Balsamic Vinegar Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
A beautifully beribboned bottle is no guarantee you’ll find true aceto balsamico tradizionale inside. Even phrases like “balsamic vinegar of Modena” or “di Modena” are loose terms allowed by Italian law which can be misleading. You might open the bottle to find a minimally-aged blend or, even worse, an inferior concoction of white vinegar and carmelized brown sugar.
To find the most authentic version of aceto balsamico tradizionale, look for bottles corked and sealed with wax or a lead capsule, a ribbon or stamp of the producer’s insignia prominently on display. The very phrase “aceto balsamico tradizionale” is regulated by the Italian law and any product with that name will ensure that either Modena or Reggio Emillio was the point of origin. You will not, however, find an age on the bottle.
Although the Italian government reserved the term “balsamico” as well as references to Modena or Reggio Emilia for only “tradizionale,” pure, 12-year-old balsamico, United States law allows any vinegar to bear the name balsamic. It also allows manufacturers to place numbers on the labels like “6” or“21” which don’t refer to the years the product was aged. Posting the age of the vinegar is actually illegal in the United States, but customers may erroneously assume that’s what the number represents.
In the fall, during the Italian grape harvest, the careful and meticulous vinegar process is begun with the harvest of the white occhio di gatta and Spergola or red Labrusco and Berzemino grapes . The tart Trebbiano variety is the grape of choice, however, but regulations allow the others to be used as well. To reduce the release of tannins in their skin, the grapes are gently crushed and the liquid simmered. After about 25 percent of the liquid evaporates, a sweet syrup “must” is left to be poured into large chestnut or mulberry barrels where it is left for a year.
Oxidation occurs in the air space left in the barrel, allowing the wine yeast to feed on the must’s sugar. Alcohol is produced and at the same time, through much more slowly, the acetic bacteria consuming the alcohol turns it into acetic acid. The yeasts are not able to consume all of the high sugar content, leaving what remains to sweeten the vinegar.
A variety of wood barrels, among them cherry, chestnut, ash, mulberry, locust and even juniper, lend their particular character to the vinegar as it is decanted in ever smaller barrels. Each year, it will lose from 10 to 25 percent of its volume. A dozen years in the barrels mellows the vinegar’s flavor and as it continues to age, three changes occur: it thickens, increases in complexity with traditional sweet and sour nuances, and darkens in its golden amber color.
Surprisingly, the Marsala used with veal scaloppini and saltimbocca may be substituted with balsamic vinegar. And because of the sweet and sour balance, more modestly-priced balsamic vinegars can be used in recipes for duck and pork, as well as in delightful dark sauces for venison, wild duck, dove and quail.
Oil and Vinegar, Aceto Balsamico are used in a host of recipes. The finest table display of Aceto Balsamico Balsamic Vinegar is in the grape cruet.
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