Tangy, with earthy hints of sweet almost caramel notes; balsamic vinegar is the perfect accompaniment to my baked fig and goat cheese tartine.
Genuine balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of white trebbiano grapes. There are several grades of balsamic vinegar, with the real deal stuff being produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy. Traditional balsamic vinegar is protected origin and has a long and esteemed history as a restorative tonic/digestive. The traditional good stuff is actually quite expensive and takes many years to produce. It begins with a smashed concoction of white grapes, skin, seeds, and all, called a “must”. The must is fermented and then allowed to mature for about 12 years. This traditional production is called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and chances are if you’ve enjoyed balsamic vinegar at a meal, it wasn’t this version. The other more common and affordable version is called Balsamic Vinegar Modena. The production process for this version of Balsamic Vinegar is much less labor and time intensive, it is reduced over a process of time, however, it isn’t fermented.
From a culinary perspective, balsamic vinegar is a really delicious and complex addition to dishes both savory and sweet. It is typically considered a condiment. Just a few drops can change the entire structure of a dish. Drizzle it over cheese, vegetables, even meat dishes. Use it as a dip with some exceptional olive oil and fresh bread and you are in for a treat. If you have a chance to try the traditional stuff, I highly recommend it. The flavor is exquisitely different and delightful.
From a health perspective, traditional balsamic vinegar has some pretty great health properties. It has a similar phenolic acid content to red wines and the fermentation process adds in some probiotic qualities that help balance your gut health. The bitter quality of the vinegar also acts as a digestive aid. The common version of balsamic vinegar does still have some health and digestive properties, however, not near as much as the traditional. Research demonstrates that traditional helps moderate blood lipid levels and decreases oxidative stress.