Not Just for Salads Anymore
The word balsamic means like balsam and balsam is a fragrant resin. Balsamic vinegar means that the vinegar is generally thick and resin-like, as well as being aromatic.
Traditional balsamic vinegar was invented centuries ago as a medicinal balsam for the exclusive use of kings, emperors and other nobility. Years ago, it was so special that only privileged drug stores were allowed to sell it. Over the years traditional balsamic vinegar made its way into the culinary world. Balsamic vinegar adds its taste and aroma to a variety of salads, roasted root vegetables, pastas, meats and Parimigiano Reggiano cheese.
The first recorded documentation of traditional balsamic vinegar dates all the way back to 1046, in Italy, and it was produced there through the centuries in various cities. The traditional balsamic vinegar from Reggio Emilia isn't overbearing. It has a sweet, but assertive aroma and it enhances the flavor of many different foods.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from various ripe grapes including Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola and Berzemino. After the grapes are pressed, the juice is boiled down and then inoculated with special yeasts to ferment. The liquid is then poured into the first set of barrels. Traditional balsamic vinegar must be aged in these barrels for at least 12 years. There are three progressively smaller barrels. Oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry, ash and juniper are recommended wood for the barrels, and are still used by producers of balsamic vinegar who respect tradition. After it has aged for 12 years, the balsamic vinegar is called traditional. After 25 years, it is known as extra vecchio. However, before the vinegar is bottled, it is examined by a panel of experts and it must have the following: a dark brown, shiny, clear color, syrupy consistency with a pleasant acid aroma of the types of wood used. Approximately only 3000 gallons of authentic balsamic vinegar is released annually. This is why balsamic vinegar is considered to be so precious and why it costs so much.
There is quite a distinct difference between traditional balsamic vinegar and basic vinegar that is called balsamic. The price of the vinegar will let you know what you are getting, as traditional balsamic vinegar will cost you quite a bit more. It's worth it though, as it is also more flavorful. Years ago, the making of balsamic vinegar was often done at home. Many families had to hide their barrels of vinegar in their attics to protect them from thieves and envious competitors.