Balsamic vinegar is hugely popular, but quality and variety can range from brand to brand. Find out everything you need to know about balsamic in our newest pantry staples guide.
Our pantry staples series sees us take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their presses – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. Today, we’re looking at balsamic vinegar.
What is balsamic vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar, which is known as aceto balsamico in its native Italy, is a concentrated, intensely flavoured vinegar made from white grape must. Grape must is made by pressing whole grapes along with the juice, skin, seeds and stems. The must is cooked over a direct flame until it is concentrated and reduced by half, which is then left to ferment naturally for about three weeks, before being matured for up to 12 years.
Balsamic vinegar has been made in the Modena region of Italy for nearly 1,000 years. Originally, the vinegar was taken as a tonic and given to those of great importance. The first known written documentation about balsamic vinegar comes from around 1046 when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III was given a bottle of vinegar while passing through the province of Reggio Emilia on the way to his coronation.
Aceto balsamico is an unregulated term, but three types of balsamic are protected:
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena/Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia/Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia
- Aceto Balsamico di Modena/Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia are both protected by the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin, which means that the product must be traditionally and completely manufactured within the region. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has Protected Geographical Indication status, which means it must be made in either the Modena or Reggio Emilia regions with grape must and wine vinegar.
You can expect real balsamic vinegar to be labelled with the term tradizionale or DOC and to a higher price tag than other types. This is mainly due to the ageing process required for balsamic vinegar from Modena, as some can be aged for up to 100 years. As other types of balsamic are made with more vinegar than must, they are often cheaper, but of poorer quality.
Good balsamic vinegar will go a long way, so you only need to use a little bit for lots of flavour. While it's a great salad dressing on its own, you can whisk balsamic into olive oil to make a slightly less intense dressing. If you would rather an intense, syrupy balsamic vinegar, simmer it until the volume reduces down by about half. Read on for some of our favourite recipes with balsamic vinegar.
- Niall Hill's Panzanella salad is really filling and fresh, combining the flavours of tomato with local Irish dairy. Balsamic vinegar is used as a dressing to tie all the flavours together, which works extremely well.
- This onion and goats' cheese tart from Tom Meenaghan uses balsamic vinegar to caramelise the onions, creating a delicious depth of flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar goes so well with beetroot and is used perfectly as a dressing in this Donal Skehan recipe.