Varieties Of Sonoma Farm Balsamic Vinegar
The Confusing Labeling Of Balsamic Vinegars
Sonoma Farm balsamic vinegars, imported from the world capital of balsamic, Modena, Italy, are crafted from the must of white Trebbiano grapes and aged for 25 years. The vinegars are very sweet and smooth—aging has removed the acid tang leaving a soft acid backbone, such that these balsamics are more like sweet sauces, that salad dressings.
There are five grades of balsamic vinegar (learn all about balsamic vinegar in our thorough article on the topic). The pricey ones, costing $75 and more for a 25-year-old, are the tradizionale and condimento “authentic balsamics,” made in small batches in Modena and Reggio Emilia, with artisan methods that date back to the Middle Ages. Production of tradizionale and condimento are strictly monitored by their particular consorzio (trade consortium), which evaluates, approves or rejects and adds an official seal and registration number to each bottle.
A true consorzio condimento balsamic from Cavalli; the bottles are numbered and they bear the red wax seal of the Consorzio. Not every bottle with a red wax seal is a sign of authentic balsamic; any company can put a seal on a bottle. You need to know what you’re buying.
There is perhaps nothing more confusing to purchase in the U.S. than a bottle of balsamic vinegar—because with no stern consorzio, D.O.P. regulations and national pride that make people more educated about their greatest products, anything goes. There’s a lot of fake balsamic masquerading as real, and lower-level balsamic masquerading as higher-level, employing real or faux red wax seals like consorzio balsamics. Even knowledgeable consumers can’t figure out what they’re buying.
Sonoma Farm’s balsamics refer to themselves as “Traditional Condimenti Balsamic vinegar.” These terms are incorrect (so is the reference on the bottle to “crafted from the musk of white Trebbiano grapes”—animals produce musk, grapes produce must—but that will be fixed). Such terminology would not be allowed in Italy.
- In order to use the words traditionale or condimento, a balsamic must be consorzio-approved with an official seal, which Sonoma Farms balsamics are not.
- Rather, Sonoma Farm’s products are an industriale-style balsamic, which includes mass-produced brands made in Italy using commercial processes, but which still employ cooked grape must like tradizionale and condimento balsamics, and must be aged at least 3 years. “Industriale” and “mass” are not pejorative terms; remember, this is still the third-finest on a five-grade scale. But it is larger-scale production.
- The commercial balsamics from Italy are rated on a scale of 0 to 4 “leaves,” with 0 being something equivalent to inexpensive supermarket balsamic, “1” something a person with standards would use on a salad, “2” and “3” good for cooking and drizzling on food, and “4” a sweet, syrupy dessert vinegar.
We give the Sonoma Farms balsamic vinegars a 4. It’s good stuff, and for the price, very good stuff.
Tasting The Balsamic Vinegar
We did this first thing in the morning, bracing our palates—because no matter how mellow balsamic vinegar is, it’s still vinegar. We were delightfully surprised, as the 25 years of aging have produced a sweet syrup that’s a second cousin to a 25-year-old condimento. We’ve tasted quite a few tradizionale and condimento balsamics, but they are so pricey, that they’re generally parceled out from a medicine dropper. Here, we tasted from the tablespoon—and had plenty left for another and another.
Whether you want a plain balsamic or the added flavor of strawberry, both the Balsamic Vinegar and the Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar offer the same sweet smoothness and same applications on food.
There’s a delightful sweet-and-tart complexity; not as much complexity or thickness as with a tradizionale or a condimento, but at 20% of the price for twice the amount of vinegar, who can complain? Thus, with abandon:
Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar, aged 25 years. Photo by Corey Lugg | THE NIBBLE.
- Pour directly on top of ice cream or sorbet; also delicious with pound cake.
- Drizzle on poultry, pork or other meat preparations that enjoy a sweet sauce.
- Perk up vegetables—grilled, steamed or any other preparation.
- Make sauces or go gaga with gastronomic inventions (foams, meringues, granitas).
Italians use the sweeter balsamics on their salads, along with extra virgin olive oil (although you don’t even need the oil). Americans love sweet salad dressings, too; although we belong to the savory salad faction, we can urge you, if this is your wont, to look at these sweet balsamics at 10 calories a tablespoon compared to the 100+ calories in your favorite salad dressing.
Speaking of caloric bargains, the Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar tastes like a fine, gourmet strawberry sauce. At 10 calories a tablespoon, it’s a bargain that cannot be ignored—and delicious with chocolate or just about any dessert you can think of, including cheesecake.
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