What is balsamic vinegar?
Although Balsamic is considered a wine vinegar, it is NOT a wine vinegar at all. It is NOT made from wine, but from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.
Sweet White Trebbiano Grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup and then aged under rigid restrictions. The syrup is placed into oaken kegs, along with a vinegar "mother," and begins the aging process. Over the years it graduates to smaller and smaller wooden kegs (made of chestnut, cherrywood, ash, mulberry, and juniper) until it is ready for sale. The various wood keys add character to the vinegar. As it ages, moisture evaporates and further thickens the vinegar resulting in a concentrated flavor. Some balsamic vinegars have been aged for over 100 years. It is this aging process that makes true balsamic vinegar from Modena in Northern Italy so expensive. Luckily, a little balsamic vinegar goes a long way.
Balsamic Vinegar Selection and Storage
If you want the real thing, be sure it is labeled processed and aged due to traditional methods in Modena, Italy. The price will generally dictate the quality, so remember, you get what you pay for. Some cheaper brands use sulfites added as a preservative.
The good thing is that balsamic vinegar can be stored indefinitely. Once you open the bottle, oxygen is not a problem and will not cause deterioration. Store it in a cool, dark place away from heat. Sediment in the bottle is a natural by-product of the process.
Balsamic Vinegar Tips and Hints
When using balsamic vinegar, do not use aluminum pots or containers. (should be non-reactive)
Balsamic vinegars are not recommended for pickling or herb infusion purposes.
Check the label if you are allergic to sulfites. Not all balsamic vinegars have sulfites, but many less expensive choices do.
Heat sweetens balsamic vinegar and boils out acidity. If you want to mellow out the flavor, heat it. If not, use it without heat or add at the very end of the cooking process.
A teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar can wake up the flavor in a bland soup, stew, or sauce.
A sprinkle of balsamic vinegar on fresh sliced strawberries or raspberries with a bit of sugar really brings out the flavor of the fruit and will have you addicted.
Taken from a writing by Peggy Trowbridge Filippone