In the tangy and intriguing world of vinegars, balsamic vinegar marches to the beat of its own drummer. There’s something haunting about its sweet, earthy flavor and deep-dark color that sets it apart from the others, and that special something has a lot to do with how it’s produced.
Unlike standard vinegars, the balsamic variety is made not from fermented wine, but from fermented grape juice that’s reduced to a thick syrup, then allowed to season in wood barrels for a minimum of 12 years. That kind of time and labor comes at a price, which is why true balsamic vinegar produced in the northern Italian city of Modena can fetch hundreds of dollars per bottle.
Budget-friendly balsamic vinegars do exist, though if you’re able to spring for the authentic stuff, it’s worth the splurge. (Look for the word “tradizionale” on the bottle to assure you’re getting the real deal.) Both options offer intense flavors that meld well with sweet and savory foods, and encourage cooks to think beyond the vinaigrette or dipping sauce.
One unusual flavor combination is balsamic and berries; try adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the filling of your next blackberry pie (or a few drops to your next strawberry compote) and taste the magic of culinary alchemy at work. Root vegetables brushed with a balsamic glaze before roasting come out of the oven with a caramel-like taste and golden sheen, and in Italy, asparagus risotto is sometimes finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar before serving. Need more inspiration? Try these tantalizing recipes from the VT archives:
Sicilian-Style Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Syrup [pictured above]