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Balsamic Vinegar?

I've been buying balsamic vinegar for a long time. Small expensive bottles that I use sparingly. DOC. Modena. Really good. Usually it wasn't easy to find.

Then a few years ago, it was everywhere and recipes started calling for lots and lots of it. It's in cheap, prepared salad dressings. Marinades. Big bottles of it cost very little. It's not DOC. The labels say "Packed for some company in NJ" or somewhere. Not even Modena, NJ.
What is this stuff?

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  1. There's "tradizionale" balsamic vinegar, which is DOC and expensive, and then there's the everyday mass-produced balsamic vinegar, which can be almost anything. Sort of like the difference between generic parmesan cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    1. I got turned off of balsamic vinegar a long time ago. I, too, was buying the good stuff and using it sparingly. Then this sugar-laden brown stuff started appearing everywhere, and it just killed it for me.

      In my kitchen, I still keep a small bottle of real, aged balsamico, to drizzle over Parmigiano or strawberries on occasion, but I've been using Spanish sherry (xeres) vinegar for some of my vinaigrettes. It's got more depth and less sweetness than balsamic.

      3 Replies
      1. re: FlavoursGal

        I had the same sense of balsamic vinegar overkill, but just the other night dug out a bottle of 15 year old balsamico, which I've had for a good six years or so, because I'd just bought some beautiful strawberries and Parmigiano - it was a perfect dessert for that meal.

        1. re: FlavoursGal

          I am with you Flavors Gal on the balsamic business. It is everywhere and done to death especailly with the bad stuff. Have you tried Minus 8 vinegar? It is a Canadian product, scarce and oh so wonderful.

          1. re: FlavoursGal

            "... real, aged balsamico, to drizzle over Parmigiano ..."

            mmm. one of my favorite snacks.

          2. Funny, I've switched to Sherry vinegar as well. It's very good paired with hazelnut oil; together, they dress all of my salads.

            1. I've been using Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar for almost everyhing after having been to Modena and trying real BV...theres no going back...unless you can afford real BV to use in everything that is...

              1. If you have a bottle of real BV..try a drizzle over good vanilla ice cream...a popular dessert in Modena..so good!

                1. Sorry to interrupt this polite thread, but ... nothing beats a slurp right from the bottle of a gold-label (50+ years) Balsamico Tradizionale from Reggio Emilia.
                  Gross: yeah. Expensive: you bet. But sooo satisfying...

                  1. But what are they SELLING as balsamic at that low price?
                    The DOC stuff is syrupy.
                    The low priced stuff is thin. Almost like red wine vinegar with sugar added. Is that why so many recipes call for reductions?
                    There's nothing on the label that says "balsamic-style" or "balsamic-type." Could it be just lower grades? Aged less?
                    I'll always love BV but not that cheap mass-market pretender.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: MakingSense

                      From the link below:

                      Several mass-produced, less expensive varieties may not be aged in wood at all, being nothing more than ordinary wine vinegar with coloring and added sugar. Legally, according to the rules of the Consortium, these are not allowed to be called "traditional". However, since the wording "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" failed to achieve the DOP status ("Denominazione di Origine Protetta" or "Protected Denomination of Origin"), products marketed by that name may not have even been produced in Modena.


                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Some of the mass-market balsamics are quite good and are certainly better for applications where they are cooked or mixed with something else. Sometimes the difference just amounts to being aged for a couple of years instead of fifty. You shouldn't dump on the whole range of non-DOC balsamic vinegars. Just because there are some out there that happen to be swill, doesn't mean they all are.

                        1. re: Humbucker

                          I double-checked and it seems that BV isn't DOC, as RicRios found out, but there are obvious quality differences. Some of the non-"tradizionale" are aged and pretty good but they're still not cheap. Costco sells a good, moderately priced version.
                          The ones I was asking about are the very inexpensive Balsamics that have popped up everywhere since it got to be so trendy. They can't possibly be quality or aged more than a the time they've been on the store shelf.
                          I think RicRios found the answer in Wiki - they're not balsamic at all - many of them are fakes, made from ordinary wine vinegar with coloring and sugar.
                          That's a real pity because so many people will never really know what the real thing is like. Or they'll perhaps get cheated if they pay for balsamic and get a cheap substitute since they use those as their basis for comparison.

                      2. Get a good mass-market bottle of BV and boil it until it reduces to syrup consistency (roughly by half, 20 minutes). You might want to open the window since it will smell and irritate your eyes and throat a little. That's one paradox of vinegar, it can smell really bad but taste really good as the same time.
                        Put it in a squirt bottle and poor it directly on food (everything from cheese, chicken to fruit, ice-cream) or use it to finish a sauce.
                        It's not traditional, aged, 150$-a-cup BV but it's better than nothing and tastes quite good.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ngardet

                          Can you name some names? Dean and Deluca sells their own brand of balsamic vinegar (about $30 per cup). The 'Minus 8' brand is about $30 for a half cup. Are these the kinds that can be reduced? Or do you mean the less-than-$10-bottles? Cooks Illustrated recommends 'Lucini Gran Reserva', but grudgingly it seemed.

                          1. re: BangorDin

                            I meant the around-10$ type of bottle. The last time I bought a big bottle of organic one at Costco. I have now 2 small squirt bottles of tasty reduction.
                            I don't really pay attention to the brand, there are so many of them. It's more a price range and ingredient issue. I make sure they only contain grape must, wine and maybe some sugar.
                            The Whole Foods brand is quite descent but a bit more expensive.
                            I am sure the D&D brand contains the same ingredients as the Whole Foods one. It is probably aged longer. Does it really taste better?
                            Once again real BV is more in the 150-200 dollar range for a cup so you really have to splurge it.

                        2. I must only ever get the cheap stuff, because I just plain don't like balsamic vinegar. Don't like it. Keep it away from me.

                          Maybe I've never had the good stuff. Maybe I'd feel different if I had.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: revsharkie

                            The real deal is MUCH better... I'd never had it, just the supermarket stuff, and DH bought me a little bottle of 10yo balsamic for a treat. Mmmmmm it's good (it's also GONE! Time to buy another). After you try real balsamic vinegar there's no going back...