We drizzle it over chunks of Parmesan, it gives fresh strawberries a brighter flavour, and where would our summer tomatoes be without the sweet aroma of balsamic vinegar?
Balsamic dates back before the Roman times, yet in North America we know little of the delicious liquid many call “black gold.” There are distinctly different levels to balsamic vinegar, just as there are for champagne and sparkling wine.
The authentic, protected balsamic is called “aceto balsamico tradizionale.” Like wine, the ageing of balsamic varies. Regulations state that the minimum age is 12 years, but some balsamic is over 100 years old. In Italy, balsamic over a quarter century old is considered to be as close to perfection as one can get. Like sherry, it is aged in the Solera method creating a velvety rich and harmonious texture, a perfect sweet and sour balance, and a sensuous aroma.
Aceto balsamico tradizionale is as highly regarded as truffles, foie gras or icewine. You only need a small teaspoon to add refinement to cooked vegetables, meat or fish, or to polish sauces and marinades. If you’re sipping it on its own as an after dinner drink, half a shot glass is in order.
Denise Tucker is the owner of Barrie Olive Oil Company Inc., which stocks a variety of aged balsamic vinegars with flavours to compliment every dish. Barrie Olive Oil first opened its doors in Downtown Barrie in 2015 and has since expanded to locations on Dunlop Street and the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, where a full shop is slated to open this Fall. “We carry a number of flavour-infused balsamic vinegars—like Italian Fig, Strawberry, Maple, Mango, and Lemon—which are all-natural with no artificial ingredients,” says Tucker.
The wonderful thing about flavour-infused balsamic is that it can add sweetness and flavour to your dish without adding sugar. “Balsamic has sweet and savoury uses,” says Tucker. “And when you cook with it, it gets thicker and sweeter.” This is perfect for the parents out there who struggle to get their kids to eat their veggies. “If you have children who don’t want to eat asparagus or green beans, the strawberry balsamic is a great way to add flavour without adding sugar.”
And if you think you’re scoring a deal with cheap balsamic at the grocery store, think again. Imitation balsamic not only tends to contain more wine vinegar, but also more artificial colours, flavours, emulsifiers, and sweeteners. “It will have a higher percentage of wine vinegar than grape-must, and it will be caramelized to make it sweeter,” says Tucker. “The real deal is going to be all-natural and aged to thickness—not caramelized or sweetened to thickness. There are shortcuts to doing it, but the taste isn’t the same.”
How to tell the difference between real and imitation Balsamic? It really comes down to taste. “Taste before you buy it,” says Tucker. “The only way to know if you like it is to taste it. With your regular, traditional, aged balsamic vinegar, if you don’t think you could put it on ice cream, it’s probably not real.” As opposed to the grocery store, specialty shops like Barrie Olive Oil offer the benefit of expert knowledge and unlimited sampling. “At Barrie Olive Oil, we show people the difference between what they would buy in the store and what they would buy on the shelf here. And you can taste every single one of our flavours before we bottle your selection fresh.”
If you’re new to balsamic, start your balsamic journey by dropping in for a tasting to become familiar with balsamic vinegar’s rich, sweet, and savoury taste.
Barrie Olive Oil Co.
By Lynn Ogryzlo & Emily Bednarz
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com