Balsamic Vinegar Shopping Guide

Just like with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, people tend to get confused when shopping for Balsamic Vinegar. At Cioffi’s we carry dozens of excellent Balsamic Vinegars of Modena. Here is a little information for you on Balsamic Vinegar…

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

The absolute highest grade of balsamic vinegar, the so-called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena or Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, the product must be made in a specific way, from a certain kind of grape, in a particular region in Italy, aged for specific length of time in a certain type of barrel, and on and on.
There’s an industry consortium in Italy that bestows a stamp of approval to balsamic vinegars that meet these precise parameters. They even decide what sort of bottle it can be packaged in.
Among the rules:

  • Must be produced in Modena or neighbouring Reggio Emilia in Italy
  • Must be made from Trebbiano grapes grown in one of those two places
  • Must be aged in wooden barrels for no fewer than 12 years

How it works is, the grapes are pressed, and the resulting juice is cooked, during which time the sugars in it darken through the process of caramelization. That’s what gives the final balsamic its dark colour.
This syrupy reduction, called a “must,” is then fermented and aged in a series of wooden barrels, sometimes for up to 25 years, slowly building the deep, complex flavours of the final balsamic vinegar.

This is all well and good, but even a tiny bottle of Tradizionale balsamic vinegar can cost hundreds of dollars. And you won’t see it on the shelves at our store or any other grocery store anyway.
This type of vinegar can cost anywhere from $150 and up! Cioffi’s used to bring in a few bottles every year, but nobody ever purchased it so we stopped. If you’d like to order some of this just let us know and we can bring it in for you!

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena Found at Cioffi’s

Most if not all of the balsamic vinegars that are commonly available don’t meet one or all of the above criteria. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good! They are delicious and maintain strict regulations as well.
The official consortium on Balsamic Vinegars has seen fit to create a separate designation for these commercially sold balsamic vinegars. They call it Aceto Balsamico di Modena or Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. It bears a Protected Geographical Status label (either labelled IGP or PGI). To meet IGP status it requires a minimum aging period of two months, not necessarily in wooden barrels, rising to three years when labeled as invecchiato (aged). Here is a picture of the IGP label to look for:

BV2White Balsamic Vinegar or Aceto Balsamico Bianco, is a vinegar in which the grape must does not undergo a caramelization process, and is then aged in stainless steel barrels rather than wood. This white balsamic is actually a rich golden color. It’s a good choice when you don’t want a dark-coloured dressing to overwhelm your salad’s appearance.
Balsamic Vinegar Glaze is simply a concentration or reduction of balsamic vinegar. Some of these glazes have either been concentrated down through being cooked or sometimes they add thickeners or sweeteners, such as caramel and honey.
Vincotto (translated as “cooked wine”) or Sapa is a dark, sweet dense condiment produced artisanally in the Puglia/Apulia and Marche regions of Italy. It is made by the slow cooking and reduction over many hours of non-fermented grape must until it has been reduced to about one fifth of its original volume and the sugars present have caramelized. It can be made from a number of varieties of local red wine grapes.

In conclusion, when buying Balsamic Vinegar:

  1. Always look for the IGP label confirming that it meets the standards set forth by the official consortium for Balsamic Vinegars of Modena
  2. Check that it has no additives or colouring
  3. Ask one of our sales associates who will be happy to help you choose a delicious vinegar!