Style » Food/Drink

A New Leaf for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Friday Jan 18, 2013

A new leaf rating system has Italians tossing more than their salads as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena establishes a consumer-friendly means of identifying different grades of this sweet and sour elixir which dates back to the Middle Ages.

Authentic Balsamic Vinegar from Italy's famed Modena is the secret ingredient in the signature dishes of the world's most creative chefs. Now, an on-label rating system tells home cooks about the quality and style of a balsamic vinegar and helps them choose which one to use in dishes from appetizers to desserts.

What’s in that Bottle?

Balsamic vinegars line supermarket and specialty shop shelves, priced from $2.99 to $150 or more, and confusion abounds about exactly what is inside each bottle. "Something had to be done," according to Cesare Mazzetti, president of the Consorzio Aceto Balsamico di Modena, a consortium of 10 local manufacturers.

Three years ago Balsamic Vinegar of Modena was awarded the PGI certification (Protected Geographic Indication, IGP in Italian), which guarantees that every vinegar bearing that mark is authentic, of the highest quality and produced using traditional methods. Beyond vinegar, this classification is used for other authentic products like Chianti wine and Sorana beans.

Because each balsamic vinegar of Modena is made from a proprietary blend of aged wine vinegar, grape must and young wine vinegar, each one is different: thickness, sweetness, and intensity vary, sometimes dramatically, from bottle to bottle, brand to brand. PGI regulations forbid aging claims on labels because they’re misleading - producers use different proportions of aged and young vinegar in their final blends.

To help both chefs and home cooks sort through the myriad styles and select the right balsamic vinegar for their needs, the producers of the Modena region recently developed a rating system to standardize the industry and tell consumers exactly what they can expect when they open a bottle.

Light and zippy or thick and sweet? The certification system - the result of an in-depth study by the Italian Association of Balsamic Tasters and by CSFA, a reputable sensory analysis laboratory - assessed color, fruitiness, sweetness, olfactive intensity, pungency, body, and flavor balance, then rated each vinegar on a scale of one to four grape leaves. The leaf rating appears on a banner right on the package label, an easy-to-understand and reliable indication of style, flavor profile and appropriate uses.

The Leaf System

The Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI "leaf system":

  • One leaf (bronze banner) indicates a zesty, lightly sweet balsamic vinegar, delicate in aroma and consistency, perfect in salad dressings and with fresh cheeses, and for other everyday uses.
  • Two leaves (silver banner) mark a round, briskly flavored vinegar with a bit more body, delicious in marinades and barbecue sauces and for brightening the flavors of steamed vegetables and other lightly cooked foods.
  • Three leaves (gold banner) indicate vinegar that is full-bodied, boldly aromatic and well-balanced, ideal for drizzling on roasted meats and grilled fish, into pasta sauces and in reduction sauces.
  • Four leaves (black banner) indicate a rich, sweet taste, a flavorful aroma and a syrupy consistency, perfect as a dressing on fresh fruits or aged cheeses, spooned over ice cream or for dramatically finishing any dish.

    A few tips for using Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI:
  • Drizzle Balsamic Vinegar of Modena over fresh berries then add a pinch of brown sugar. Three or four-leaf quality is recommended.
  • Make a quick sauce using fresh or dried cherries marinated in balsamic vinegar to brush on grilled or seared beef, poultry or lamb just before serving, for a palate-pleasing kick of sweet and tangy.
  • Stir a spoonful of balsamic vinegar in stew, soup and sauce just before serving--this magic ingredient pops flavors and turns mellow into memorable.
  • Warming balsamic vinegar sweetens it while softening its acidity. If you want to mellow out the flavor, heat it. If not, use it at room temperature or add it at the end of the cooking process.
  • Avoid aluminum pots or containers, which can react with the acid in vinegar.
  • Most importantly, don’t over-heat balsamic vineagar and go easy. Just a splash of good-quality Balsamic Vinegar of Modena goes a long way.


    Add New Comment

    Comments on Facebook