#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.

Happy tasting…

#001 – Welcome to the O&O Blog!

With travel relatively curtailed in 2020 and maybe this year too, many people will be missing their regular trips abroad or merely their annual break. For a growing number of travellers their destinations are determined by their love of food, and of course sunshine. Brits would generally head to European countries to find continual sunshine and a variety of food experiences and cuisines which are a little more alien to us. Indeed, some will enrol into cookery schools and/or attend local food tours, and visit markets to generally experience ingredients or dishes that we would rarely bother to cook for ourselves at home.

Given the travel curtailment Olives&Oils have decided to bring the culinary continent to you, our customers. We’ll transport your mind to some beautiful locations from where our ‘foreign’ products are sourced or grown and we’ll introduce you to just some of the people behind those products and give you a feel for their lives and the surrounding areas. We hope you enjoy this series of blog posts, and if there are any Olives&Oils products about you’d like to know more and about which you’d like us to write or advise further, or perhaps you’d merely like to give us your feedback, then by all means please just drop us a line via the ‘Contact Us’ message facility within this website. Many thanks and please enjoy the blog.

For the first Blog post we are going to transport you off to Northern Italy…home to the most flavoursome Basil Pesto…and our supplier Sapori D’Italia.

BASIL PESTO

A symbol of agricultural activity suspended between the mountains and the sea Basil is at the heart of Italian pesto, and in particular Basilico Genovese.

Introduced by the Romans but cultivated in both protected environments and open fields Basilico Genovese is a product of Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) by the European Union, and it’s production centres around the Liguria region of Northern Italy. It is on these Ligurian hills that the aromatic basil has found the ideal conditions to grow. The microclimate of the area combined with the sun and the salty air give its leaves the ultimate balance of aroma and flavour – characteristics difficult to obtain anywhere else.

Liguria is a crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy where the locals can enjoy an average of 2,200 hours of sunshine and blue skies each year. Its Mediterranean coastline is known as the Italian Riviera. The five colourful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, as well as stylish Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, are on the eastern coast or Riviera di Levante. Portofino of course is well known as the playground of the rich and famous including Hollywood stars, famous actors and singers who used to spend their holidays in Portofino: among them were Rex Harrison, Rita Hayworth, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli and more.

Whilst the western coast, the Riviera di Ponente, is both home to Sanremo, a vintage resort with a turn-of-the-century casino and a flower-filled promenade it is also located relatively close to the French/Monaco border. Liguria’s capital is the port city of Genoa, and it’s in this region that the best basil pesto is produced. 

Our supplier, Salvatore Contino originally from Sicily, is now based with his wife Tiziana at a new processing factory in Brugnato, within the La Spezia province adjacent to D.O.P. Genovese Basil fields. It all began in 1982 in Sicily when Salvatore was lucky enough to spend more than eight years with the king of olives and vegetables marination, “U ‘zzi Totò” (Corsican for Uncle Toto), who gave him the passion and dedication for these products called “antipasti”. In 1992 he settled in the UK and established his business in Hertfordshire, but soon recognised that there was a greater opportunity worldwide, hence the Brugnato factory was born.

The ‘king of marinade’ from which Salvatore was inspired and from whom he learned the art that today is the true hallmark of the company’s superior quality, is depicted now as an effigy within the company logo, and hence the official 1937 establishment of the business.

Like many great artisans of many foods, the recipes are kept dear to the hearts of the producers, but we know that Salvatore’s Sapori D’Italia Pesto Ligure is made with a paste blend combined of fresh basil, cheese, pine kernels, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and spices. 

Cooking with Basil Pesto

Of course we all know the usual method of adding pesto to pasta to create a delicious sauce, but there are so many other ways to enjoy this unique product.

Indeed, when you google ‘ways to use pesto’ the results are staggering…from treating it as a substitute ‘tapenade’ by spreading it on warm toast, to using it as a drizzle dressing on any number of ingredients from salads – especially caprese, cheeses, meats (lamb cutlet as shown) poultry to fish (as a crust to a salmon fillet), in a baked sweet potato with tahini and pine nuts, as an addition to crushed garden peas, on pizzas (especially vegetarian), in Ciabatta stuffed with garlic, mushrooms and taleggio, to one of my favourites, ‘Potato, Green Beans and Pesto Lasagne’ or if you fancy an alternative lasagne, how about Spinach, Ricotta, and Pesto Lasagne?

The simple fact is that Basil Pesto is so versatile…that its uses are almost limitless. The beauty of the product is that you can always rustle up something delicious in only a few minutes if you are caught short by unexpected guests providing your store cupboard has dry pasta and your fridge has a tub of fresh basil pesto. And, what’s more you can serve it hot or cold, yes even on salads! If you wish to discover more wonderful recipes and things to do with basil pesto then here are ten fabulous ways to use your basil pesto but don’t check it out until you have bought your supply of Salvatore’s genuine Sapori D’Italia basil pesto from Olives&Oils online deli!

As the Italians say “ti auguro ogni bene!” (I wish you every good thing!)