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.
It is this careful process and certification that ensures you are getting Balsamic Vinegar. As with the Extra Virgin Olive Oil market, some unscrupulous producers have entered the market through certification loopholes or the inability to enforce food labeling protection laws. These producers are cutting corners by adding sugar, colourant or thickeners to red wine vinegar, mass producing this low quality Balsamic Vinegar to pass off as the real thing.
Balsamic at Prairie Oils & Vinegars
There are different classifications that are used to describe real Balsamic Vinegar (as you'll see below). At Prairie Oils & Vinegars, our Dark Balsamic Vinegars 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 Balsamic Vinegars, 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 Vinegars. 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 Vinegar, 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, rosé, red or white wine.
The difference between our Dark Balsamic Vinegars 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 Balsamic Vinegars 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 Vinegar is stored in wood barrels; White Balsamic Vinegar 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 Vinegars, 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 rosé 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?
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!