So if money were no object, my own 16-year aged balsamic oak barrel is hands-down what I would want for Christmas.
Sydney Newsom (who is literally all over the Internet at any time of day or night and also happens to be the best friend I could ever imagine having not actually met in person) turned me on to Zingerman’s… and I think I will be a loyal customer for years to come. I couldn’t possibly write a better description than what is on their site:
The aging attics of La Vecchia Dispensa is Castelvetro, near Modena, are stuffed with barrels. Old barrels, new barrels. Small ones for precious cargo, large ones for just-cooked must. Made from chestnut, oak, and half a dozen other woods, each of them holds balsamic vinegar at some advanced age. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Want one for yourself? La Vecchia Dispensa’s cooper has fashioned a few small, seasoned oak barrels that we can send you filled with over a quart of our exclusive 16 year aged balsamic.
Use the glass dropper to rescue a bit of balsamic for salads or strawberries. Kept corked, it’ll last indefinitely and get better with time, just like you. Refill as needed. Keep in mind that in Italy, balsamic was a gift for grandchildren or important dowries. With the way social security is going it might be something sensible to consider.
I have always been obsessed with good balsamic vinegar… I have been known to make like an Italian and pour the good stuff over ice and drink it straight up. So delicious. But it was when we were in Italy on our honeymoon where I decided it was better than chocolate. We were visiting the Verranzano Castle and Winery (same family as the one that built the bridge) in Chianti and they had caves of really old wine and even more exciting: full of balsamic barrels… if you stuck your nose in through the bars you could just smell the intoxicating scent. It was the best thing I’ve ever smelled in my life.
The little barrels right above are the balsamic ones–aren’t they so sweet!!! They have a little glass cap that lets a certain portion of the boiled white grape juice to evaporate, called the “angels’ share.” Over the years, being in the wood barrel makes the juice more sweet and concentrated.
After our tour of the caves, we sat down and enjoyed a meal with some very nice strangers… after a few glasses of line we were like family. After some insanely good pasta, they served a piece of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano topped with aged balsamic on a spoon, and wow. Let me tell you: an incredible dessert!! We’ve done this after dinner parties and it’s been such a hit. If you’re ever planning a trip to Tuscany, the Verranzano tour with the meal afterward was really great (and I consider myself pretty jaded about winery tours after living next door to Napa).
My other favorite use is just simple dressing that my Aunt Steph taught me to make. You simply take a little mustard and whisk it with balsamic. You must do this before adding the olive oil or the vinegar won’t emulsify. Then you simply add salt and pepper and voila, the best salad dressing ever! And so much cheaper and better than buying a bottle. You can toss in some scallions or Italian seasoning, but it’s also amazing on its own. When the Mr. is out of town, I like to take a whole head of lettuce, make some dressing, and just eat the whole thing for dinner. I just adore it.
Oh me oh my. I am already rationalizing this in my head… if this were a ten year supply of balsamic, then it would really only be $40 per year, which is not so bad. And every year it would get better and better. AMAZING! I love that balsamic barrels were dowries back in the day. I am already thinking about how the barrel could be a prominent decorating feature in either the kitchen or the dining room… Santa, are you listening?!
Okay, so if there is no Santa, then Sydney swears by this six-year-old balsamic, which I am dying to try and am going to send to my parents to bring back with me to HK… and at $19, it would also be an awesome stocking stuffer!