Breaking Down Balsamic Vinegar

By definition Balsamic Vinegar (Italian: aceto balsamico) is a condiment originating from Italy, that is considered a wine vinegar that is not made from wine, but from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.

Of course we are not talking about you commercial grade Balsamic used in salad

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP - I...

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP – Italia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

dressing and made to imitate the original product, but the traditional Balsamic made in Modena and Reggio Emilia sections of Italy.

The prized Balsamico Tradizionale is very much like a fine wine. It is generally produced from Trebbiano grapes (which are picked and then often left in the sun for further ripening  to increase the sugar level). These are crushed and pressed into a juice (called “must”) and then simmered in open pots for 24-30 hours. This unfermented juice is cooled, allowed to settle and then placed in the first of a series of barrels to age.

The vinegar first goes through alcoholic fermentation and then acetic oxidation. In other words, the sugars turn into alcohol which turns into acid which converts the liquid into vinegar.

A minimum of 12 years of aging is required by law in order to allow this product to be designated as balsamico tradizionale (traditional balsamic vinegar).  Although 20-30 years aging is not uncommon in Modena.  It is this long time period required to produce this quality product that is the main determinant of its price.

Therein lies the confusion as many people when shopping for Balsamic Vinegar will settle on Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena), an inexpensive modern imitation of the traditional product. This product is widely available and much better known and a whole lot cheaper.

The traditional Balsamic is used to enhance the taste of foods and sometimes comes infused with different flavors.  Remember, when using the good stuff that a little goes a long way.  It better, this stuff is expensive!


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