Page 139 - The Secrets Of Vinegar
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Balsamic Vinegar
Although balsamic vinegar only recently became a standard ingredient on supermarket shelves, it has actually been used for hundreds of years. During the Renaissance, it was sent along with romantic letters as a lover’s gift, a cherished, precious nectar, often presented in a beautifully etched bottle. Unlike wine, cider, or alcohol vinegars, balsamic vinegar is not made with alcohol, but with the juice of pressed Trebbiano grapes cultivated on the hills bordering Castelvetro in the Modena region of Emilia-Romagna. Grapes are picked as late as possible in autumn when they are bursting with the flavors of sun and earth. Their juice is boiled down until the sugar content is 30% to 50%, then placed in oak barrels to age. Before
adding the grape juice, the interior walls of the barrels
are coated in vinegar to activate fermentation. The
length of time the liquid is left to age, as well as the
successive transferring of the vinegar into barrels
made of different types of wood — cherry, chestnut,
mulberry, acacia, juniper and ash — are what give
balsamic vinegar its unique flavor. The alternating
hot and cold conditions in which the vinegar is stored
further improves its taste. During fermentation, the
vinegar is successively placed in smaller and smaller
casks. After a minimum of 12 months, the vinegar becomes delicately aromatic. Balsamic vinegar has a dark brown color and a balanced flavor.
To carry the title of tradizionale, by law balsamic must be produced according to strict regulations, using grapes from Italy’s Modena region. Balsamic can only be marketed as vecchio after aging in barrels for 12 years, and can only be called extra-vecchio after aging for 25 years or longer. These vinegars are very expensive, and the relatively low quantity of vinegar produced each year (10,000 liters) as well as high demand only increases its cost. Certain 100 ml bottles can cost over 100 dollars, making it the most expensive vinegar in the world. While it is frequently used to dress salads, balsamic vinegar is often added to dishes such as omelets, risotto, veal cutlets and foie gras to enhance flavor, and is a popular base for sauces.

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