It is coaxed from grapes---white ones, to be exact, like Lambrusco or Trebbiano. From the juice---which is what you end up with after cooking the over a direct flame for 20 hours---eventually comes a dark, sweet liquid, turned aromatic by the time it spent in kegs made of ash, mulberry, juniper. It may have languished there for 12 years or 25, destined to be bottled in a 100 ml container and capped in either white or gold.
No, it's not wine or whiskey or sherry. It's balsamic vinegar, the real kind.
The balsamic vinegar many Americans have in their pantry has been called a marketing scam, an impostor and a crime against true balsamics. The one in the pantry, connoisseurs explain, is more correctly called a "condiment" balsamic. There are only two provinces in Italy that produce actual balsamic vinegar, which is created over many years through a process that is strictly regulated---down to exactly what's written on the eventual bottle (or what's not, like the actual age). The final certification is everything---without it, you're not drizzling balsamic over your strawberries but some sort of imitation.
The real stuff is classified as either Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia or Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Our Antica Acetaia Villa Bianca belongs to the latter group and has been produced for seven generations by the Biancardi family. It's always aged 25 years, which is why it comes with the gold cap.
Authentic balsamic vinegar has a layered, complex taste and a dark, rich color. It offers so much flavor that a drizzle is enough---though 900 years ago, Italians were throwing this back as a tonic (balsamic means "restorative"). It's expensive, too, given the long journey to make it, where fermentation stops just short of turning it into wine. Once you taste it, you understand why this regional specialty is worth all the fuss, and how all the other balsamics that came before this meant nothing.
Drizzle it on:
A chunk of Parmesan
Fresh peaches and strawberries
A pork fillet