My purchasing habits of balsamic vinegar before visiting Florence were a quick glance of the prices and going for any that were at the cheaper end or on offer. I hadn’t yet discovered that the name is protected and the fancy looking seal on expensive small bottles actually mean something.
My experience of this fantastic vinegar began on the first leg of my cooking course in Florence when we visited the amazing indoor market. Our chef, Giovanni, had planned a visit to a stall for some balsamic vinegar tasting.
I never knew there were so many variations of balsamic vinegar to try, some of them had a thick, deep flavour, others were lighter with varying sweetness and oak tastes.
It was here when we were given some history into the vinegar and how it is produced. The fascinating fact is that there is only one true type of Balsamic Vinegar which is made in Modena, Emilia Romagna in Italy. To protect the authenticity of the product the production is governed by Italian Law, the “Produzione Certificata Aceto Balsamico di Modena” to be exact. It is certified at all stages of the production, fermented for a minimum of 12 years and must pass an examination by a panel of just 5 tasting judges. Well that explains the expensive price tag then!
tradizionale balsamic vinegar
There are also other ‘non- tradizionale’ balsamic vinegars called ‘Condimento’ which uses the exact production methods but are produced outside the Modena and Emilia Romagna region or made by producers who decide to release the vinegar before the minimum 12 year fermentation. These are still quality vinegars and you get more balsamic for your money compared to the tradizionale price tag. On the end of the spectrum are the cheaper mass produced vinegars which are made using concentrated grape juice with caramel colouring. These types can be good if you don’t need an intense flavour, but they are far from authentic.
Good selection in Carluccio's
Following my Florentine experience I now really study the labels when purchasing balsamic vinegar. I’m yet to own a bottle of the real-Modena-deal due to the price and unless I get bought some as a present (yes, I am that sad that this would be a great gift in my eyes!) so I’m not likely to justify the purchase anytime soon, but I’ve found that our supermarkets and delis do offer some great ‘Condimento’ alternatives.
Here are my balsamic vinegar ‘don’t be fooled by the label that I got’ purchasing tips…….
Check the label, the cheaper alternatives usually state that it is made up of concentrated grape juice and caramel colouring… whilst this might be ok for your needs make sure you don’t get ripped off by any fancy looking labels.
If you want the real deal you need to check for the word ‘tradizionale’ and the seal of approval which is an inverted tulip shape for the Reggio Emilia or a ball with a neck for Modena.
Don’t be fooled by those using ‘Modena’ on the label, such as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. This is a good value bottle for everyday cooking but it isn’t the real thing.
Buy a ‘decent’ balsamic based on your budget, I really recommend not just going for the cheaper versions, see what the label says on how long it has been fermented (longer the better for a deep oak taste) and go for one slightly more than you usually pay. Try it on salads, strawberries, ice-cream and popcorn (tip from the stall holder in Florence!) or just as a dip with bread, you really will tell the difference.
If you do see the real balsamic vinegar for sale in a market or deli then ask if you can taste it, then you’ll understand why I’ve just dedicated a whole blog post to it!