• Shallot and thyme tarte tatin (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
Dark, thick, syrupy. Sweet, sour, rich. Balsamico Tradizionale should be its own food group.
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5 May 2021 - 3:00 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2021 - 12:59 PM

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The natural balance of sweet and sour flavours in a traditional balsamic vinegar is precisely why any dish that features it instantly becomes comfort food. A well-balanced dish just hits the spot like nothing else can.

It's a bonus that balsamic matches so well with so many flavours. It might have started life in Modena, in the Italian region of Reggio Emilia (and true balsamic vinegar still needs to originate from this region), but it's been adopted by many cuisines to add depth of flavour and unbeatable balance.

Balsamic vinegar is protected by a Designation of Protected Origin.

Balsamic vinegar is protected by a Designation of Protected Origin, which means that in order for a product to be called traditional balsamic vinegar, it needs to have originated in either Modena, or further afield in Reggio-Emilia. Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is produced within the zone in and around the city of Modena and Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia is produced within the zone in and around the province of Reggio Emilia.

Balsamico Tradizionale

Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from just one ingredient: grapes. But not just any grapes. Historically these would be Trebbiano grapes, but other white grape varieties grown in the region, such as Lambrusco, Spergola and Sauvignon, are also approved.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from just one ingredient: grapes. But not just any grapes.

The first press of grape juice is boiled to a rich concentrate, fermented, and acidified by aging it in wood for at least 12 years. Barrels approved for aging must be from oak, chestnut, mulberry, cherry, ash or juniper.

After 12 years (sometimes up to 24 years or even longer), the original volume of balsamic has been reduced from an 18-gallon barrel (about 68 litres) to less than one gallon of vinegar (about 3.8 litres). Now that's playing the long game...

With all of this going on, understandably every drop of balsamic vinegar is precious. Here's how to honour its glory.

A-glazing

A glaze is an ideal way to let balsamic vinegar's unique flavour shine through. And there's no better glaze than one glistening on top of pork short ribs. Pork adores BV. Just remember the mantra for perfect ribs and you can't go wrong: low and slow and keep that balsamic glaze coming. 

Bake it good

The secret to elevating baked lentils and veggies to memorable dinner status? A hit of balsamic vinegar of course. Balsamic adds depth to any vegetable and its effect on haloumi is an absolute must-try!

Even better tabouleh

Not for one second is adding balsamic to this Turkish tabouleh 'authentic', but do it anyway. It adds exactly the right sour note to balance beetroot's sweetness in this recipe by Hande Bozdoğan, founder of the Istanbul Culinary Institute's.

Tarte time

The French know their way around how to savour a tarte tatin. so it's natural that balsamic vinegar would eventually find its way into the dish. In this recipe, vinegar's tartness balances the richness of caramel and brings out the sharpness in shallots.

Dip away

Dipping fresh bread into oil and balsamic vinegar is a practice honoured in many Mediterranean countries. Here, a Greek olive bread mops up the extra goodness, but try dipping in any of your favourite loaves.

Village-style sourdough bread

A gorgeous golden loaf of sourdough with a hint of honey and a sprinkle of sesame seeds with an easy cheat's sourdough starter.

Easy naan bread

These are fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside - exactly what you want from a naan.

Japanese milk bread

This bread is Japan's own bakery creation, believed to originate in Yokohama in the early 1800s to cater to the British troops. It's soft, fluffy and creamy. 

Uber onions

If you've never added balsamic vinegar to caramelise your onions, you are missing out. Lyndey Milan's shepherd's pie bake showcases what a game-changer it is.

Kangaroo pizza with beetroot, feta and rocket

This vibrant topping combo puts a spin on the usual meat lover's. 

Uber figs

It doesn't just work on onions - beloved balsamic also makes figs squeal with delight. Silently, of course.

Ragu too

By this stage it should come as no surprise that balsamic vinegar is the ingredient your ragu has been missing all this time. Nothing brings out the flavour of pork quite like a bit of BV.

Parmi on

Baked eggplant parmigiana

A couple of teaspoons of balsamic added to sugo makes eggplant very happy indeed. So happy, in fact, that it's broken out into parmigiana levels of greatness.

Burger up

Edamame burgers with red onion jam

Here's another occasion where a little Balsamico Tradizionale goes a very long way. A red onion jam adds richness to this edamame burger - and guess what's adding the richness to the red onion jam?

Well dressed

One of the simplest ways to appreciate balsamic is by mixing it with equal parts oil and a little sweetness to make a dressing. Balsamic, olive oil and just a hint of brown sugar is very good. This buckwheat and chicken salad adds lemon juice and honey (skipping the oil), which makes for an pleasant tart dressing.

Homemade mozzarella and fig salad

A beautiful salad drizzled with balsamic and served with homemade mozzarella.

Green goodness

Chimichurri has to be one of the boldest sauces you can mix, so it's no surprise that BV would feature in the best recipes. Pack in the parsley, coriander, oregano, oil, lemon and garlic and then don't skimp on the balsamic. 

Star glazing
Strawberry-balsamic toast with ricotta

This toast is like eating dessert for breakfast. And better still, it's healthy!

Heirloom carrots with rosemary balsamic demi-glace

A great way to serve these carrots is with Desiree Nielsen's aromatic sage-fried tofu. It's a creation that's simple enough for a midweek meal, and fancy enough for a vegan dinner party.  

Honey balsamic glazed beetroot tarts

The mouthwatering combination of sweet and salty flavours in these tarts dance on your tongue. 

Bacon and balsamic devilled eggs

Pass around a plate of these devilishly good retro favourites at your next party for bacon and eggs with a difference!

Slow-roasted balsamic lamb shanks with cauliflower puree

In this recipe, the amount of time that the lamb is left slow-cooking is proportional to the depth of flavour and fall-off-the bone factor – a fantastic winter dish by The Food Dept.

Ricotta and balsamic tart with heirloom tomatoes

This dazzling tart isn't hard to sell. Source beautiful tomatoes and you're halfway there.