Until a few months ago if you’d asked me if I liked balsamic vinegar I would have answered with a resounding, “yes.” My pantry hasn’t been without a bottle for years. But I recently learned there’s balsamic vinegar and then there’s balsamic vinegar.
A few months ago a friend commented in an email something to the effect that “it pays to buy good balsamic.” That gave me pause. When I replied that I always bought the cheapest at the grocery (rarely paying more than $5 for a pretty large bottle) she indicated that I didn’t know what real balsamic was. I decided to see if she was correct and headed to the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar store.
First, I should admit I’d walked by this store (located in a cute market filled with similar stores) a number of times but had never gone in. I just sort of shook my head and walked past thinking, “seriously, a whole store devoted to olive oil and balsamic vinegar?” When I finally entered I discovered big vats filled with a variety of balsamic vinegars (traditional, blueberry, mango, chocolate, coconut, lavender, and countless more). Tiny little paper cups sit under the vats and you can sample as many as you want.
Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine wanting to taste a vinegar by itself but bravely headed to what I thought would be my favorite, the mango. It was good, and surprisingly rich and tasty without any bread to sop it up. I then proceeded to taste a few more until I hit the fig balsamic. It was wonderful. Deep, thick, rich, I could almost imagine sipping it as an afternoon drink. Yes, I liked it that much.
So I happily ended up buying a small container of the fig balsamic (over twice the cost of my usual cheap bottle of regular balsamic). But when I got home I was puzzled about what to do with it. Somehow it seemed to deserve better treatment than just being combined with olive oil and herbs for a salad dressing. I tried it first just drizzled over some fresh tomatoes and it was fantastic. Since then I’ve also drizzled it over fresh berries (delightful) as well as mixing it into a salad dressing.
I recently went back to the store and purchased two other kinds of balsamic vinegar, a bottle of lavender balsamic and another of ginger and honey balsamic. The ginger and honey is a bit sweet, but has a very strong ginger taste. The shopkeeper suggested it’s great in stir fries and I plan to try it out this weekend. I’ve only used the lavender in salad dressings, but in the store the label by the vat suggested using it in chicken dishes which sounds intriguing.
One interesting thing for me is that while these balsamic vinegars are definitely pricey, a little goes a very long way. I still have my first bottle of fig balsamic and figure it’ll last at least another month. I have even used it by itself (just a little bit) over a chopped salad.
So, my friend was definitely right, “it does pay to buy good balsamic.” And I’m definitely looking for other ways to use the balsamics as flavorings. Maybe roasted vegetables? Not sure. Do you have any interesting recipes with balsamic vinegars?