Happy spring, everyone! Or should I say, winter, part 2? It’s snowing here, go figure…
In other, fantastic news, I am FINALLY settled into my new apartment. There’s something about moving that makes you want to clean out your entire house, so you don’t have to put things into boxes. This was especially true, for me, when it came to clothing and paper goods.
This was not true, however, for the pantry items.
I discovered so many ingredients that I forgot I owned, like specialty chocolate chips, maca powder, and the star of this blog post, black cherry balsamic vinegar.
I learned that balsamic vinegar is a tricky ingredient. Not because it’s difficult to use, but because it’s hard to find. There is an overabundance of fake balsamic vinegar in this world, mainly made from distilled vinegar and syrups.
Traditional, true balsamic vinegar is called Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, and it was created in Italy during the the first century of the first millennium. Balsamic vinegar was not only known for its superior taste, but it was also used as a medical treatment.
Unlike other vinegar, balsamic vinegar is made from grapes that have not been formed into wine. The unfermented juice comes from the must of Trebbiano grapes. The grapes are boiled until they reach at least 1/3 of their original water content.
The Italian regions of Modena and Reggio Emilia have standardized the production of authentic balsamic vinegar, from its aging to the shape of its bottles. The must is transferred to barrels, and stored in a sequence of barrels thereafter for many years. The grapes will lose at least 10% water content each year, becoming very thick and concentrated. According to Italian law, the vinegar has to remain in its barrels for at least 12 years before it can have the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale name.
High quality balsamic vinegar is produced in this manner, with special bottles, designs, and seals. The ingredient list will state “grape must” at the forefront. The vinegar will develop complex flavors like smoke, vanilla, and candied sugar due to the composition of the barrels’ wood.
The less expensive versions, labeled Aceto Balsamico di Modena, are imitations of the traditional version. They are usually made with wine vinegar instead of grape must, or a blend of red wine vinegar with grape must. This type is usually stored in stainless steel vats, not barrels, so they are not as robust in flavor. They can also be mixed with additives (1).
To ensure that you’re purchasing true balsamic, look for “must” or “grape must” as the first ingredient. That’s the perfect place to start. Bottles like this, though, come with a price tag. They can range from $50 to $500.
This means that the bottle I used for this recipe was likely the imitation version, especially because it was mixed with flavor. I learned all about this balsamic vinegar scandal after purchasing the bottle in my pantry, unfortunately. I’m going to try to track down a bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale so I can remake this cake, with real cherries.
For now, please enjoy this delicious recipe, regardless of your source of balsamic. There was no need to throw my balsamic away. Waste not, want not!
Black Cherry Balsamic Cake
This post is about spring cleaning, and new beginnings. I didn’t want to throw away my balsamic, so I used it to “clean out” my pantry. I was thinking that this cake could be part of my bridal shower, but I remembered that many of my friends and family don’t enjoy the balsamic taste.
Oh well, onto my next adventure! First stop, the grocery store. I have to buy a new, true bottle of balsamic… when I can shell out a pretty penny for the real deal!
(You will likely have more than 9 slices. This is just an estimate. I forgot to count how many pieces I cut from the cake).
- RouxBe Cooking School. How to Choose Balsamic Vinegar. Accessed March 20, 2016. Available at http://rouxbe.com/tips-techniques/332-how-to-choose-balsamic-vinegar