I've been picking it up at Marshall's and / or TJ Maxx for the last few months. Only $5.99 for a 250ml bottle - so a good deal all around.

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If you are interested in Balsamic vinegar as a gastronomic experience, have a lot of money and don't mind using it by the drop rather than the splash, you should try traditionally made Balsamic.

A reduction of the juice from Trebbiano grapes is aged in casks along with already aged vinegar for a minimum of twelve years. It is transferred from year to year to smaller and smaller casks made of different woods. The reason it goes into smaller casks is because the juice evaporates over time (the evaporated liquid is called the "angel's share" which is a term commonly used in distilling whisky and brandy). Woods used are cherry, chestnut, acacia, oak, mulberry, ash and juniper.

This form of balsamic vinegar will have the words "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" on its label and will come from either Modena or Reggio Emilia. These labels are strictly controlled by the production consortium and are equivalent to the DOCG label on Italian wines. You can expect to pay $50 or more for 250ml of this product. As it ages, it becomes more concentrated and more complex as well as less in volume. Expect to pay $80 or more for 100ml of 50 year old and $150 or more for 100 year old.

Younger vinegars are available that are made in the traditional manner but without certification and approval from the consortium (i.e. they are not "tradizionale"). The so-called "condimento" grade balsamic is a cheaper alternative but may not have the complexity of the original. Look to see that it is barrel aged in barrels of various woods. Check the acidity, which will be on the label as a percentage. The better ones are around 6% acidity.

In 2002, the AIB (Italian Association of Tasters for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) classification system was instituted. This certification consists of a four-leaf ranking. 1 leaf has young fragrance and consistency with a "lively perception of acidity." 2 leaves has a rounded distinct flavor that is strong yet well balanced. 3 leaves has a full-bodied harmonious flavor with persistent aftertaste and intense and vibrant fragrance. 4 leaves is exquisitely rich and intense flavor, marked density characterised by a great complexity of fragrances and captivating aromas.

For more details on the classification system and when to use the respective balsamics, check out this web site: http://www.finiexport.it/aib.htm (this is a producer site as the original site has a dead link to the English version; you can read it in Italian here http://www.assaggiatoribalsamico.it/index2.htm )

The cheapest variant of balsamic is called "commercial." This usually consists of concentrated grape juice mixed with strong vinegar and caramel coloring. Much of what you see labelled as "balsamic vinegar" in supermarkets will tend to fit into this category.

If you are just setting out on a journey with balsamic, you would do well to buy vinegars that use the AIB system. These can be very good value for money as they go on taste rather than on time in cask and methods used.

Let us know about your progress.

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I'd like to try some really top-notch balsamic vinegar, but actual Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is ridiculously expensive (for 100 milliliters, it's $125 to $175 for the affinato, and maybe $200 to $250 for the "standard" extravecchio, and up to $400 for the "high end" extravecchio that's aged 50 to 75 years).

 

I've read online that SOME of the "condimento" balsamic vinegars are made exactly the same way as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale balsamic vinegar, but just not by either of the two consortia permitted by the E.U. to use the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale appellation.  And condimento balsamic vinegar costs only $50 to $100 per half liter.

 

The problem is that MOST condimento balsamic vinegar may be aged as little as 3 years, and / or may incorporate commercial-grade red wine vinegar.

 

So: can anyone recommend some really top-notch condimento balsamic vinegar, that's actually made more or less like the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (and, if possible, tell me where to get it)?

 

Thanks for any help.

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Look for a shop that offers tastings so you can sample and choose something that suits your palate and the uses you plan for the product. 

I have a couple of bottles I brought back from Modena and consider the traditional product to be a one of a kind taste, well worth seeking out.  I drizzle a few drops on cheese, strawberries or vanilla ice cream but would never cook with it.  I confess to a exhibiting a touch of Allgoneophobia with my last bottle of Extra Vecchio (25 yr) as it brings back memories of that trip - I can still recall the sharp, heady fragrance in the balsamic aging barn we visited.

 

I was in my local We Olive shop last weekend and when the sales person overheard me describing the flavor of the traditional product to a friend, he offered us a tasting that included the traditional, consortium-labeled 12 yr product ($125/100ml) and a few of the "condimento" balsamic vinegars that you describe.  Several of them were nice.  All were lacking in some way when compared with the  traditional balsamic and lacked the complexity of that product.  My pick of the condimento versions was in the middle of the price range that we sampled.  The most expensive condimento seemed overly thick to me but my friend liked that one so I'd recommend that you seek out a shop that offers the opportunity to taste some options.

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Look for a shop that offers tastings so you can sample and choose something that suits your palate and the uses you plan for the product. 

I have a couple of bottles I brought back from Modena and consider the traditional product to be a one of a kind taste, well worth seeking out.  I drizzle a few drops on cheese, strawberries or vanilla ice cream but would never cook with it.

 

I was in my local We Olive shop last weekend and when the sales person overheard me describing the flavor of the traditional product to a friend, he offered us a tasting that included the traditional, consortium-labeled 12 yr product ($125/100ml) and a few of the "condimento" balsamic vinegars that you describe.  Several of them were nice.  All were lacking in some way when compared with the  traditional balsamic and lacked the complexity of that product...  I'd recommend that you seek out a shop that offers the opportunity to taste some options.

 

Some friends and I are planning a trip to the Black Forest, the lavender country in Provence, and Tuscany.

 

I see online that Modena is in Emilia-Romagna, which is right next to Tuscany.  Maybe we should consider visiting there as well.

 

As for my use of the product, I hadn't really thought that out in detail, as I'm still something of a novice in the culinary world.

 

Unfortunately, out here in the suburban hinterlands, we don't have We Olive, or really just about any real specialty shops, but I'll phone around and see if I can get any balsamic vinegar taste samples.

 

Why wouldn't you cook with balsamic vinegar?

 

I'm sorry to hear the condimento balsamic vinegar might be disappointing to me...  We'll see...

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We managed to score a bottle. 

 

Well worth the expense and wait - a teaspoonful of complexity is the best way to describe the taste. Sweet-sharp with notes of oak, black pepper and vanilla. It lingers on your tongue for a few hours.

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I have a perfume-bottle-sized aceto tradizionale reggio emilio, which is delicious, but when it's gone I won't even consider replacing it. It probably goes for over $100 now, while I can get a 375ml bottle of Pedro Ximinez sherry vinegar for around $17. The sherry vinegar is a little dryer, and not quite as viscous, and has a different flavor profile. But it's every bit as good, and at least as complex, and I don't feel like I'm dispensing some irreplaceable elixir every time I throw together a vinaigrette. What's more, for 1/3 the price of that precious balsamico, I've put together a whole stable of sherry vinegars from Despaña in NYC, that includes moscatel, fino palomino, and cheaper grade palomino vinegar in a big bottle. In my vinegar cabinet, Spain has ignominiously kicked Italy's ass.

 

Edited to add: I don't like the supermarket grade balsamic vinegars. I don't know what they actually are, or why they get so much shelf space. 

 

 


Edited by paulraphael (log)
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I can see that DeSpana may wind up costing me money. Wonder if their paella pans are any good? Of course, I do have one coming from Darto, eventually.

 

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17 minutes ago, kayb said:

I can see that DeSpana may wind up costing me money. Wonder if their paella pans are any good? Of course, I do have one coming from Darto, eventually.

 

 

I don't know about their pans. The big danger to one's bank account is their hams.

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@paulraphael  Thanks for the sherry vinegar prompt. Back in the day it was my favorite and I've not taken the time to explore current on-line options. That will change :)

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Every January I order a bottle each of the Vecchia Dispensa 10, 16, and 30 year balsamics from Zingerman's Mail Order when they do their annual balsamic sale. 

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Too bad they do not ship to Canada....

 

In this day and age, that is surprising!

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While I don't agree with @paulraphaelregarding sherry vinegar vs. balsamic (I mean, a splash of PX vinegar on strawberries or vanilla ice cream does NOT do the same thing as a splash of 25 or 50 year-old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale does), I too have a full shelf of vinegars from Despaña. They're great for vinaigrettes, something I'd never use that high-end Italian stuff for...they're different products, meant for different purposes. 

 

I mean, no one is comparing a fantastic pata negra with a good prosciutto - they're different products altogether. And salt is salt, but I'd rather use fleur de sel to finish a dish than a schtickle of Morton's, no?

 

On to the pans - they're exactly what a paella pan is supposed to be.  I have at least 8 of their cazuelas as well, in different shapes and sizes. I love Despaña for shopping in person!

 

However, on line, I often look to La Tienda - they run some nice sales, and I've always been happy receiving a delivery of goodies from them! Take a look at the paella pans they offer.

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3 hours ago, weinoo said:

... a splash of PX vinegar on strawberries or vanilla ice cream does NOT do the same thing as a splash of 25 or 50 year-old Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale does...

 

Not exactly the same thing, but it's pretty damn good.

 

I've just decided I'm not going to spend 25 to 30 times as much per milliliter for something that just has a slightly different flavor profile. If I had 25 times as much money (many people do!) I'd collect them all. 

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The bottle above came with a dropper which I had totally ignored until B pointed it out.

 

I'm at work right now, so will update this post with a pic when I get home.

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