Most people associate their favorite salad dressing as just a tarty addition of sweet and tangy flavor.  As a condiment to their Arugula salad, people are overlooking the true craftsmanship that goes into balsamic vinegar. Starting as unfermented grape juice, balsamic vinegar is a reduced, cooked and aged for several years to give you that unforgettable flavor that brings a spark to many different salads, soups and meats.

Understanding the Labels and Origin

Today, people more and more are looking to know where their food is coming from, and European countries are doing a wonderful job of labeling to educate their customers to ensure authenticity and  origin. The European Union and the Italian government have set up a system of labeling that ensures domestic and international clients are able to recognize the location and production site of their products. Labels like DOP, IGP and condimento may just look meaningless on a bottle to most people.  Those initials are telling a tale. The traditional DOP Balsamic Vinegar or aceto balsamico tradizionale is the most expensive balsamic vinegar that by European Union law must be aged at least 12 years to be classified by this name. Labels on these products vary in color: Red 12 years, silver 18 years and gold 25 years. Aging adds identity to each of these vinegars bringing light to the flavor, thickness and syrupy consistency (viscosity). Get your pockets ready because traditional gold label balsamic vinegars can cost up to $200 for three ounces!

IGP is the most common balsamic vinegar customers will see in the stores. Known as aceto balsamico di Modena, this label designates that the ingredients for the product may have come from other regions from the country but most be produced in Modena. Made from a combination of wine vinegar and grape must, IGP balsamic vinegar varies in taste and consistency which differs from the DOP product. Flavor is determined by the barrels the grape juice is aged in. Much like wine, hints of cherry, oak and chestnut are used to give different balsamic vinegar distinct flavors. Most companies use only three to four different grape musts in their recipes (Flora Anfora Balsamic 25 Stars uses 7).

Finally, the condimento balsamic vinegar is the lowest and least regulated form of balsamic vinegars. Usually sweetened with sugar, these condimento balsamic are sweeter and usually used for Caprese salads and glazes. If a product isn’t labeled IGP or DOP, the balsamic vinegar is given the title of condimento.

Now that you are powered with knowledge of balsamic vinegar, impress your friends at dinner parties or educate your coworkers with this wealth of knowledge about the world’s most popular dressing. No longer will you venture into a grocery store and buy overpriced, imported products based on their pretty labels but by what’s in them.  Check out our fine selection of some of Italy’s most delicious balsamic vinegar today.

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