The Story of Our Balsamic Vinegar
How old is your balsamic vinegar?
Okay. That is a good question with a very complicated answer. First of all, most customers that will ask you that question are asking because they have seen “18 year old” balsamic out in the marketplace before and maybe they have also purchased that product before. The answer they are expecting to hear from you is “18 years old”.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In order to answer this question properly, so that you have a complete understanding, I need to explain the different grades of balsamic vinegar in general. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and a lot of intentional and unintentional false information out there in the marketplace.
In Italy there is a product called “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena”. This product is highly regulated. Sort of like Champagne can only come from Champagne, France, and must be made by a specific method, with specific grapes, etc. Producers must join a consortium. Sort of like in the US, when a producer wants to be certified as organic, they have to have the USDA certify their fields and their production facility, etc. and they have to pay the USDA for this. The consortium in Italy will certify the producer’s operation and make sure they are following the specific methods for production.
“Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” must be aged for a minimum of 12 years. It is made with 100% grape must (crushed grapes), which is cooked and caramelized in an open vat, reduced to about 30% of the original volume. The product is then put into a series of barrels that gradually reduce is size, called a “battonage” 25% of the product is left behind in each barrel as the other 75% is moved to the next smaller barrel. This process allows continuous mixing of each subsequent year’s harvest. Once the product has exited the last barrel, at a minimum of 12 years, then the producer will take a sample to the consortium where they will perform both sensory analysis, (tasting by a panel of experts) and chemical analysis (laboratory testing).
The thickness and sweetness are typically what customers like about this product and I believe this gives us our strongest competitive advantage. The thickness comes from the higher concentration of grape must, which is the source of the sugar, which is why it is why it is sweeter. There are no added sweeteners or thickeners.
We call our Balsamic “Traditional Style”. Key word is “style”. Like I stated earlier, our balsamic is made specifically for us to our specifications. We wanted to get our product as close to the real thing as possible in taste, texture, balance of sweet and bitter, acidity, density and viscosity.
Focus on the tasting experience and explain that ours is thicker and sweeter that some of our competitors because it has a higher percentage of grape must and less red wine vinegar. That is the truth.
What is the difference between white balsamic and dark balsamic? The white balsamic is made with white grapes yes, but so is the dark balsamic. The dark balsamic gets the dark color from the sugars caramelizing during the cooking process while it is being reduced and concentrated. The white balsamic is reduced in a vacuum chamber. This allows the water content to evaporate at a much lower temperature, below the temperature that sugar will caramelize at. White wine vinegar is used instead of red wine vinegar and it is not put in wood barrels. The taste is a little lighter and less bitter without the caramelization. Even though the sugar content is the same as the dark, it can actually taste sweeter because the bitter does not offset the sweetness.
The Tangy Olive