Balsamic vinegar is a traditional thick flavoured vinegar commonly used in Italian and German cooking. It is also often used as a salad dressing when combined with oil. It is a traditional product originating in Modena, Italy, where it has been made since the Middle Ages and the name is protected by the Italian government. Unlike common vinegars, it is dark and thick with a complex, sweet taste and is much more expensive.
Balsamic vinegar is a very dark-colored vinegar with a somewhat sweet flavor; in its long-aged forms (up to 10 or 15 or more years) it is often taken straight or served over strawberries, while the more mass-market vinegar (usually aged 3 years or less) is used in salad dressings and marinades.
It is produced by concentrated white grapes (typically, trebbiano grapes) that has been boiled down to approximately 50% ("must") and fermenting that into alcohol. It is then once again fermented to balsamic vinegar, with a slow aging process done in oak barrels that concentrates the flavors. The flavour is intensified over decades, with the vinegar being kept in fine wood barrels, becoming sweet, viscous and very concentrated in flavour. Some older balsamic vinegar is added to the "must" to create a more complex and intricate taste, and to add acidity.
Several mass-produced, less expensive varieties may be nothing more than ordinary wine vinegar with coloring and added sugar.
Balsamic vinegar is very highly appreciated and valued by chefs and gourmet food lovers. Balsamic vinegar was almost unknown outside of Italy until the 1980s.
- Homepage of the "Consorzio" (http://www.balsamico.it/home.html)