Let’s kick this holiday week off with a guest post, shall we? I was lucky to be a guest at friend and fellow blogger Megan’s wedding in October. Following that special day, she and her new husband went on a two week honeymoon in Italy and shares some of that trip’s deliciousness with us today.
Balsamic vinegar that receives the DOP seal is made from only one ingredient: cooked grape must. The must comes from Trebbiano grapes and sometimes Lambrusco or other regional grapes.
The grapes are crushed and the juice is poured into a large vat to be cooked.
It is boiled and concentrated and then aged in a set of barrels (usually five or six of them) called a battery. The must starts off in the largest barrel, and as it ages, it decreases in volume and gets poured into the next barrel. The smallest barrel holds the mature vinegar, which develops a deep black color from oxidation.
The vinegar has to age for at least 12 years, and then the Consortium decides whether it meets standards. If it does, the vinegar is bottled. There is only one bottle shape that is used for all balsamic vinegar that gets the DOP seal from the Consortium — it makes it really easy to know if you’re looking at the real thing.
Each set of barrels yields only 10 bottles of vinegar, and the Consortium keeps one to ensure the quality of the next batch. Balsamic vinegar gets the nickname “black gold” because it is so expensive and time-consuming to produce and there’s little pay off. The vinegar can be aged even further and after 25 years, it can be labeled extra vecchio. This is the sort of balsamic you want to drizzle on some really good vanilla ice cream or gelato.
After the tour we gathered around to taste some different balsamic vinegars including the 12-year and 25-year Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. But we started with plain-old balsamic vinegar made with wine vinegar and caramel color. This was to give us a base for tasting the good balsamic. We next tried a 6-year balsamic, which is produced there. (It’s more profitable than the DOP 12-year or 25-year balsamic vinegars, as it doesn’t have to go through the lengthy aging or get approved by the Consortium.)
The 12-year and 25-year balsamic vinegars were worlds better than the other two. You could tell just by how thick and caramelly they looked.
We tried a balsamic jam on fresh ricotta. Ricotta is a bi-product of making Parmigiano-Reggiano. The whey left from production is re-cooked (ri-cotta). Ricotta in Italy is like none I’ve ever had in my life. We were eating it by the spoonful. It’s not at all gritty or watery like it is here. We were both instantly obsessed.
Then we had balsamic vinegar drizzled over vanilla gelato. It doesn’t get much better than that!
You can read more about this food tour and our whole trip to Italy over on my blog.
A huge thank you to Meghan for letting me guest post… and I hope she is having an awesome time on her trip!