What's the Deal with our Balsamics?
At Aurelius, we carry artisanal, traditional, white, dark, flavoured and unflavoured balsamic vinegars. It can be difficult differentiating between these products, especially if you’re new to the world of balsamic vinegar. Many people don’t realize how much there is to know about balsamics, which is why we have written this guide to the different balsamics you’ll find at our store. Buckle up, because there’s a lot to learn.
First, let’s learn about what makes a balsamic vinegar. A real traditional balsamic is made only of grape must, which consists of the juice, stems, skins, and seeds that are squeezed out of the grapes. Traditional balsamic must be made from Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes. It has to be aged a minimum of 12, 18, or 25 years in different wood barrels -such as cherry or oak- and is produced exclusively in the provinces of Modena and Reggio-Emilia. The naming, bottling, bottle shape and labelling of these products are highly controlled and protected by the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin. As you can see, there are many rules and regulations surrounding what can be called “traditional balsamic.”
In reality most products you may be familiar with and are currently using are "traditional style” balsamic vinegar which could contain as little as 20% grape must, while the rest would be wine vinegar or caramel flavouring or colouring (the more red wine vinegar, the more red it will be. So they use caramel colouring to darken it.) As well, they might contain grape must from grapes other than Trebbiano or Lambrusco because it’s cheaper. This is why traditional balsamic is quite expensive; it’s not easy to make and it’s not easy to get. All the balsamics in our store (aside from the 25 Year Traditional Balsamic Vinegar P.D.O., which is traditional) and everything in the bottles are traditional style and contain nothing but 80% grape must, wine vinegar, and the extracts or concentrates for flavouring.
These products fall under the category of condimentos. A condimento balsamic vinegar is grape must that has wine vinegar added to it. This is most of our balsamic products at Aurelius and what you’ll find in other olive and vinegar stores. Our supplier uses stars as their grading system for balsamics; the more stars, the more concentrated grape must (the more grape must = more sweetness and thickness). The highest one they offer -and what we carry- is the 25 Star Balsamic Vinegar, which is 80% concentrated grape must and 20% aged wine vinegar. The flavoured balsamics that you see in our store is this exact same 25 Star Balsamic which is then flavoured with high quality concentrates or extracts. These flavoured products come in both dark and white balsamics.
If you've ever come into our store and asked yourself, “What’s the difference between white and dark balsamic?” you’re not alone! For many people, their first experience with white vinegar is at our store. The difference between them is that dark balsamics are made with red wine vinegar and white balsamics are made with -can you guess?- white wine vinegar! They use lighter grapes for the white balsamics and then an extra filtration step to ensure that they are as light as possible. In terms of taste, dark balsamics are heavier and richer than white balsamics, which feel lighter and are often described to be “refreshing.”
You might also be wondering why are our balsamics so much thicker than the ones you see in a grocery store. Well, the answer to that, in addition to aging, lies in how much concentrated grape must it contains. Generally speaking, the more grape must, the thicker and sweeter the vinegar will be. Which is why you might find grocery store balsamic to be sharper and runnier than ours -they contain way more wine vinegar than grape must.
If you are looking for an aged balsamic vinegar with lots of depth and nuance but aren’t serious about purchasing traditional balsamic, we carry the Balsamico Modena, a three year balsamic made with 80% cooked grape must. This balsamic comes from a small artisanal producer in Italy so you won’t find this anywhere in North America but here. We also carry a 15 year and 30 year from the same supplier.
When it comes to choosing what to pair with your next meal, we recommend dark balsamics for robust meats such as a steak, or desserts like cake or ice cream. Try our Pomegranate balsamic in barbeque sauce, or our Raspberry Balsamic over some cheesecake. For our white balsamics, we love them in salads and even our drinks. Try our Grapefruit White Balsamic in a glass of sparkling water, or pair it with the Basil Olive Oil for a go-to salad dressing that is perfect for the summer season.
All that being said, there are no rules when it comes to using our balsamics; they will make anything taste good. Visit us in store to sample more flavours and to hear more about what you can do with our balsamic vinegars.