Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar (Italian: aceto balsamico) is a condiment originating from Italy.

The original traditional product, made from a reduction of cooked grape juice and not a vinegar in the usual sense, has been made in Modena and Reggio Emilia, since the Middle Ages. The name "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" or "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia" is protected by both the Denominazione di Origine Controllata and the European Union's Protected designation of origin. Traditional balsamic vinegar is highly appreciated and valued by chefs and gourmet food lovers. The Italian food writer Marcella Hazan has been credited with popularising it in Britain and North America (where it was largely unknown until the 1980s).

Balsamic vinegar of Modena (Italian: aceto balsamico) a modern imitation of the traditional product, is today widely available and much better known. This is the kind commonly used for salad dressing together with oil.

Traditional Balsamic vinegar is produced from the juice of just harvested white grapes (typically, trebbiano grapes) boiled down to approximately 30% of the original volume to create a concentrate or must, which is then fermented with a slow aging process which concentrates the flavours. The flavour intensifies over decades, with the vinegar being kept in fine wooden casks, becoming sweet, viscous and very concentrated. During this period, a proportion evaporates: it is said that this is the "the angels' share," a term also used in the production of scotch whisky, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.

None of the product may be withdrawn until the end of the minimum ageing period of 12 years. At the end of the ageing period (12, 18 or 25 years) a small proportion is drawn from the smallest cask and each cask is then topped up with the contents of the preceding (next largest) cask. Freshly reduced cooked must is added to the largest cask and in every subsequent year the drawing and topping up process is repeated.

Authentic consortium approved Tradizionale is the product of centuries of experience as well as many years in barrels. For these reasons it sells for very high prices. Consortium-sealed 100 ml bottles can cost between US $100 and $400 each.

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