How to select the perfect balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar has been around for hundreds of years and like any ingredient with such history, there are a ton of different products, varieties and of course, applications in any cuisine.
The first recommendation when choosing balsamic vinegar is to look at the ingredients and the labels in general, they will tell you quite a bit already.
For example, if you read Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar) di Reggio Emilia and D.O.P. (“Protected Denomination of Origin") you are guaranteed ingredient's quality, a very rigorous process, and place of origin. The only ingredient used is grape must, mostly from Trebbiano grapes, a blend that lays in different wood casks - oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, ash, and juniper- where it slowly matures for at least 12 years. Expert tasters then decide on its ranking, classification follows strict quality criteria for both production and end product appearance, aroma and taste. It only comes in 100ml bottles, and it is an incredibly precious product.
Another label to look out for is Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP Invecchiato (IGP - Protected Geographical Indication meaning the product must come from a specific area surrounding Modena). This is made using age-old craft techniques, blending regional grape-musts mixed with a small percentage of wine vinegar. The mixture then slowly ages in oak casks, and in the finished product acidity must be below 6%. Italian regulations actually forbid to state the years of ageing on the label, just look for the word “invecchiato” (aged).
As for personal choice, it really depends what you would use it for. The Balsamic Vinegars from Il Borgo del Balsamico have a colour code which makes the selection easier: white and yellow are used for lighter preparations such as salads and marinades. Orange, slightly thicker, is especially suitable for meat, fish or to add a few drops to sauces at the end of cooking. Red and Satin are velvety, thick and silky in consistency. Both are recommended for those special dishes, fresh strawberries, ice-cream or aged Parmesan cheese.
Price-wise, the Reggio Emilia DOP is a one of a kind product and ranges between £59 and £159. It is so precious that we don’t hold much stock, but can order for you upon request.
The Modena IGP is definitely more affordable, but again it depends on the label.
The White and Yellow label are under £20, and you can use on raw artichokes and parmesan salads, to marinate fish or should you be looking at something more unusual, then add on tempura and eggs benedict.
The Orange is £25, as said above it is great with meat, fish, and to finish a sauce. We love to add a couple of drops on butternut squash ravioli, with butter and sage.
The Red and Satin are the more precious ones, ranging from £25 to £40 (based on the bottle size). Aged in oak for years, they will both enrich your special recipes, with a touch of love and attention. Soft and hard cheese, game meat and beef ravioli, but also vanilla gelato, pannacotta and fresh strawberries.
Lastly, did you know that a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end of a meal aids digestion? That is how it was used for centuries, and we all started implementing this habit with a teaspoon of satin every night. Such a wondrous thing!
You can browse all our balsamic vinegars here, and of course for any question ask away!