The Secrets of Balsamic Vinegar: from the Cellar to the Table
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is one of the most iconic Italian gourmet food and, as it happens with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, it can be pretty hard to tell the difference between quality products and fraudulent imitations.
But don't worry! We had a small conversation with Lorenzo Righi, the owner of Antica Acetaia La Secchia and he revealed us all the secrets to discern great products, how to properly store them and a healthy use of the "black gold" .
What is Balsamic Vinegar of Modena?
Traditional Balsamic vinegar is a reduction of unfermented grape juice, called grape must, which is cooked down and then aged in a series of casks made from different types of wood and without the addition of any other spices or flavorings. Traditional balsamic vinegar is thick enough to coat a spoon and has a delicate balance of sweet and sour. Produced only in Modena or Reggio Emilia, this Vinegar has a protected designation of origin, DOP from the European Union.
It is the most expensive you can buy: a gold label vinegar can cost around $200 for a mere 3 ounces!
The most common balsamic vinegar that can be found at most grocery stores is Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (IGP), often written as aceto balsamico di Modena. Look for the letters IGP on the label, which stands for "protected geographical indication".
The Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP is produced following the strict regulations. The IGP guarantees that all Balsamic Vinegars of Modena are produced exclusively in the Modena area, with must from grapes grown in the Emilia-Romagna region. Also, the exact percentages of all the ingredients used in commercial balsamic vinegars—grape must, wine vinegar and caramel—are set by law.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP is way cheaper than the Tradizionale Balsamic Vinegar, therefore it is the best choice if you need a vinegar for everyday use : it's perfect for cooking and dressing but it can also be the main ingredients or the finish touch of your recipe!
Why is Modena the homeland of Balsamic Vinegar?
At this point you may be wondering: why is precisely Modena the homeland of Balsamic Vinegar? Balsamic vinegars and cooked musts were used since the III millennium BC in Asia and Africa. The tradition was exported to Greece, then to Rome where it was used to preserve and dress foods.
Vinegar has been widely used throughout the Middle Ages, but it was in the Renaissance that the fortune of Balsamic Vinegar started and it became an ingredient of the most refined plates and was always present on the nobles' table. Balsamic vinegar was produced not only for table use, but was also used as a medicament and donated as a present to the most important guests. It is said that Lucrezia Borgia, duchess of Ferrara, used the balsamic vinegar during her delivery to ease the pain.
It was the Duchy of Este that gave life to a local and exclusive product such as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: the Modena and Reggio Emilia areas have a typical semi-continental climate, tempered by the influence of the nearby Adriatic Sea, which is favorable for the development of the native acetic flora. The farmers’ ancient knowledge and the innate love for living well and eating well completed the positive situation creating the long-lasting tradition of the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Easy ways to recognize and avoid
a low-quality Balsamic Vinegar
- "The first advice is to read carefully the label ", Lorenzo Righi says. "If it it's too long, you are not buying a good product". Industrial Balsamic Vinegar can be rich of chemical additives, artificial coloring, arabic gum and sulfites. As the owner of the Antica Acetaia La Secchia explains, these additives are not forbidden by the law, but are an index of a low-quality, industrial product.
- The second thing you can check on the label is the amount of grape must used. The greater the amount, the higher the quality of the product. The IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena by Antica Acetaia La Secchia that you can find in our February Box contains at least the 50% of grape must, which makes the product a top-quality one.
- Another important aspect to consider is the appearance of the product: if a cheap product is thick and black, it probably contains additives.
- What about the price ? "It is a bit challenging to answer this question, since so many invariables are involved. However, we can say that a price lower than 15$ can hide a mediocre product"
How to store your
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Vinegar has been used for decades as a natural preservatives , so we can say that you don't need to follow any special instruction. The most important thing is to always close the bottle with its cork and to avoid the refrigerator or too cold temperatures. Room temperature is preferred, but hotter temperatures does not affect the integrity of the product.
In fact, Balsamic Vinegar does not really go bad. The expiration date that can sometimes be found in the bottle is written in compliance with National Laws, but the shelf-life of Balsamic Vinegar is really long. The thing to remember is that Balsamic Vinegar often becomes cloudy and that’s completely normal, the liquid is still safe to consume.
When it comes to checking if it has gone bad, looks for mold first. If you can’t find any mold in the bottle, you should taste the Vinegar. The taste you should get is mild acidic with a bit of sweetness (taste a freshly opened bottle of balsamic vinegar, so you will know how it should taste). If the liquid tastes harsh, it’s probably bad and should be discarded. If it tastes fine, it’s in all probability fine to consume.
How to use the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Balsamic vinegar is delicious drizzled over salads, of course. But try it in cooked dishes, too. Balsamic Vinegar holds onto its spicy kick, balancing the rich flavor of meat, poultry, and fish, and adding welcome acidity to vegetables. Because of its acid nature and its persistence, you need just a few drops to make a completely different dish.
The product can be therefore used to give more strenght to simple dishes like salad and vegetables or to enhance the sweetness of wild strawberries or ice-cream . You can also use a good Balsamic Vinegar to make a marinades or to create a healthy dip for fresh veggies. Cheese lovers can instead go for a few drops of Balsamic Vinegar over some bite-size chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano or drizzled over a fresh cheese such as ricotta .
"Besides this tasty combinations, I always suggest to take a spoonful of Balsamic Vinegar after a full meal as a natural, non-alcoholic digestive", concludes Lorenzo Righi.
Want to Try a Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP?
EatTiamo offers a wide range of Food Box including Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP.
We are a team of food lovers with an experienced palate, on the continuous hunt for Authentic Italian Food Delicacies.
Each Month we select the best products, handpack them carefully in Italy and send our EatTiamo Boxes directly to your doorstep, with all the steps to cook a perfect full dinner for 4 people.
We have a network of Italian small producers and we know them by their first name. We’ve heard their stories and seen the passion that goes into the creation of their Balsamic Vinegar.