Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Condiment of the Week: Balsamic Vinegar

I know, vinegar isn’t really as sexy a condiment as in the past (yes, condiments are sexy), but balsamic vinegar is not just an ordinary vinegar. More than any other vinegar, balsamic can make your mouth water, rather than think of the sourness similar to sucking on a lemon. Real balsamic vinegar comes from Italy, some of the best from Modena specifically, where it is costly, but also used in only very small amounts. Here in the U.S. one can find a lot of different types, but I like to break them into three categories like liquor at a bar: house, name brand and top shelf. House balsamic is like Progresso, very sour and close to standard vinegar. Almost black in color, it is only really good for when you feel you need a lot of vinegar in something, but want that slightly sweet and flavorful taste of balsamic in it. I tend to use it in tuna salad, or in basic vinaigrette dressing. Name brand balsamic is the kind you see at the supermarket or your specialty food store that is a bit more expensive, the color is a little more red and the consistency is more viscous than your house balsamic. It also has a good balance between the sourness of standard vinegar, and a sweeter flavor that tastes great with a little bit of heat. It is perfect for building sauces and marinades, making a good vinaigrette for a special salad, or reducing and using almost as a syrup.
Top shelf balsamic is amazing, and once you’ve had it the realization that the previous two are so far below becomes reality. Real balsamic is often aged until the consistency is that of a syrup, it is amazingly sweet, with a tang to it, and is used on it’s own with meat and salads, or my favorite, drizzled over a cheese and fruit plate. The best balsamic goes above and beyond your average condiment and can become the centerpiece of a dish, with all the other elements playing off of it for the perfect nosh.

The Real Balsamic