Great balsamic vinegar is so much more than just a salad dressing component - and here's how to appreciate every nuance.
Balsamic vinegar in the US tends to swing one of two ways: a very young version of the vinegar that has a high level of lip-puckering acidity, or a sweet and syrupy reduced glaze. In Italy, however, the spectrum contains multitudes: different ages, different aging procedures, different flavors imparted from the wood, and a lot of pride in the process. Many people try balsamic vinegar during their travels in Italy and realize there is so much more to balsamic than they previously thought - speaking from experience!
Even as self-proclaimed balsamic vinegar aficionados, there's always something new to learn and new flavors to discover. Get ready for a fun activity at home, foodies: here's how to go on a balsamic vinegar journey of your own.
Try three different Italian balsamic vinegars at home, and get a sense for the unique aspects that they can have. Think of it a bit like a wine tasting and how all the different factors are at play: the terroir (a region in which a wine is produced), the age, the different processes each one undergoes, and beyond.
What you'll need:
3 balsamic vinegars - preferably one young, one aged, and one wildcard
Fresh mozzarella (we prefer ciliegine for the bite-sized shape)
Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into wedges
Focaccia, cut up into bite-sized pieces
3 small bowls
For your three vinegars, we recommend getting 3 that are quite different to really appreciate the unique factors of each one. The choices are up to you, but we recommend the following:
Bonini Vivace 3 Year Balsamic: "Vivace" means "lively" in Italian, which is a pretty perfect descriptor for this vibrant vinegar. At 3 years old, it's just a baby in Italian culture, but ancient compared to most common balsamics found in US grocery stores. Notice how this one, being younger, has the most puckery acidity to it - but it is well balanced with sweet, fresh notes.
Villa Manadori Dark Cherry Balsamic: Here's your wild card! Aged in dark cherry wood from Vignola (known for their sour cherries), this rich vinegar takes on rich, luscious cherry flavor. Created by superstar chef Massimo Bottura, it's no surprise that this is such a masterful - and interesting! - vinegar.
Guerzoni Organic 12-Year Balsamic: As precious as liquid gold, this balsamic is a powerhouse of flavor. Dense, sweet, musky, decadent, complex - it has an incredible and intoxicating personality. It needs to be tried to be fully understood!
Drizzle each balsamic into respective bowls (label them or place them near the bottle to avoid confusion!) and get the balsamic journey started! Dip your cheeses and focaccia into each one, noticing the differences in texture, flavor, and the way the flavors linger on your palette. Each balsamic will interact differently with both cheeses and the focaccia, making it an interesting flavor tour through and through.
Of course, you can turn this tour into aperitivo hour, too. Bring on all the crackers, grapes and charcuterie and start getting creative with your pairings - you might discover balsamic vinegar's new best friend!