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A Unique Treasure for Any Cook: Modena Balsamic Vinegar

“The preparation of excellent food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living” — Dione Lucas

Twelve balsam pine trees bobbed and weaved as the return voyage to Europe commenced. Christopher Columbus had been impressed with the small trees and saw this as one of many souvenirs from his second voyage to the new world. The trees took root easily in his native Europe.

Small did anyone realize the transplant of those twelve trees would result in one of the most exciting tastes in cooking today. This is but one theory as to the origins of Balsamic vinegar. Additional research indicates that an earlier form of this vinegar may have roots in the 11th century and was more than likely used for medicinal purposes in its original form.

It is further argued the balsam in ‘balsamic’ refers to balm (soothing properties) and not the balsam pine tree.

Production of Balsamic Vinegar

In the region of Modena, Italy, the dark vinegar ages in a series of wooden casks. To ensure the highest quality you must refer to the product mark. Italy has protected the phrase “aceto balsamico tradizionale’. There are several less expensive products that bear the mark balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette. While some are of average or above average quality there are also some that are comprised of small more than cooked caramel and common vinegar.

Nature’s Best Ingredients

Balsamic vinegar starts with the quality of white sweet grapes. The grapes are boiled into a syrup state while water content is reduced by as much as 50%. The syrup is then placed in balsam or other approved wooden casks. As the syrup ages, vinegar is added to acetify the existing product. Once a year the balsamic vinegar is transferred to a new cask. There are a variety of woods used in production of balsamic vinegar, but there are only a select few woods approved for this use.

Most companies that provide authentic Balsamic vinegar will also provide a less expensive variety that maintains high quality, but with less aging and depth of flavor.

Cooking with Italian Balsamico

While oil and vinegar do not mix, they are companions that bring uncommon taste to gourmet cooking. Balsamic vinegar has the ability to bring out substantial taste in nearly any meal. The best rule of thumb for Italian balsamico is ‘less is more’. Many will use balsamic vinegar utilizing a nebulizer to spritz food or they will part the precious liquid by the drop.

There is small wonder why this is the case when you consider that the demand for aged balsamic vinegar is extremely high. Modestly priced bottles start at $20; but some bottles that have aged more than 25 years can cost more than a thousand dollars. A few bottles that were made in the 1700’s have been made available for over $120,000 dollars each.

The Art of Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar can be both sweet and sour to the taste, yet it is this exact combination that continues to impress and amaze the artist pallet of taste conscious consumers. Balsamic vinaigrette can make an ordinary salad into something radically special.

While balsamic vinegar has been around since the Middle Ages it has only found a worldwide following in the last thirty years. The labor intensive process of making balsamic vinegar makes a bottle of this exceptional vinegar a unique treasure for any cook and a unique taste treat for any guest.

James Zeller writes for gourmet gift related websites and blogs such as Cruets.com Here is a selection of cruets.com/Scripts/prodView.asp?idProduct=303 gourmet oil and vinegar that he found, and a creative collection of cruets.com kitchen gifts.

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