What do the numbers on Modena balsamic vinegar indicate?
Many of the bottles that don't specify how old they are (50+ yr, 20+ yr) will indicate a number. No. 10, No. 12... Is this a standard indicator of quality and if so, what does it mean? I'm looking specifically at Compagnia del Montale's No. 10 and No. 12- I see both at the same price and don't know which one might be older/better.
Any other good recs in the $50-$75 dollar range?
Marketing vinegar has gotten complex, but the basic distinction is traditzionale versus condimento when your talking about balsamico. There's a DOC (control board) that upholds these standards and defends their authenticity. Traditzionale is the sophisticated stuff. Condimento is more the salad variety.
Numbers on the bottles probably have some justification, but they also could be jibberish. If their meaning is obscure, than they are probably trying to leverage more money out of your wallet.
Paul Bertolli (I'm a former employee) has made a study of this art. Making it commercially is hardly feasible, because of the huge lead time till authentic (fully cycled) product is available. He writes about the process in Cooking By Hand if you're curious. The best way to enjoy the stuff is to make it yourself, and pass the art down progressively to the next generation. Today's culture, especially in the U.S. hardly has time for it. First of all you need to stay in one place virtually forever, and who would want to do that? I can only think of a few.
Bertolli's current blend might be available at Oliveto.com. I know not.
re: K. Gerstenberger
This isa bit of a compicated issue. The numbers for Tradizionale D.O.P. are meaningful since they are under strict control. Twelve years actually refers to the actual minimum age of the vinegar BEFORE it is bottled. Futhermore, the tradizionale is analyzed and tested for quality before it is bottled. If it is not rejected (some are) it can be bottled. The other Balsamics are now I.G.P. if they meet the lesser standards required. They are not allowed to indicate the number of years or use a number system that may confuse the buyer. Previously these non Tradizinale Balsamics called themselves 1 yr, 3yr, etc. Supposedly, the longer the vinegars were aged the better they wer. However, there was no verification of aging claims. Also, several other factors actually better quality indicators. They are still relevant. The viscosity and the ratio of vinegar to must are the measures of quality. Unfortunately, neither statistic is indicated on labels. The more syrupy (the more viscous) the Balsamic, the longer it was aged in casks. Aging IS a key to obtaining quality. So after you open the bottle and taste a thicker balsamic you will realize that it is better than the more "watery" versions. As far as vinegar and must, the must is the quality ingredient. Again the label tells little. If the label lists vinegar as the first ingredient, then it has morevinegar than must. However you don't know the percentages. If you are lucky to find a Balsamic with must listed first, it will be better than the one with more vinegar. That's it in a nutshell. That's the short version.