Balsamic vinegar first made its appearance in the United States just forty or fifty years ago. Since then, however, balsamic vinegar’s popularity has been growing rapidly within the US. Balsamic varieties are the fastest growing segment of the vinegar category. As more and more consumers learn more about balsamic vinegar’s flavor profile and versatility, they add it to their pantry as a go to favorite.
Balsamic vinegar is a grape product that is produced by fermenting concentrated grape juice, or must, into alcohol and then converting the alcohol to acetic acid. Acetic acid is what gives all vinegars the sharp taste and pungent aroma. In the creation of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, both of these processes happen continuously during the first few years of aging. This is unlike the production of all other vinegars which are made by taking already fermented alcohols, like beer or wine, and converting them directly to acetic acid, often at an accelerated rate.
What most people don’t realize is that what they are purchasing as balsamic vinegar in the grocery store is not true balsamic vinegar. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made in only two regions of Italy. The whole process including harvesting the grapes, fermentation, bottling and labeling must be done in one of these regions in order for the product to be called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
The balsamic vinegar master must also be from that same region as this is part of the tradition and history that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The master is usually a member of a family that has been producing the vinegar for many generations. Learn more about the history of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar must follow a particular process of aging that takes a minimum of twelve years and sometimes over 100 years! In addition, true Balsamic Vinegar must pass through the rigorous tests of the “Consortium of Balsamic Vinegar” before it can be bottled and labeled as Traditional. The process is so involved and strictly regulated that there are only around 100 families that are licensed to make this fine product and they produce less than 1000 liters a year all together. Because the quantity is so limited, the price for these prized balsamic vinegars can cost $150 for the youngest (and cheapest) all the way up to $500 for a 100 year old bottle of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.
In the United States, most of what is labeled as balsamic vinegar is a combination of red wine vinegar and grape must and often has added caramel coloring/flavoring. This combination imitates the flavor of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in some ways. However, once you have tasted the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, you will see that it is nothing like the commercial grade that you find in most markets.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is quite viscous with a similar consistency to maple syrup. It is very sweet without any addition of sugar because the natural sugars that occur in the grapes are concentrated over time. This stands out in comparison to commercial balsamic vinegar that is as runny as water and usually comes with a harsh bite. This is why commercial balsamic vinegar is used mostly in salad dressings or marinades because the other ingredients used in those recipes suppress the roughness of the vinegar while the balsamic still adds some complexity and sweetness to the mixture. Traditional Balsamic Vinegar on the other hand is used as a condiment for finishing dishes. An Italian would rarely (if ever!) use it in marinade or dressing, but would instead drizzle it over a risotto or tenderloin fresh out of the oven or even as a topping on gelato. That may sound crazy to you now, but that is because you probably haven’t tasted Traditional Balsamic Vinegar… Trust us, it’s really wonderful!
Unfortunately, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is extremely expensive (it can cost up to $500 per bottle!) and is also somewhat difficult to find at a supermarket here in America. So, we set out to try to create a high quality balsamic vinegar that would not take decades of aging to produce but still had similar attributes to Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. After much research and development, we found a way to accelerate the aging process creating a product that is incredibly similar to Traditional Balsamic Vinegar but with a delicious modern twist—a true Balsamic Nectar.