What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar originated in Italy. Balsamic vinegar contains no balsam. The Greek word balsamico means "balsam-like" in the sense of "restorative" or "curative". It is an aromatic, dark, syrup-like, aged vinegar, prepared by the reduction of cooked grapes. Unlike the sharp taste of regular white vinegar (which is made with corn), balsamic vinegar has a rich, sweet flavour and has a remarkably low acidity, making it a tart yet smooth, decadent addition to your cuisine.
How is Balsamic Vinegar Made?
Balsamic Condimento is always from Modena, Italy. It is made with Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The grapes are mashed and cooked down with water, resulting in what is called “grape must”. The grapes are slowly simmered in copper cauldrons, over an open wood fire then combining this reduction with a very small amount of older balsamic vinegar to help speed acidification. Aged using the Solera aging method, barrels made of oak, ash, juniper, cherry, mulberry, or chestnut containing this must become progressively smaller as the balsamic becomes thicker and naturally evaporates over time. Each wooden barrel previously contained residual amounts of older balsamic dating back as far as 18 years, and in some cases 25 years, which imbue our balsamic with rich aroma, flavor and color. The extremely high level of dried extract solids in this must is close to (if not identical) to that of DOP Traditional Balsamic sold exclusively in 100ml bottles. It is the knowledge and skill of the artisan that ultimately makes the greatest balsamic. As with wine making, balsamic vinegar masters aim for particular flavors—a balance of juniper, oak and cherry wood flavors the perfect balance between sweet and sour.
There are different classifications that are used to describe balsamic vinegar. At Prairie Oils & Vinegars, our dark balsamic are crafted in Modena, Italy by Aceto Varvello. They are inspired by rare lots of 18 Year Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia and it is called Traditional Style Balsamic Condimento of Modena PGI. PGI means Protected Geographical Indication, which is a European Union framework that gives legal protection to products to stop inferior products being passed off as genuine. It means our balsamic is tested and certified to be high quality balsamic vinegar made in the traditional fashion, from Modena, Italy. See more on PGI below.
The 18 Year Traditional style balsamic forms the base of all our dark balsamics, and is the highest possible quality and best tasting balsamic available to consumers at this price point.
At Prairie Oils & Vinegars, we also stock a wide variety of white, rosé, and whole fruit balsamic condimento. The varietal of grape used in to make these vinegars varies, but they are all made in the traditional fashion--all natural, with no added sugar, artificial flavours, thickeners, and colours.
Our white balsamic vinegar is also from Modena, Italy. Several years ago, chefs began searching for a product with the same characteristics of Balsamic Condimento, but without the same dark colour in order to not discolour the presentation of certain salads or prepared dishes. Our white balsamic vinegars undergo the same cooking process as our dark balsamics but is aged in stainless steel vats, not wooden ones, to prevent any flavours or colour development to occur because of contact with wood. The result is a crisp, tart vinegar that still carries forth a beautiful sweetness.
Our rosé and barrel aged wine vinegars are made using the same grapes as varietals of Pinot Gregio, Pinot Noir, and more, to expertly capture the complex nuance of a blush, rose, or wine.
The difference between our dark balsamics and the others is that any balsamic that is not dark means the varietal of grape has been cooked just until they are cooked through. The dark balsamics are cooked until they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, resulting in caramelization the sugars which produces a rich, dark flavour and colour. Dark balsamic is stored in wood barrels; white balsamic is stored in stainless steel barrels.
How are the Balsamics Flavoured?
No sugar or sweetener, artificial flavours, or thickeners are ever added to our balsamics. Our balsamics are flavoured with real ingredients or extracts.
For our dark balsamic, the 18-Year Traditional style balsamic forms the base and then real ingredients are used to flavour the vinegar. Similarly, the white, whole fruit, and rose balsamic have a base and then they are flavoured with real ingredients or extracts. Vinegars flavoured with extracts mean they are using the natural oils extracted from the ingredient through expression or maceration, not through chemical processes.
If it is a fruit-flavoured balsamic, two methods are often used. In one method, real fruit is cooked down with water to concentrate the flavour. This mixture is then strained and the concentrated fruit juice is then added to the balsamic. Our whole fruit balsamic vinegars (found in our store among our white balsamic vinegars) are flavoured using a whole fruit concentrated compote to flavour the vinegar. The result is a thick, smooth condiment with low acidity. Real fruit sediment can be seen in the vinegar and in every drop of this vinegar, you get an all-encompassing sensation of biting in to a ripe, fresh fruit.
Our herb-flavoured balsamics are flavour-infused with real mashed herbs or spices. This is then sieved out, although some natural sediment remains.
Our unique Torino Chocolate Balsamic is made with real chocolate for incredible depth of flavour. And our Espresso Balsamic is made with authentic espresso beans, roasted and ground into extremely fine powder, and the result is that one serving has enough caffeine as a small cup of decaf coffee. Neat, huh?
See below for our Nutritional Information. Click here to check out all our vinegars!
Is Balsamic Vinegar Healthy?
Yes, it is! Balsamic vinegar retains most of the nutrients present in the parent grapes, so it is full of antioxidants and minerals. It is
- low in calories
- an all natural source of sweetness
- perfect for healthy lifestyle eating plans, such as paleo or ketogenic diets, and more!
Recent studies have shown that balsamic vinegar has certain healthful effects on our bodies, such as aiding with digestion, controlling blood sugar levels, adding anti-oxidants to our diet, and more. So it can be an excellent choice to add to our diet!
How Does Balsamic Vinegar Compare to Apple Cider Vinegar?
There is a lot of information available on the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, and the studies showing health benefits of balsamic vinegar are just catching up. We are happy to report that balsamic vinegar is showing that its healthful components mirror that of apple cider vinegar - but, in our opinion, balsamic just tastes SO much better. The sheer weight of the long-standing tradition behind the making of balsamic vinegar, along with our taste comparisons of the two AND the support of healthful information, mean we are happy to stock balsamic vinegar in preference to apple cider vinegar.
Ingredients, Nutritional Info and Special Diets
Our balsamic vinegars are gluten-free, carb-free, and sodium-free. All our balsamics are free from artificial flavours. Any vinegars flavoured with extracts mean they are using the natural oils extracted from the ingredient through expression or maceration. No extracts using chemical processes have been utilized in our products.
Because balsamic vinegars are made from grapes, they have a natural sugar content from fruit, but no extra sweetener is added.
Our ingredients lists are so simple, they are included in the label. Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic is lemon juice that has been concentrated through cooking to a reduction, which is then combined with white balsamic vinegar. Italian Herb Balsamic is a blend of Italian herbs that have been mashed and then steeped in the dark balsamic vinegar, resulting in an infused vinegar. And so on.
Regarding nut or soy allergies, while a very small amount of our oils and vinegars are made in the same manufacturing facility as tree nuts, sesame, and soy, they are made in a separate part of the building, using different production lines.
Balsamic Vinegar Categories
Just like there are different classifications of olive oil you might encounter, there are also different levels of balsamic vinegars.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP- DOP stands for Designated of Protected Origin. This label is important and reinforced by law, because it protects the high quality balsamic vinegar produced in Modena and neighboring Reggio Emilia, the only two consortia who produce true traditional balsamic vinegar. True traditional balsamic vinegar is made using the method previously described, except that it is kept absolutely pure; no wine vinegar is allowed to be added. Producers in the regions can submit their product to a panel of Master Tasters within the Consortium of Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (CPABTM). If the product scores more than 250 points, the producer is allowed to bring the product to the Consortium who actually fills the bottles and is labeled with a specific label governed by law. This balsamic easily sells for $100 for 100ml. This vinegar is never used for cooking. It is far too prized and expensive, and is often served drop by drop on a spoon after a meal or sometimes on a small piece of cheese.
Traditional Style Balsamic Condimento of Modena PGI- PGI stands for Protected Geographic Indication and is the label under which the balsamic vinegars at Prairie Oils & Vinegars fall. Since DOP balsamic was such an expensive and scarcely available product, a few stores in Modena began the practice of blending it with a very small amount of premium quality aged red wine vinegar (less than 2%). It is made in the exact methods of the first label, but is not approved by the CPABTM due to the addition of the red wine vinegar. We encourage you to come to our tasting room to enjoy a sample of this rich Condimento. Many are pleasantly surprised at how closely it resembles the DOP label, and yet how affordable it is to bring to your table.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena- These commercial-grade products are usually what you find in your regular grocery stores. They are made of wine vinegar with the addition of colouring, caramel and sometimes thickeners like guar gum or cornflour to artificially simulate the sweetness and thickness of the aged Traditional Balsamic Condimento of Modena. The manufacturing of these vinegars varies greatly, can be highly industrialized to increase output, and the aging process is often foregone.
Our Source for the Highest Quality Balsamic
Our producer for balsamic vinegars is a company called Aceto Varvello in Italy.