Did you know that real aged balsamic vinegar actually costs anywhere from $75 to $400 or more? Here are a few reasons why: Balsamic vinegar is NOT like other vinegars. What defines vinegar is the fermentation of alcohol — typically wine but also beer or cider — into acetic acid. Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are made that way. Balsamic isn’t made like that.
Balsamic vinegar isn’t made from wine, but from the juice of grape pressings. Historically, balsamic vinegar was not oxidized at all but was just a type of grape juice reduction. Today, to make balsamic vinegar, grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup — usually it’s the white Trebbiano grape, but Lambrusco, Ancellotta and Sauvignon can also be used — a little mother vinegar is added to it and then it’s aged under rigid restrictions.
Balsamic vinegar is aged like wine. The aging process is a serious undertaking that can take anywhere from 12-100 years — and requires meticulous care. (That’s why true balsamic vinegars are so ridiculously expensive.) As the syrup thickens and evaporates, it is moved into successively smaller barrels made of different woods — such as cherrywood, chestnut and ash. This adds to the complex and delicious flavors of balsamic (wannabe) vinegar.
It can cost just as much as a great bottle of wine. Some bottles of TRUE balsamic vinegar can run close to $400 a bottle — no foolin’!
Watch out for fake balsamic! If you think you’ve been scoring a deal with cheap balsamic at the grocery store, think again. Upon closer inspection you might find that what you actually have is imitation balsamic, which is basically cheap wine vinegar with coloring added to it. The key is to look at the ingredients list for the words “grape must”, “aged grape must,” or “Mosto d’Uva.”
For true balsamic vinegar, look to Modena or Reggio Emilia. Only those two regions can produce true balsamic. Look for the seal that certifies its origin. (And don’t think you can get it for $5.99.) I have an unopened bottle of di Modena from Northern Italy that was gifted to me a few years ago—thanks Nancy Pfefferkorn! I am savoring it!
Even if it’s not TRUE vinegar, it still tastes awesome on everything. When it’s the real deal, we’d drink it straight from the barrel.