Which Aceto Balsamico is best
January 8, 2006 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Which Aceto Balsamico is best to get and where is the cheapest place to get it.

I saw another user talk about getting this aged vinegar as a wedding gift. After researching it, it seems there are many different varieties all coming from Italy. But I can not tell which brand is worthy of its price tag. So which brands do you think are best and where is the best place to get them. Thanks.
posted by mi6op to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea which is best, but I've found a brand that's not that expensive that I like a lot: Antica Italia Balsamic Vinegar, only (as far as I know) available via cybercucina.com ($7.99, 17 fl oz). We came across it at a restaurant (added to olive oil, as a dipping mix for bread) and they gave us the brand name.

We also like the olive oil of same brand ($9.95, 16.9 fl oz)

[Also, for what it's worth, I've heard that "produced" in Italy sometimes means that the oil or vinegar came from other countries, like Spain, but was imported to Italy and bottled there.]
posted by WestCoaster at 10:29 PM on January 8, 2006

the short answer is that it's like wine. the longer it's aged, the better it is, and the higher the price tag will be. so surf around and get an idea of how much you have to spend for x years. really good balsamic is thick, kinda sweet and syrupy, incredibly flavorful and tastes millions of years better than what you get in a bottle next to the catalina.

for instance, a (tiny!) bottle of hundred-year-old balsamic will set you back $700. but it's well, well worth it. i had a duck risotto made with 50-year balsamico at this place, and only a wee drizzle was needed to pack a punch.

anyway, the point is, don't expect to spend $30 and come away with something other than salad dressing.

this looks reasonable, 25-year stuff.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:57 PM on January 8, 2006

Semi-related: Try drizzling a little balsamic vinegar on freshly sliced pineapple. Seriously, it's great!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:49 AM on January 9, 2006

The story of the 100-year old Balsamico is laughable. There are no such things. Balsamico Vinegar is a post World War Two phenomena which came about by accident. My buddy is from Modena and his Aunt makes Balsamico and told us this story.

During WWII the owners of certain vinegar workshops fled their homes, leaving their vinegar - which was stored in balsamic wood casks - untouched for several years. Normally they would use the vinegar immediately. They noticed that the wood imparted a sweetness to the vinagar, and began to refine their manufacture based on how old the vinegar was, which is to say that every year the casks are decanted into smaller casks as the vinegar evaporates. It is stupid to buy anything older than 8 or 12 year old Balsamico.
posted by zaelic at 2:06 AM on January 9, 2006

With respect to zaelic, his Modenese buddy would appear to be wrong on the history. I've heard (read?) a story, can't remember where, of an Italian whose house was being bombed during WWII and who rushed in to save- the balsamic vinegar.

Of course, the link could be fable making to push the product, wouldn't be the first time, but it seems unlikely. (See also here, here, and here)

Perhaps it was an earlier war? Memory is elastic in those parts....
posted by IndigoJones at 4:59 AM on January 9, 2006

More information about balsamics

Zingermans.com offers a wide selection of 6-year to 100 year old balsamic vinegars. I went to a tasting there and learned you can really tell the difference between different ages in flavor and in texture. As the vinegar ages it gets sweeter and thicker, so that the older ones are the consistency of syrup or molasses rather than the liquid we'd expect. Since this is a wedding gift, I'd recommend splurging and going for something at least 30 years old, whether from Zingerman's or elsewhere. Read the bottle carefully and make sure that it doesn't have a bunch of weird additives like sugar or caramel coloring.
posted by srah at 6:15 AM on January 9, 2006

My wife got me a bottle of 100-year-old stuff here. Be sure the recipient knows not to make coleslaw with it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:16 AM on January 9, 2006

I bought a bottle of De Nigris Balsamic Vinegar of Modena 25 Star Gran Reserva from Freshdirect (link which may or may not work). I don't know if the price ($25) is fair or not but the stuff is absolutely delicious. Flavourful, syrupy, sweet - mixed with a little olive oil and a crunch of pepper it's one of my favourite dressings.
posted by ny_scotsman at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2006

On a related note, what is acceptable to do with 100-year old balsamic? If you can't use it for coleslaw, what are you supposed to do with it? Drink it out of the bottle? Eat it by itself with bread? Is it too cheeky to use it in salad dressings or marinades?
posted by booknerd at 10:16 AM on January 9, 2006

There is a standards consortium that certifies Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

This is the stuff you want.

It's only available in that special bottle (some of the pages linked above have this on it, but none of the direct links to products), and it should have a seal.

Cooking.com sells a 12-year and a 25-year.
posted by Caviar at 10:17 AM on January 9, 2006

You should not mix balsamico with anything, and using it for marinades and dressings is a waste. Think of it as a condiment, not a vinegar.

Typical usage is about a teaspoon at a time.

Drizzle it over a rare steak, fresh strawberries, some fine aged parmesan, or high quality vanilla ice cream.

I saw a suggestion to put a drop of it on a seedless watermelon cube, but I've never tried that.

It's all about the flavor, and basically anything you mix it with is going to dilute that flavor, so you want to try to pair it with one, maybe two other flavors. Anything more, and you should probably be using cheaper substitutes (which can be really good for what they are) because the subtlety is going to get lost.
posted by Caviar at 11:06 AM on January 9, 2006

Types of Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegars are ranked on a scale of 0 to 4 by an independent group named the CTAB. The top-of-the-line Balsamics are made the traditional way. These are aged for over 12 years using the Solera system which incorporates a series of barrels of decreasing size. Every year, a portion of Balsamic from a younger, larger barrel is taken out and added to the next barrel down the line. This culminates in a finished product at the end of the rack. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is prohibitively expensive, with a 100ml bottle costing over $100. The CTAB ranking system only applies to commerical Balsamics, which are a blend of traditional and simple red wine vinegar. Basically, the higher the ratio of traditional to red wine yields a higher rank. A "0 leaf" Balsamic might be 95% red wine vinegar with a splash of traditional and some caramel coloring to give it a dark color. A "1 leaf" is much better than a "0 leaf" and is the prefect Balsamic for making a salad dressing recipe.

At the "2 leaf" level, the sweetness of the traditional Balsamic begin to overpower the tartness of the red wine vinegar. A "2 leaf" may be too sweet some some people's taste over salads. "2 leaf" Balsamics are excellent in marinades or drizzled over finished dishes. A "3 leaf" is an even sweeter product - and twice the price of a "2 leaf". It richness makes it a prefect condiment for fish, lamb or beef, either in a gravy or sauce or drizzled straight out of the bottle. A "4 leaf" is syrupy sweet with only a hint of vinegar acid. This specialty item is used as a dessert topping, drizzled over ice cream or cake. In Modena it is popular to drizzle it over Parmesan cheese as a dessert too.

Before the advent of the leaf system, there was a lot of confusion about Balsamic Vinegar. It can be very confusing staring at a shelf with $5 bottles sitting right next to $20 bottles. As we all know, price is not always an indication of quality, so be sure to look for the leaves!

Balsamic vinegar can only be produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy. The process of making it begins by cooking Trebbiano grape juice. This cooking reduces the water content of the juice, turning it into a syrup called must. The must is then poured into the first wooden barrel of a Solera series, mixed with an older Balsamic vinegar batch to begin the acetification process. Each year 50% of the vinegar is transferred down the line to a slightly smaller barrel, along the way acquiring some of the flavors of the different woods. The only approved woods are oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, acacia, juniper, and ash.
4 Leaf balsamic shouldn't be that hard to find--our local super market (Harris Teeter) has a 4 leaf store brand! (.pdf file, see page 6)
posted by NortonDC at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2006

booknerd - Though I have never had true Aceto Balsamico, I have heard that some do serve it straight up as an aperitif. Other ideas I've heard include drizzling it on fruit, ice cream, pastries, and cured meats. Generally you would want to use it in places where it's flavor can truly shine through with just a few drops, since it is so expensive. Sure, you could make coleslaw, salad dressing, etc. but it kind of seems like a waste.
posted by rorycberger at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2006

Best answer: I know it's late, but this is interesting.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:06 AM on January 11, 2006

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