The balsamic side to Trebbiano & Lambrusco

I would imagine balsamic vinegar is a household staple these days. I use it a lot in the summer when at least twice a week salad will be on the menu as an accompaniment to something else. But recently I was disheartened to find out that I’d never actually tried balsamic vinegar in my life. That’s the real balsamic vinegar I’m talking about.

I opened up the Travel supplement to the Sunday Times a couple of weekends ago to read an article by Anthony Capella on another one of Italy’s great gifts to the culinary world. It comes specifically from Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region, or the neighbouring Reggio Emilia.

Supermarket balsamic vinegar, the stuff that I and probably every other paddy (or Italian for that matter) is used too, is sweetened with caramel and darkened with molasses. Granted, even within this ‘not quite the real thing’ category, you pay an extra few euros for a 6 year old balsamic and you’re getting a far superior product.

The real thing is strictly protected under local consortium and EU law. It carries the very specific words Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, and prices start around £40 (that’s £, not €) for 100ml (that’s 100ml, not the standard 500ml we’re used to). Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes are harvested and then boiled for twenty hours, reducing down to thirty percent of its original volume. The natural wild yeast in the air gets to work as the juice lies in open oak barrels with only a linen cloth draped over the top. After a few weeks, the barrels are moved to the aceto (an aging room).

Not unlike fortifieds, the angels take their share. The barrels are porous enough for water to slowly evaporate, concentrating the vinegar. Over a number of years, the barrels will get smaller, and at twelve years the vinegar is blind-tasted by an independent panel. About a quarter gets rejected and the rest is aged for eighteen years, or as many as thirty years. By this stage, a litre or so will made been created from 400Ib of grapes, so you start to realise why this stuff is flogged for so much. If it costs less than £40, it’s probably not the real thing.

Any chance of a pay rise, @curiousmike? Okay, okay, imitation balsamic it is then.

Original article “World on a plate” by Anthony Capella, Sunday Times, 14/08/11

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