Most of us think of balsamic vinegar as Italian food royalty and while it’s true that in the pantheon of Italian food products Aceto Balsamico from Modena stands above all others we should not feel intimidated to use it on a daily basis. Like extra virgin olive oil, Italian balsamic has documented health benefits, an extraordinary depth of flavor and a clean delicate finish to season and enhance the flavor of a variety of foods. True balsamic vinegar only has one ingredient: must, a combination of the juice and skins from crushed Trebbiano grapes. The grape juice is cooked slowly down until it is reduced by 35 – 50%. Then, the reduction is placed, along with a bit of an older balsamic vinegar to assist with acetification, into barrels to age. After a period of time some of the vinegar evaporates and the vinegar is transferred into a smaller barrel made of a different woods (often chestnut, cherry, juniper, mulberry, acacia or ash). Each wood infuses a different flavor into the vinegar, making it more complex and unique and as the vinegar ages and becomes concentrated, it becomes thick, sweet and dark.
Glazes, reductions, vinaigrettes, drizzles – the unique sweet/sour flavor and rich consistency of balsamic vinegar is what makes it so special. It adapts well to a variety of preparations from a chef inspired Six Minute Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Balsamic Glaze to adding caramelized onions and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to your basic jarred basil and tomato pasta sauce. Make 2015 the Year of Balsamic and use this exceptional Italian ingredient to its greatest potential.