Seeking real balsamic vinegar
July 9, 2021 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Not the imitation stuff; after searching the internet, I am more confused than ever about balsamic vinegar.

I do not use a lot of balsamic vinegar, but I have been very sparingly using up an old bottle of it and will need more soon. It was a gift and was brought back from a trip, so isn't comparable to US stuff.

What "ingredients" am I supposed to look for or avoid. Or, any links to sources for it are appreciated. I know it is expensive but am willing to go for it if it's worth it.
posted by mightshould to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think Cooks Illustrated recommended this one ($229 for 3.4 ounces!). But then they also said you don't really need the real stuff. Lucini is good in the supermarket.
posted by pinochiette at 5:09 PM on July 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What you are looking for is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale DOP. These are made only of grape must and aged a minimum of 12 years.

The next level down is Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP, which is what you can find in the supermarket. This can be aged or un-aged, and must have at least 20% grape must but can be sweetened and thickened. More aged is generally better (look for "invecchiato" on the bottle). It is hard to know how much % grape must a given vinegar has.

Here are the symbols to look for for DOP and IGP designations.
posted by goingonit at 5:16 PM on July 9, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I literally have Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food on the couch next to me at the moment. What Mogannam and Gough say about balsamic vinegar:
"True balsamic is called aceto balsamico and comes from one of two designated regions in Italy: Modena [in Emilio-Romagna] and Reggio Emilia [respectively labeled "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP" and "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP"]. A hundred-year-old aged balsamic will take your palate on a journey to remember. But a $15, eight-year-old bottle of balsamic will also take you far. Whatever balsamic you buy, just make sure it's made without added sweetening or colorants; grape must and wine vinegar are the only ingredients you should see on the label."
Serious Eats has more detail. I can highly recommend Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena - Extra Vecchio, and I distinguish its use from the salad-level balsamic vinegar I get at my local grocery store.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 5:21 PM on July 9, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The "real" stuff will always say "DOP". Balsamic vinegar from Modena will always be in a bottle of the size and shape of the bottle on Eataly linked by pinochiette, 100ml/3.4oz and in a bulb shape. Balsamic from Reggio-Emilia comes in upside-down tulip shaped bottles, also 100ml. The only ingredient is "Grape Must".

Balsamic marked "IGP" or "Condiment" will have other ingredients, Caramel coloring, red wine vinegar, sugar, etc, but this will never be in the DOP/traditional balsamic.
posted by miscbuff at 5:23 PM on July 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Zingerman's will take care of you.
posted by praemunire at 7:22 PM on July 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Came in to share that Zingerman’s link, too. You can basically pick a price point and go with it, none of the options are bad.
posted by Mizu at 11:16 PM on July 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't throw out the empty bottle until you have refilled it once or twice with some good quality cider vinegar - the residues will re-dissolve and it will not be of the same quality, but it will still have some of the flavour and enough if you are using it in cooking.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 2:41 AM on July 10, 2021 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all awesome answers. I'm glad to have the differences clarified and to have good buying options.
Who knew vinegar could be so complicated.

And I hadn't even thought of refilling it, thanks, Barnara Spitzer.
posted by mightshould at 8:10 AM on July 10, 2021

Best answer: You may want to ask any of your local vintners whether they might also make their own balsamic vinegars. I didn't know that wineries might also do this, but it makes sense! When I was allowed to sample one, it was DIVINE. It was like drinking heaven! It was like no other balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted (in Canada).
posted by itsflyable at 11:44 PM on July 10, 2021

Response by poster: I ended up buying Lucini from the supermarket because a bottle of the real stuff costs more than my monthly food budget!

And, I am happy with the less expensive version. It tastes nice enough for my uses Kwhich aren't splendid gastronomic events.)
posted by mightshould at 4:27 PM on August 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

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