I am in the mood for food! And today I want to talk to you guys a bit on the magical condiment called, “balsamico.” Did you know balsamic is made from grapes? True Aceto balsamico is made from a mix of lambrusco and trebbiano grapes that are pressed, stems and all, to make something called mosto cotto and then this thick syrup is aged for at least 12 YEARS. As the product ages, it concentrates becoming thicker and thicker and therefore is moved into successively smaller barrels until you have the finished product. Sometimes, it’s let age for even longer and some really expensive balsamics have been aged 25 years or more.
So what makes balsamic a balsamic? To be a true balsamic vinegar, it must be entirely grown, aged and produced in the towns of Modena or Reggio Emilia, in the region of Emilia Romagna. Only those two cities are able to make balsamic with the prestigious DOP designation. DOP means the product follows strict guidelines and these designations are not awarded lightly.
At this point you might be wondering if all balsamic is created in this way, in this specific region, and the answer is a resounding no. Anyone anywhere can make balsamic, and they definitely do not have to age it for 12 years. It just can’t be a true balsamic unless it follows the strict rules I mentioned before.
These real balsamics are expensive, they take literally years to make and must be carefully created and tended to. So, if you’re interested in a less expensive version, but still want a lot of flavor, it’s worth mentioning aceto balsamico’s cousin, the balsamic “condimento.” A condimento balsamic still has to follow some rules, and it’s still a thicker balsamic usually on the sweeter side, but it costs a whole lot less. It can be made with the cotto mosto, a little bit of true balsamic, or some mix of the two. It’s not aged nearly as long and therefore is more reasonable for everyday use.
Lastly, I will leave you with a fun fact. Did you know Balsamico comes from the word, Balsamo which is a sort of healing cream? It was thought balsamic had restorative, healing powers, and in fact when we were taste testing balsamic in modena, the makers explained to us that still today in modena, balsamic is given by the spoonful for sore throats, fevers, congestion and many other ailments.