#002 – Balsamic Vinegars
Those of our website visitors who have clicked on the Oils & Vinegars menu tab in our online shop, can’t help notice but we have a passion for olive oils and great balsamic vinegars. But few will understand quite why we are so passionate about such products.
Well, it starts with the fact that here in the UK, and particularly in Wales, we don’t produce either of these natural products ourselves and therefore the romance of continental products is just that…’romance’. So where ever possible we try and source products that are not only the best but are pretty much unique to the UK, and certainly to the South Wales shoppers. And so it is with our range of Giuseppe Giusti Balsamic Vinegars. Let us tell you about balsamic vinegars and our suppliers from Modena, northern Italy…
But before we start our journey, we hear some of you ask – What exactly is balsamic vinegar and from what is it produced? Balsamic vinegar is a very dark, concentrated and intensely flavoured vinegar made wholly or partially from ‘grape must’. ‘Grape must’ is freshly crushed grape juice with all the skins, seeds and stems.
Like many specialist products throughout Europe, the national food agencies of each country have taken to protecting the origin of source. That’s no exception when it comes to Balsamic Vinegar. Consequently there a three distinct types of balsamic vinegar and they are as follows: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP, and Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP…the latter being introduced with a Protected Geographical Indication tag more recently, in 2009.
As you can see from the three types, they originate from two distinct areas of Italy…that of Modena and that of neighbouring Reggio Emilia.
Those who know their Italian geography will be aware that this area is within Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, not only home of both Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars, but more so, was the birth place of the late Opera star Luciano Pavarotti, hence it has a revered operatic history.
So what’s the difference between the different types of balsamic vinegar?
Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP/Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP – True balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of pressed Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The resulting thick syrup, called mosto cotto in Italian, is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of several barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made of different woods like, chestnut, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash and juniper. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in colour, and has a complex flavour that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks.
Reggio Emilia designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia) by label colour. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years, and a gold label designates that the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
Modena uses a different system to that of to indicate the age of its balsamic vinegars (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena). A white-coloured cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a gold cap bearing the designation extravecchio (extra-old) shows the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.
Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP – These are more commercial-grade products which imitate the traditional products. As they are made of as little as 20% grape must (and not necessarily from Modena or Reggio Emilia), with the addition of wine vinegar, colouring, caramel, they sometimes use thickeners like guar gum or cornflour to artificially imitate the sweetness and thickness of the aged Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. IGP status requires a minimum ageing period of two months, but not necessarily in wooden barrels, rising anything up to three years and when labelled they are named invecchiato (aged). The manufacturing process is highly industrialized, and consequently the output of a medium-sized producer may be hundreds of litres per day. Naturally they are cheaper but inferior in quality.
Giuseppe Giusti brand of Balsamic Vinegars
And now that you understand the basics of balsamic vinegar you’ll appreciate why, when we tell you that we’ve have hand-chosen the Giuseppe Giusti brand, with a history dating back to 1605 (over 400 years), not only is it the oldest balsamic vinegar producer, but it is the best. Acetaia Giusti is the proud guardian of the largest collection of historical barrels: in the Giusti attics there are 600 barrels from the 1700s and 1800s which are still producing Balsamic Vinegar. The older the barrel, the better the product will be, as the essences from the wood and the balsamic aromas that have matured together over the centuries are united.
Represented today by Claudio, Francesca and Luciano who lead the company today, the history of the Giusti family is inextricably linked to the local area. Naturally over the centuries the Giusti vinegars have been recognised all over the world and have been presented at the various International Exhibitions of the Belle Epoque. The most important of the Giusti Balsamic vinegars, of 30, 50 and even 100 years, have won numerous prestigious accolades, including 14 gold medals. It isn’t just because of this pedigree, incredible quality and dedication over 400 plus years that we chose Giusti to become our leading brand of vinegar offerings…it’s because they are really great people with whom to do business. They made us feel like one of the family, and that reflects in the service we have been offered, and we like to think we can offer this great service to you through our knowledge and recommendations. Of course if you wish to sample the quality yourselves, then you can see our full range of Giusti vinegars here…
In the Kitchen with Balsamic Vinegar
Meanwhile, it’s all very well us telling you about the history, the suppliers and how great the product is, but what do you do with balsamic vinegar apart from scattering it on your salads?
Well, you’d probably be surprised to know that it is regularly used in desserts, with fruit, with figs, strawberries, on cheesecakes, obviously on cheese, but even on ice cream – yes, ice cream! And more obviously on a wide variety of sandwiches and meat or fish combinations. Try monkfish wrapped in Parma ham, baked and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
And if you are still struggling to look for ideas here are forty, simple but inspiring dishes using balsamic vinegar. Let’s us know how you get on…
Finally, we did promise to try and transport you to the continent assuming you were still tied to the house, and that we’d try and bring some of the continental experience to you, so if you’d like to take a short 10 minute food tour around Modena, then go ahead and join the tour here.
Stay safe and we hope to see you in the shop soon… don’t forget you can also order online for local or national delivery.