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In The Family
What Is Balsamic Vinegar?

And why the good stuff costs so much.

Few supermarket staples get as abused as balsamic vinegar, although the genuine article has as much to do with a grocery-brand bottle of balsamic as a Bordeaux wine has to grape juice. Real balsamic is the result of reducing and aging white Trebbiano sour grape juice with grape must over long stretches of time. In Modena, balsamic’s ancestral home, some vinegars age for decades before bottling and dribble out as thick and sweet as syrup.

In our Beginner’s Guide to Vinegar, Bob Foster, the chief judge of the Central Coast Wine and Vinegar competition, describes quality balsamic as having an “intensity, a roundness of flavor, and the right kind of tang.” Careful production and long aging don’t come cheap, which is why high-end balsamic is best used as a finishing accent on dishes like caprese salad…or a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.