The Fetid Rise of Fake Balsamic Vinegar
Try Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, then toss the rest

I remember fondly a joke—or perhaps more of a cultural observation—made by Johnny Carson. Remember him? It went something like this:

Scientists have recently discovered the smallest smallest unit of time that can be measured. However, this record has already been broken. The smallest unit of time is now the time between a New York traffic light turning green and the taxi behind you honking.

I think there should be a new “shortest” unit of time. It’s the time between an artisanal slow food becoming popular and the industrial crap food producers producing a really awful rendition of it for cheap. The masses gobble this stuff up, most not even having a clue as to how absolutely fabulous the real stuff is. It’s the latest thing; they must have tasted it to keep up with the crowd.

balsamic vinegar bottle
Balsamic Vinegar from 1785

It’s that way, certainly, with balsamic vinegar. The real stuff takes years to make; each year the rapidly darkening liquid picks up the scent of different woods as it’s transferred from larger barrel to smaller barrel. (You can learn about and witness the laborious process at the Balsamic Vinegar Museum in Spillamberto. The ghostly picture to the right of a bottle of balsamic vinegar was taken there.)

You won’t believe how it tastes. Your taste buds will never be the same. Like your tongue seeks out a cavity in your teeth, your buds will forever search for the real Balsamic. Honest.

But the industrial crap, made from distilled rice vinegars to which caramel flavorings and color, has been responsible for the real Balsamic’s fall; producers say they’ve suffered “60 million euros a year in lost revenue” according to Italy Magazine.

I wonder how they know that folks would shell out for the real stuff? I mean, people like cheap. It makes no difference that a single drop of real Balsamic Vinegar has more flavor than a liter of crap vinegar, folks are enamored with the price per unit weight. Most people even buy cars this way, although it’s way more expensive to make a light, efficient car than a poorly designed heavy one.

Ok people, I’m gonna say this just once. Get a grip. Indulge your taste sensations. Go to Italy and buy a small vial of some real 15 year old Balsamic Vinegar. Use it as a touchstone to your time on the boot, one of the scents you must smell in Italy.

You’ll wake up in the morning glad you did. It will improve your sex life, too. I promise. And my promise is as good as any promise in a television commercial.

I promise.


Real balsamic vinegar contains grape must as the only ingredient. Buy balsamic vinegar that is independently certified (DOP) from harvest to bottling. The DOP stamp, which stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” is a certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, traditional balsamic vinegar, aged at least 12 years, is what you seek. You can even order it on Amazon these days.


More on Italian Food

Great Fermentations: Bread and Beer

Feasting at the Officina della Bistecca

The Miracle of the Strawberry Tree

Saving Souls and Historic Food Markets

Feasting and the Amazing Azienda Agricola La Valle

Can Tourists Save the Good Shepherd?

What to Eat in Cremona


The Fetid Rise of Fake Balsamic Vinegar originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Jun 11, 2020 © .

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