July 11, 2021

Tell Me More About Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Original artwork depicting fresh bunches of Lambrusco, Trebbiano, and Sangiovese grapes

This item may well be the most celebrated and beloved item in our assortment since its introduction late 2015. I share this because no other item caused so much angst upon our announced closure in 2019 and so many anxious inquiries prior to reopening. What is the secret to its popularity? I believe it was likely due to a custom and artful blending of different lots of traditional balsamic vinegar from one of the top makers in Modena, something that was utterly exclusive to us. 

Making It Our Own

There is much about this product that made it "traditional", I selected two different formulas and imported it in bulk to package in California. To be clear, we were never the producer, only the company that believed that the vinegar we sold should be as authentic as our olive oil. As a bulk importer we're not allowed to use any official designation such as DOP or IGP to indicate protected domain status, which is why the word "condiment" always appears on the bottle. Over the years we've evolved the offering and currently offer an affinato grade that meets the 6% acidity standard.  The aroma, flavor, viscosity and overall experience is heightened and even better than before. 

The Source

Upon this you can rely:  every micro-lot of vinegar we offer is purchased directly from the maker, and every one is a traditional Modenese recipe using only two ingredients--grape must and red wine vinegar. There are no other ingredients; no flavors, no aromas, no caramel color, no preservative, no added sugar. Niente.

The Grapes

The grapes are only Modenese, mainly Trebbiano, Lambrusco, and Sangiovese. As with wine, the grape variety used makes an appreciable difference in the final product's aroma and flavor. Some of the less interesting vinegars on the market use table grapes from outside of the region, and as with wine, the variety of the grapes makes a difference in your tasting experience.

The Reduction

Another aspect of what we do is select vinegars which are reduced using the direct open flame method. This ensures the additional layer of complexity you enjoy via natural caramelization. If desired, much time and money can be saved by reducing vinegar in closed high-pressure kettles--a technique which is fast, clean, and reliable--however, much aroma and flavor is sacrificed in the effort. Such a method is not for us.

The Aging

These vinegars are aged in Slavonian oak using the solera method, by which portions of a larger cask are transferred into ever smaller casks over time. It is not lawful in Italy to claim specific ages for balsamic vinegar as every vinegar made using the solera method is comprised of many different years. A significant disservice has been made to customers by marketers who promote aging as a sign of quality. Balsamic vinegar is the same as wine in this regard. Uninteresting grapes do not make interesting wine or wine vinegar by aging; what was fresh and uninteresting will merely become aged and uninteresting.

The Assessment and Testing

All traditional balsamic vinegar is assessed for authenticity and graded by a third party organization in Italy called the Assagiatori Italiani Balsamico, thus we can claim Affinato grade without reservation. Additionally, each batch is 3rd party tested at a certified lab for heavy metals, sugars, acidity, etc., thus we can claim the Modena standard 6% acidity, and know we can pass California's rigorous Prop. 65 selling and reporting requirement. We take heavy metals so seriously that we include the Prop. 65 notice in every shipment, even if the product is shipping to a destination outside of California and even if the product tests below the regulatory requirement, which it currently does as of Fall 2022. Use this link to read more about "Facts about Lead in Balsamic Vinegar'.

The Harmony and Complexity

Also notable about our vinegar is the harmony; the balance a maker can strike between sweetness and acidity. Too much sweetness and a vinegar becomes overly viscous, even cloying. Too much acid and the sad thin offering will etch the enamel from your teeth. I think you'll find our traditional balsamic vinegar, our aceto balsamico tradizionale, plummy, honeyed, luscious, and darn right exceptional.

Let me know if the comments if you agree, or even better, leave a message for other customers as a product review on the item page.

Available for purchase in 375 ml and 750 ml glass bottles.

Leave a comment