With the possible exception of French wine, no other food in recent history has caused as much commotion and confusion as balsamic vinegar.
Now real balsamic vinegars hail from Italy, of course: the Emilia-Romagna region, and they are very labor-intensive. First, you have to get some white Trebbiano grapes, and you squeeze them. You take the juice and you cook it until the sugars are concentrated to right around 40 percent. Then you put it into barrels which have already been infected, so to speak, with acetobacters. Now here's the cool part. This is done in really hot rooms. And as the water evaporates out of the barrels, of course, the liquid reduces. And as it does, it's moved to progressively smaller barrels. Now this takes a minimum of 12 years, but sometimes as many as 100 years, okay. A hundred. The result is, well, it doesn't really look like vinegar at all. It's a very, very deep brown, almost black syrup, that manages to be sharp and sweet, meaty and floral, all at the same time.
Now this is not the kind of vinegar that you want to use as an ingredient in a vinaigrette. You want to use this as a fine sauce. I like it on ice cream, cantaloupe, berries.