Properly aged balsamic vinegar is a delicious thing with a mellow, sweet tang and syrupy consistency.

The good stuff is however extremely expensive, having been aged in wooden barrels to traditional methods only in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy.

How is proper balsamic vinegar made?

Grape must (juice, skins, seeds and stems) from locally grown, late harvested Lambrusco or Trebbiano grapes are boiled over a direct flame until reduced by half. The must is then left to ferment naturally for 3 weeks before being matured in wooden barrels for up to 12 years or more in ‘batteria’, (five or more successively smaller aging casks).

As the vinegar ages, it becomes thicker and more concentrated due to evaporation through the walls of the barrel.

The vinegar is bottled once a year, using the vinegar from the smallest cask. These empty casks are refilled with vinegar from the cask next size up and so on until the largest barrels are filled with the new yield. The casks or barrels are never completely drained, so accurate aging is impossible. Instead, a panel of judges taste the vinegar and decide on an appropriate grade.

Reggio Emilia Grades Bottle Cap Colour Approx Age
Affinato (Fine) Red 12 years
Vecchio (Old) Silver 15 – 20 years
Extra Vecchio (Very old) Gold 20 – 25 years
Modena Grades Bottle Cap Colour Approx Age
Affinato (Fine) White 12 years
Extra Vecchio (Very Old) Gold 20 – 25 years

So, how do you make your own ‘aged’ balsamic?

Making your own aged balsamic vinegar is very quick and easy.

  1. Start with a wide, shallow pan.
  2. Pour in 2 bottles of the cheapest balsamic vinegar you can find. It will be labelled ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’, will carry a D.O.P. stamp and the only ingredient will be grape must.
  3. Add two teaspoons of soft, dark brown sugar and stir to dissolve.
  4. Open any windows and doors for ventilation.
  5. Boil the vinegar over a high heat until reduced by half.
  6. Cool and pour into a smart bottle or one of the ones you emptied.

Watch the video to see how it’s done.

What can I use my vinegar for?

Traditional balsamic vinegar is not a cooking ingredient, it is used on it’s own and you can use your syrup in the same way.

A few drops over fresh summer fruits, try strawberries with shredded basil and balsamic syrup.

A drizzle over salad, Parmesan cheese, risotto, vanilla ice cream or pannacotta.  A splash in caramelised onions with a steak or over other grilled meat, fish or vegetables.

About 1 teaspoon per person is about right.