Balsamic vinegar of Modena is dark in color with a syrupy consistency. It is also extremely aromatic with a sweet, fruity flavor.
To make Balsamic vinegar, unfermented juice (or “must”) from white Trebbiano grapes is simmered for hours over an open fire. This causes the water to evaporate and intensifies the flavor of the must. The reduced must is mixed with previously aged balsamic vinegar and placed in a series of wooden barrels where it slowly ferments. Balsamic vinegar is aged for long periods of time, and Traditional Balsamic is aged at least 12 years. Many Balsamic vinegars are aged much longer.
There are two types of balsamic vinegar: Traditional and non-traditional.
Traditional Balsamic vinegar has been produced in Modena, Italy for hundreds of years. It is a process that is highly regulated by Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Because of the meticulous manufacturing process, Traditional Balsamic vinegar can only be sold in a unique, small 4oz bottle with a round shape.
Non-traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a blend of ‘must’ mixed with red wine vinegar and fermented and aged in wooden barrels, however, for shorter periods than Traditional Balsamic vinegar. Most Balsamic vinegar sold in this country, including Barengo, is non-traditional. They come in a variety of bottles with different shapes. The Italian Consortium has made it easy for consumers to recognize the quality of non-traditional Balsamic vinegars of Modena.
Making the grade
Don’t be fooled by upscale packaging—not all Non-traditional balsamic vinegars from Modena are the same. While price can give you some indication of quality, the easiest way to know what you’re getting is to look at the label.
CSQA (Certificazione di Qualità Agroalimentare) certification is based on a standardized grading system developed by AIB (Associazione Assaggiatori Italiani Balsamico). Grading is based on ten parameters: Color intensity, viscosity, olfactive intensity, cooked must smell, fruitiness, sweetness, pungency, body, global positive smell, and global negative smell.
The vinegar is graded then awarded from one to four leaves, with four indicating the highest quality:
Light in flavor and consistency, a sweet and zesty vinegar ideal for salad dressings and everyday use.
round and spirited, brisk yet vibrantly balanced. This lightly concentrated vinegar is suitable for marinades and steamed vegetables.
Smooth, full-bodied taste and a polished finish with tangy accents. This syrupy, full-bodied vinegar is often used for roasted meats and fish, and in sauces.
Syrupy with complex flavors and a heady aroma; Used for special dishes, with fresh fruit or on ice cream and certain specialty cheeses.
Barengo Balsamic Vinegar is certified “Two Leaves.”