100 year old Balsamic - worth it?
I love balsamic vinegar. The oldest bottle I've owned has been 12 years old. The local gourmet shop in town is selling 100 year old balsamic for over $150. I am intringued. Has anyone sampled vinegar this old? I imagine it's got to be like syrup. And the big question - is it worth the cost? Thanks for any input!
I live in Bologna and run cooking classes here. I regularly take guests to visit Traditional Balsamic Estates. The balsmicao tradizionale barrels are kept under the eaves for maximum cold in winter and maximum heat in summer. In the hot months a small lid in the top of the barrel is opened to allow evaporation, and when it gets cold it is re-sealed.
The Consortium definition of a Balsamico Tradizionale as being aged a minimum of 12 years means that for 12 years the condiment was left untouched in the barrels and none drained off until the 12th year. A 25 year old has been left untouched, none drawn off, for 25 years. If no Balsamic was drawn off for 100 years but the barrel was opened up as usual through the hot months for evaporation chances are it would have turned to a slick of sticky stuff at the bottom of the barrel.
There is no Consortium recognised 100 year old, no Consortium definition, no Consortium guarantee of the quality or of the traditional artisan process. So "100 year old" could mean anything, it coudl merely mean the barrel set used is 100 years old or who knows what else.
I use 25 year old Modena Balsamico Tradizionale regularly, and that is worth every penny, as are the Silver and Gold label Balsamico Tradizionale of Reggio Emilia.
ButI wouldn't ever buy a so-called 100 year old Balsamic. It is not traditional and I simply can't believe it really has spent a century in the barrels before any of it was drawn off.
It's absolutely worth it, and a half.
I get aged Balsamic once a year or so as a holiday splurge. The essential word is "Traditionale." Merely "aged" isn't enough.
I've tried several brands and think the San Geminiano available from Corti Bros. is the best. Zabar's and Dean & Deluca also have it at about the same prices. Zingerman's has it and several others, at noticeably higher prices.
The red label (25-30 years old) is very good, but if you're going to spend $79, spend $97 for the silver label (50 yr.), which is a significant step up in flavor and intensity.
Maybe next year I'll get gold label (150 years) for $140. When I hit the lottery, I'll spend $499 on the super gold (350 yr.).
Never cook with it. Drizzle it over fruits, and also vegetables. They're also good straight, particularly the silver label. A magazine story (by Steingarten, I think) says the super gold is only taken straight, in homeopathic amounts.
You must be referring to a Reggio Emilia Balsamico Tradizionale since Reggio classifies the condiment into three not two levels as in modena. Red ( Aragosta or Lobster in Italian) , Silver and Gold labels.
Reggio Emilia has never attached a number of years to its Tradizionale, and merely states that the colours correspond to good quality, superior quality and exceptional quality, respectively.
I like the younger vinegars better myself. They get more complex and more syrupy with age, but the flavor(s) become much more wood- and less fruit-dominated. So to me, no, the "gold" grades are not worth it. In an ideal world, I'd use the silver grade from Reggio-Emilia or a particularly good white-label Modenese, if I got to taste them. But as it is I stick with the red (RE) or white (Modena).
FWIW, you can pretty much ignore any dates a seller throws around - Italian/EU law actually forbids true balsamic from being labelled with an age, and quoted dates/ages can mean a lot of things, but rarely that the entire contents of any given bottle is "100 years" old. (If it's the real stuff, you can count on it being the minimum legal age, but beyond that, throwing numbers around is basically all marketing for what little that's usually worth.)
Aged balsamic is indeed sublime- I heartily agree with the other hounds suggesting a trickle of this divine elixer over fresh fruits and already finished meats.
However- Last time I saw a bottle of 100yr, it cost $464 for 2.5 oz. That was retail price, mind you, but if you can find it for much less than $300, I would be very skeptical about it's true age. Good 25 year balsamics are in the $35-50 range, 40s and 50s are still available in 8oz bottles for about $100-200, but the really old stuff is worth just about half it's weight in gold (really).
If you like balsamic, it is well worth it. for the last 3 years I've been fortunate to receive bottles of balsamic for christmas, a red label - which I believe is over 25 years old, a silver, i think over 50 years, and this year, and this year a bottle over 100 years old, it was made in 1855.
The balsamic gets syrupier as it ages, and the flavors change. The one I got this past year is great if you put a few drops on ice cream, strawberries or on shavings of parmesano reggiano. You wouldn't use it in a recipe, the flavor would get lost. I have also dipped fresh asparagus tips in it and it is terrific.
Corti Brothers has good prices
I bought a 50 year old bottle for my husband as part of his Christmas gift - it's rather amazing but not something to waste on salad dressings, or haphazardly poured into a recipe. It came with a tiny glass to drink out of - which is what he's been enjoying. I also have been drizzling it over meats, veggies, etc. in tiny amounts.
I did try it once as a salad dressing, but it really just couldn't stand up to it in the sense that it didn't "spread" out enough as part of the emulsion - wanting to sit itself apart from the oil somewhat. Basically it just was sliding off the greens and it got wasted at the bottom of the dish (although a nice crusty piece of bread took care of that).
Ugh - just what I was afraid of - that it would probably be REALLY good! :) Thanks for the feedback - I will need to do a little research, but I just received some bday money so it might be a nice treat to get some old vinegar. Only this board would understand such a purchase!
I have not tasted really aged balsamics, but I have heard they are sweet and complex. You could sip them like a port.
On my recent trip to Florence, Italy, a specialty shop had a bunch of balsamics. The 100 yr-old bottle was 440 Euro! So, depending on the size of the 100-yr stuff you found, it sounds like a good deal. Maybe you should try some 25 and 50 year stuff before jumping all the way up to 100.
Also, mail order/internet stores may have a bigger selection and better prices.