Balsamic vinegar has become a mass-market commodity in the past decade or so, and you’ll now find it drizzled on just about anything. True balsamic vinegar, however, is made under the strictest of regulations through a process that takes many, many years to complete (and, to do it full justice, pages to describe), and is incredibly rare. If you want to find out what the fuss is about, here’s your bottle. Outstanding balsamic vinegar can be 30 or 40 years old – this specimen makes those look like spring chickens. Put a few drops on your tongue and wait for a taste like nothing else on earth. Salad? Not with this stuff, folks. La Vecchia Dispensa Old Balsamic Vinegar, 100ml, from The Oil Merchant.
While most mass-market balsamic vinegar is but an imitation of the real thing, this is a great compromise: a deep flavor and colour, and a level of concentration that enables a few drop to add distinction to vinaigrette. For a hint of the real thing, you can’t do better: Vecchia Dispensa Balsamic Vinegar.
This one comes from a little producer, La Vecchia Dispensa, in Castelvetro, just south of Modena, Where Marino Tintori makes his Balsamico, and on the other side is his wife’s family restaurant, which serves his vinegar and artichokes and grilled peppers in oil. Last time I visited Marino, he stuck a spoon in barrel, pulled it out and literally not a drop felt off. It was at least 100 years old.” An age on a bottle of traditionally-made balsamic vinegar is deceptive – in Italy they are not allowed to state a specific age,” he explains, “because the vinegar is made on the solera system, in which it is moved through a range of barrels from large oak ones, through cherry, to small ones might be made out of juniper.