What is balsamic vinegar made from?
Real, traditional balsamic vinegar is made only with sweet, white grapes. We use the classic Italian grapes, Trebbiano and Occhio di Gatto, plus a proprietary blend of others, most of which date to the Romans. Our traditional balsamic has only one ingredient - organic grapes.
What is 'industrial balsamic vinegar'?
Remember, Italians call balsamic made in a slow, minimum 12 year process, using small casks of rare woods, 'traditional'. The most commonly used balsamic on the market is called 'industrial' since most are made in a factory in as little as a day. To be fair, for what they are and what they cost, they are fine.
(It's like the difference between herring roe and quality caviar. Each are fish eggs, yet each is quite different in appearance, taste, rarity and price.)
So-called 'industrial' balsamic is made of many things, usually starting with various forms of any grape juice, probably from many sources and often from a 'low cost producer'. This mix usually includes coloring, caramel (or other sugar sources) for the "right" look and sweetness—and sometimes preservatives are added.
How does traditional balsamic differ? How does it work?
The long, slow concentration of the original grape juice in traditional balsamic can be better understood as slowly packing flavors into a smaller and smaller space—with years of long exposure to rare woods. When the balsamic makes contact with your tongue or with the food you put it on, it unpacks with great power, projecting the fullest flavor of these foods. So, food doesn't just taste like it has vinegar on it; taste is much more fully expressed, whatever the food happens to be.
(Another useful food parallel is in the use of salt, which roughly functions similarly. It is added to enhance food taste, not make the food taste salty.)
What is the best way to use high quality traditional balsamic?
Never cook the real stuff. That's a waste. Put it on food that's been plated to serve. A few dots will spread out and deliver a whole new set of flavors in the food. Often, these are flavors in the food itself you otherwise would have missed.
Try any great balsamic all by itself. First, try the smallest drop to adjust your mouth, then in another a minute or so, try another small amount. You will experience a long series of differing tastes, each one a separate wood or grape flavor, woven into a changing pattern of sweet and sour expressions. All of these resolve in the back of the mouth, mid-tongue, into a long, woody conclusion. As with fine wines, each traditional balsamic will present its own character in a unique, pleasing and memorable way.
How is your balsamic different from others?
Our very low humidity near the end of the Rocky Mountains of southern New Mexico drives evaporation more quickly than most places, even the original and fabulous classics made in Modena, Italy. For its age, ours is more viscous than most.
Also, our sweet/sour balance tends very slightly more to acid (which is usually in the range of 8%+), yet it never tastes vinegary like those with typical 6% acidity. Also, our grapes are grown in a stressed environment of high heat, high altitude with early spring frosts reducing our fruit set. This seems to increase the grape plants' energies directed to a smaller number of grapes. So, ours tastes unique to our place and truly like no other.
In restaurants, I often am served balsamic 'artwork' on my plate. What's up with that?
Cooks who reduce 'industrial' balsamic to make it thick like 'traditional' balsamic (usually to decorate and finish a plate) are working primarily in the visual, not gustatory, world. This cooked balsamic, we think, usually has a sticky mouth-feel and often tastes muddy.
This manipulation of balsamic reminds us that balsamic is a popular thing, a popular taste, a popular idea. It's regularly listed on many menus. But the real stuff is too precious to use in the majority of restaurants, which must constantly manage food costs. So, they get the best balsamic to fit their budget and simmer it to the right consistency (specifically, to look thick like 12 year or older traditional balsamic). Then, it is drizzled on the plate, helping the diner see they got what they ordered, and until it is tasted, all seems right in the world.
Some Additional Facts about our Balsamic
This product is packaged in a single size: 130 ML (4.5 oz.). This is 30% more volume than the classic Italian 100 ML bottle issued via the balsamic Consortium in Italy.
It is organic. The single ingredient is organic grape juice from classic Italian balsamic grapes grown on the same property "a certified organic farm” where the acetaia (vinegar loft) is located. It is a sanitary, licensed, government-inspected building, dedicated to this sole function.
The product is produced in Italian casks of 7 rare woods: oak, chestnut, ash, acacia, mulberry, cherry, and juniper. The cask maker in Modena, Italy is Francesco Renzi, the unequaled master of the craft. His family has been leading the industry for over 500 years.
Extremely low humidity in New Mexico (6-10%) much more rapidly produces viscosity, so the thick pour of this balsamic closely resembles the Italian "extra vecchio" product (25+ year age), though our product is in its 18th year of aging in 2015.
Each small bottle contains the climate-condensed juice of 200 pounds of estate grapes. Or it holds the viscous remnant of enough free-run juice to make 55 bottles of wine.
Like wine, there is no single best balsamic product, no matter what age or production site. Each varies and each appeals differently to subjective tastes. However, extensive blind taste tests (comparing Traditional Balsamico of Monticello with various 25+ year old Italian "extra vecchio" products) show regular, strong preference for this product. It's made in America. And it is believed by most informed third parties, including famed food expert, chef and writer, Paul Bertolli, to be the best traditional balsamic made here.
It is rare: as few as 700 bottles per year are made, depending on results of the high altitude (5,440 ft.) grape crop. The grapes always struggle, then add character.
If you have any questions please reach out to us : jane@OrganicBalsamic.com