At MiaBella we are passionate about Balsamic Vinegar, it is our pantry secret! We love sharing how one "secret" ingredient can help you serve culinary memories at your next dinner party, picnic, or a cuddle on the couch date nite to name a few uses. In this article, we will share everything you need to know about Balsamic Vinegar, including our favorite Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Topics include:
- History of Balsamic Vinegar
- What is Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- Cooking Ideas and Recipes
- Perfect Pairings with Balsamic Vinegar
- 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid
- A Guide for Buying Balsamic Vinegar
History of Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar might be the single best-kept secret in a person’s pantry. With the perfect balance of sweet and rich flavors, the centuries-old recipe is extremely versatile and can be used on salads, sauces, and marinades or drizzled over steaks, strawberries, and even ice-cream!
Where Balsamic Vinegar Started
Originating in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Northern Italy, Traditional Balsamic dates back to the Middle Ages. First documented in a poem written in 1046, today’s traditional balsamic vinegar is a highly valued, sought after product known by few but loved by all who have had the opportunity to taste it.
Real Balsamic vinegar has played a major role since its creation. Even more so than today, aged balsamic vinegar was the perfect gift. From royalty gratitude to family heirlooms, balsamic vinegar was once included even in wedding dowries. Today, aged balsamic is still a very sought after and appreciated gift that every foodie and chef should receive and cherish in their pantry.
Today, Balsamic Vinegar is much more widely available however not all balsamic vinegar products are created equally or even used for the same purposes. Just as in the past, balsamic vinegar must still be produced in Modena in order to be considered a true balsamic vinegar. Even if it is produced elsewhere, no one has the experience in creating this amazing product quite like the families in Modena.
Different types of Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar- Most balsamic vinegar in the US is not even balsamic vinegar. Years ago, wine vinegar was imported from Italy and labeled as balsamic vinegar to be marketed in America. This is the balsamic vinegar widely available at most supermarkets and even convenient stores! This balsamic vinegar is typically made up of wine vinegar, some balsamic vinegar, and lots of fillers and preservatives. This balsamic is usually much more acidic and bitter with very little to no viscosity.
Balsamic Vinegar Glaze- This type of balsamic vinegar is an attempt to imitate real balsamic vinegar. It is often very sweet due to its ingredients of wine vinegar, sugar, caramels, flavorings, and preservatives. This balsamic is very thick (sometimes too thick) and although it a treat and great addition to gourmet dishes, it is not the healthiest nor the real deal.
Aged Balsamic Vinegar- This is the type of balsamic vinegar you always want to keep in your pantry. Aged balsamic vinegar is made from 100% grape must. Aging in a succession of wooden barrels, the grape must evaporate and thickens. During this time the grape must also begin to take on its deep flavor and sweet notes from the barrels. Most people equate the longer the aging process the better the product but this is not the case at all! It is possible (and not uncommon) that you can find a producer that makes an amazing 18 year aged balsamic that is better than any 25 years aged balsamic and you can find a fantastic 50 year aged balsamic and a not so good 50 year aged balsamic. This all comes down to personal preference and the quality of the balsamic producer.
What is Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made from a reduction of cooked Trebbiano grape juice called grape must and is nothing like the vinegar we find on most grocery store shelves.
How Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar Is Made
MiaBella Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is made from 100% Trebbiano grapes with no added sugars, caramels, flavors, or preservatives. The resulting product, called mosto cotto in Italian (grape must), is aged in wood cask barrels that are made of oak and juniper. Once the process is finished, MiaBella Traditional Balsamic is a rich, viscous, deep brown syrup and with a complexity of flavors that balance perfectly with any number of courses. Each bottle is numbered for small batches of one-thousand and individually signed, ensuring the highest quality of luxury balsamic available.
Aged Balsamic Vinegar Taste Profile
Smooth: MiaBella is smoother than other kinds balsamic vinegar with a natural acidity level of 4.5% making it an enjoyable and memorable experience for those who do not typically like balsamic.
Rich: MiaBella aged balsamic has a full depth of flavors unlike anything else. Notes from the Oak and Juniper Barrels makes MiaBella Balsamic Vinegar something truly share-worthy.
Sweet: Perfect addition to salads, fruits, vegetables, and desserts, MiaBella Balsamic is one of the most versatile ingredients and every person should be sure to make it a pantry staple.
Aged Balsamic Vinegar Regulations
Today, there are many variations of approved “seals” restricting production of balsamic by both the Italian Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin, MiaBella Traditional Balsamic is D.O.P. Modena; a certification reserved to balsamic made in the Modena Region only.
Cooking with Balsamic Vinegar
When it comes to using MiaBella Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar we recommend looking to those who know the product best: the Modenese. Typically, Traditional Balsamic is used to dress bitter greens, complete a Parmigiano-Reggiano risotto or pork fillet, to drizzle on aged Parmigiano cheese or a variety of fruits and greens; but it can also be used for so much more. Rather than cooking and heating down the syrup, use it to enhance a finished dish. Traditional Balsamic Vinegars are nothing like the watered down, wine-vinegar plaguing the shelves of the supermarket claiming to be “balsamic vinegar”. In other words, MiaBella Traditional Balsamic is a luxury condiment that can bring your cooking abilities to a completely new level. When used properly, MiaBella Traditional Balsamic can pair well with just about anything.
How you should use balsamic when cooking
Use MiaBella Traditional Aged Balsamic Vinegar as a luxury condiment. Although there are times to use it in your cooking recipes, it is often best to finish your dish as a final topping.
Examples of when using Balsamic Vinegar makes sense
If you are looking for a great way to flavor those vegetables that you are sauteing in a pan or looking for a bitter addition to your marinating meat, then it is best to use the cheap balsamic vinegar with the major ingredient being wine vinegar. This is much less viscous and won’t ruin your cookware when it heats up. This type of balsamic vinegar is perfect for what I like to call “splash cooking” where you splash the ingredients in the pan. There is a time and a place for this type of ingredient and this type of cooking.
When you are using an aged balsamic vinegar like MiaBella then you will want to delay the use of the ingredient until toward the end of the recipe (unless you are making something like our Rosemary Balsamic Beef recipe found here). Instead, use an aged traditional balsamic vinegar like a luxury condiment. Drizzle just enough over your plated meal to bring the perfect flavor balance to a wide variety of dishes. You can see our recipes below or create your own recipes using our pairs with outline here.
From slow marinades, to quick snacks and salads Balsamic Vinegar can be spice daily cuisine
Probably the most common use of balsamic vinegar in the United States is for salads. Summer salads are very popular for both making balsamic vinaigrettes and using balsamic vinegar and olive oil straight on the salad mix.
Salads are great and all but do you really want to be a foodie and impress your friends and family? [WARNING: Only use a high quality aged balsamic vinegar for these recommendations!] Try MiaBella Aged Traditional Balsamic on popcorn! (You can make it extra gourmet by using our MiaBella Fleur de Sel as well). Or really surprise your guests by serving a fresh vanilla ice cream or pistachio gelato topped with our balsamic! People won’t believe you when you tell them it was balsamic vinegar on their dessert.
Use our recipes for inspiration:
Pairings with Balsamic Vinegar
- Use this guide to see how Balsamic Vinegar fits in with some of our favorite food.
- Bread- Really enjoy aged balsamic vinegar with a fresh loaf of artisan bread. Take it to the next level with a homemade loaf, MiaBella Fleur de Sel, and a high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Cheese- We love cheese. Doesn’t really matter what kind of cheese, but it is best to start with an aged Parmigiano cheese (or any other hard cheese). After that, the most common paired cheese is a fresh buffalo mozzarella (made popular by the traditional Caprese salad).
- Fruit- This is one of our favorite ways to enjoy MiaBella Balsamic because it’s so simple! After you clean and cut your fruits, simply pour some balsamic over and dive in. Strawberries and watermelon are a definite must try, then adventure into apples and cantaloupe.
- Vegetables- Grilled or raw, vegetables and balsamic are always a healthy and delicious go-to snack. We hear that most people LOVE our balsamic on their roasted brussels sprouts and grilled asparagus.
- Fish- Although it pairs well with just about every kind of fish (and shrimp/scallops) the best by far is the salmon. Grill your salmon over a bed of sliced lemons and right before the fish is finished cooking brush some balsamic vinegar over the top and let it soak and glaze for a few minutes. Flavor explosion!
- Chicken- This is by far the most searched for a recipe with balsamic and for good reason. But don’t just settle for the normal recipe and use an aged balsamic instead and bring your dish to the next level.
- Beef - Rosemary Balsamic Beef recipe… enough said. Also a unique condiment for gourmet cheeseburgers!
- Tofu- With this, premake a marinade to cook your tofu with or cook your tofu first and use aged balsamic as a flavor enhanced topping!
5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
- Do not overheat- overheating aged balsamic vinegar will cause it to evaporate too quickly and it will turn into a very sticky paste that will not only ruin the flavor profile of your dish but it will also ruin the pan or dish being used in the cooking.
- Do not overuse- Aged balsamic is full of flavor and a little bit goes a long way. We aren’t saying to use it sparingly, by all means, put it on anything and everything! Just remember that a little bit is all you need to really create something that tastes wonderful.
- Storage- Some balsamic vinegar products and some balsamic glazes will say on the label to keep in the refrigerator. That is because these are not real balsamic vinegar. For example, MiaBella Traditional Aged Balsamic vinegar only needs to be stored in a cool, dark, pantry to keep its perfect flavor and viscosity. The natural acidity of the grape must and by not adding extra ingredients, traditional balsamic is shelf-stable and will last for years (similar to the properties of real honey). If you place the MiaBella balsamic in the refrigerator it will become too thick to use and you will need to set it out to room temperature.
- Only using it for “Traditional” recipes- We talk with a lot of people who think that traditional aged balsamic should only be used on traditional dishes… but in our opinion, this does not honor the ingredient the way it should be! Experimenting with one of the world’s greatest ingredients is exactly how we think it should be used. Put it on ice cream, try it on a grilled cheese, or make a lemon tart with a balsamic vinegar drizzle!
- Keeping it a secret- Another thing we hear a lot of is that aged balsamic is meant to be kept a secret and not shared except for those “worthy” but this just sounds crazy to us! It may be one of the world’s best kept culinary secrets, and you may not want to bring it out to your next work party, but creating a dish with aged balsamic and sharing it with your friends and family is exactly what it was meant for. Create memories and share your balsamic, your recipes, and your food.
A Guide to Buying Balsamic Vinegar
Decide how you will use your balsamic
Looking to add a bitter flavor to your sautéed vegetables? Go with a cheap balsamic vinegar but try to avoid too many added ingredients, sulfites, or sugars. Want a super sweet dessert topping? Try a balsamic glaze (some are even flavored balsamic vinegar!). Looking to create a memorable culinary experience worth sharing with friends and family? Go with a traditional aged balsamic vinegar like MiaBella Balsamic Vinegar.
How to make sense of the tags
Don’t let this scare you from buying a balsamic vinegar. There are multiple consortiums and multiple ratings and rankings. If your balsamic is aged, made in Italy (Modena or Emilia-Reggiana Regions), and has no added caramels, flavors, sugars, or preservatives then you have found yourself a balsamic vinegar worth trying.
What the difference in cost boils down to
We aren’t going to deny it. There is a difference in the cost but there is a reason for that. Cheap balsamic vinegar is mass produced and doesn’t take the necessary time that aged balsamic vinegar does. You can purchase a cheap balsamic vinegar and boil it down (reducing the liquid to less than half what you purchased which doubles the cost per ounce), add some fruits and sugar, and you will create something similar to aged balsamic but it will be less flavorful, last only a few days before it goes bad, and end up costing you more time and money than you thought you were saving.
When it comes to aged balsamic vinegar, the price difference you are paying for is in the experience and history. Some family producers have been making balsamic vinegar for generations and they make very small batches of their products. This allows them to charge much more. There is also the payment for the consortium to approve the balsamic which increases the price of your purchase. If you are looking for that deep-rooted history and tie to a family name on the bottle with extremely small batches making the product you are about to purchase unique, even rare, then you are looking at spending $300+ for that bottle. Which is fine! If you have the means then indulge in the experience.
Our MiaBella aged balsamic vinegar is DOP Modena which means we are a protected product of the region and our balsamic is 100% grape must. We age our balsamic until we find what we feel is the perfect flavor profile and balance of sweet and sour with a small 4.5% acidic finish. In the end, a $300 bottle of balsamic may not be the experience you were hoping for and a $40 bottle may be just the right fit. We encourage you to explore and taste and compare and find the perfect bottle of balsamic for you… and we hope that is MiaBella Balsamic Vinegar.