Black Gold vs Fools Gold: What is Balsamic Vinegar?

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Want to know more about what is balsamic vinegar and what is coloured syrup?
Check out this free culinary guide to Modena Italy.

 

Let’s make this simple. If you’ve been buying balsamic vinegar from the grocery store there’s a good chance you’re not using the real thing.

In Modena aceto balsamico tradizionale is considered black gold. It’s not cheap, it’s highly valued and the really good stuff is only used on special occasions.

What’s most interesting is that locals don’t really frown on the lesser quality balsamic, they believe varying quality has its own use. You just need to know the different types of balsamic vinegar.

Here’s a quick guide:

aceto modena

Where to buy balsamic vinegar in Modena
You can buy directly from a producer or salumeria (where they cure meat) or at Mercato Albinelli. Be sure to taste first and try many varieties. The DOP balsamic is incredible but condimento and IGP can be great for everyday use.

I visited Aceto Modena to learn about types of balsamic vinegar. If you’re looking to visit a family run boutique producer this is not the place. Aceto Modena is a leader in balsamic vinegar production and after their original farmhouse was damaged from an earthquake they opened a modern headquarter.

Staff here are refreshingly open and with the hospitality of a small producer explain the differences between DOP, IGP and Condimento along with a generous tasting.

The Real Deal: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena
One of the DOP items, or Protected Denomination of Origin, balsamic vinegar is held to very strict standards including what grapes are used, how it is produced and can only be sold in a specific bottle that you see in the first photo.

Produced directly from the cooked juice of only Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes harvested in the region and aged for at least 12 years in casks. It must have the name tradizionale and be bottled in the proper bottle with a seal and stamp. Extra vecchio indicates an age of at least 25 years.

This is a very special product, never cooked, and use with drops on fruit, ice cream, bread or cheese.

c-oro-supremo

Lady in Waiting: Condimento
The good stuff follows very strict methods of aging so if the producers discover the vinegar to be too acidic or some other fault they cannot add a complementary grape to help round out the flavour if they want to qualify as DOP.

However, this is possible as a condimento, which can also be aged up to 10 years but you’ll find it in a different bottle and it’s considered for more casual use.

balsamic sauce

The Girl Next Door: IGP
This type of balsamic vinegar isn’t avoided by Italians, in fact it’s the opposite as it’s considered for everyday use on salads or grilled vegetables.

DOP balsamic is expensive and takes a long time to produce. IGP balsamic permits the use of other grape varieties typical to Modena, other manipulations and may be produced in only 3 years. You’ll often see IGP balsamic on the tables of casual restaurants, feel free to use it on salads or cook with it to produce traditional balsamic sauce for meat.


white  balsamic

White Trash: AKA White Balsamic
Much more astringent than regular balsamic, it is produced by blending white grape juice with white vinegar and cooking at a low temperature.

It is usually exported to Nordic countries as well as North America and many in Modena believe this is a far inferior product that has a demand only because foreigners do not like to darken their food.

If you want more answers to what is balsamic vinegar, or more about eating in Italy – the customs, traditions and food check out my free culinary travel guide to Modena.

 

Disclosure: I worked with the city of Modena to shoot a series of videos about food in the area but I loved the city so much I chose to write the accompanying culinary guide on my own. Image credits: AcetomodenaShari’s Berries

Join the Conversation

  1. Great way of looking at the classifications. I’ve never even heard of White Trash, and I am happy I have not! Yuck.

  2. Hi,

    I almost never use acceto ( or any kind of vinegar), for me it completely kills the real taste of the food. However I have friends who put acceto balsamico in every meal ( as if they are addicted).

    I have to admit I didn’t know about this classification.

    Neno

  3. I know my husband always insists on balsamic vinegar from Modena. I love it!!! It’s early morning, and my stomach is growling, thanks to your pictures..yum!!!

  4. Valen-Eating The Globe says:

    There is nothing like real Balsamic vinegar from Modena! I find it next to impossible to find here in Mexico. Thanks for the great guide!

  5. Looks like I’ll have to go shopping for some new balsamic soon … I love quality foods, so price isn’t an issue!

  6. Simply called food says:

    We have to be so careful in the quality we get when we buy balsamic vinegar! Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

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