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Ever find yourself at the grocery store hoping to buy some good balsamic vinegar, only to discover they are very thin and highly acidic after you try them at home. Unfortunately, most are lesser quality products and include added sugar, caramel, starch or other ingredients to make them sweeter and thicker. To make matters even worse, mislabeling by many olive oil specialty shops is rampant, so which one do you choose? Don’t panic and reach for that bottle of salad dressing, because we’re here to help.
There are several types of Balsamic Vinegar, offered in various price ranges and quality. It can sell for over $50 an ounce, or as cheaply as a few dollars per bottle. But how can one product offer such a dramatic price range? The answer, of course, ithere isn't just one Balsamic Vinegar.
Balsamico Tradizionale: Produced only in Modena or Reggio Emilia, it has a protected designation of origin (DOP) from the European Union and production is overseen from beginning to end by a special certification agency. To qualify, it must be aged for a minimum of 12 years and have no ingredients other than grape must. By Italian law, they are only available in specifically designed 100ml bottles and the color of the seal indicates the level of aging: 12, 18, or 25 years.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena: Often listed as Aceto Balsamico di Modena, it is made from a combination of grape must and wine vinegar. The required ratio of these two ingredients is very low, so the taste and density varies greatly by producer.
Most oil and vinegar specialty shops sell some variety of this product using the Solera Method. This method of aging balsamic vinegar works by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages and only a very small amount has actually been aged that long. While strict production standards have to be followed, there are very few labeling requirements, so this important detail does not have to be listed. As a result, many misinformed or intentionally deceptive stores claim their balsamic vinegar has been "aged up to 18 years" (often leaving out the words "up to"), which can then be priced high to capitalize on the market for and reputation of Balsamico Tradizionale.
At the Montello Tasting Room, we do not claim any specific age on our balsamic vinegar and feel that our product stands for itself. It contains a minimum of 80% high quality grape must, making the resultant product naturally thick and sweet. We invite you to compare the products side by side and decide for yourself which product is superior.
Condimento Balsamico: This balsamic vinegar does not have to be produced under the same Italian rules, the ingredients are not regulated and additives can be used at the producer’s discretion. They are often made with the addition of coloring, caramel and thickeners like glucose/fructose syrup. There is no aging involved and these vinegars never see a wood cask. This is what is found in most U.S. grocery stores.