by Catherine Kenwell

How to Buy Balsamic – Discover the good stuff

First-time customers are astounded when they taste our balsamic vinegar. In fact, when customers tell us they ‘hate’ balsamic, we take that as a challenge to change their mind.

But why is it that many people dislike balsamic?

We can tell you why.

It’s because that grocery or big-box store balsamic bargain is quite often unpalatable. It’s often watery, sour and sharp, likely because of a high wine vinegar content. Conversely, our traditional balsamic, or ‘balsamico tradizionale’, is rich, sweet and thicker than you’d think. It’s aged up to 18 years and yes, you can drink it straight. We do!

So why the difference?

Many grocery store balsamics have additives—regular vinegar, wine vinegar, water, caramel color—that result in an inferior product. Even if it is called ‘Balsamico of Modena’, it doesn’t necessarily ensure that the product you buy is good quality. And, you can’t try it in the store—which means that you don’t even know if you’re going to like the balsamic you take home.

At Olive Oil Co in Barrie and Newmarket we encourage customers to taste our balsamics before considering their purchase. If a first-timer is overwhelmed with choices, we usually guide them directly to the traditional. We pour a little in a tasting cup, and encourage them to sip it. Now comes the part we love best: when customers taste our traditional balsamic, we watch their faces—for recognition that they are tasting something incredibly delicious and unlike anything they’ve had before. We call it the ‘aha’ moment!

What makes our balsamics taste different?

Our balsamics are aged up to 18 years, and carefully crafted in Modena, Italy. There’s nothing added except the fruit, herb or spice blend that gives the balsamic its name. For example, Sicilian Lemon white balsamic is just that—lemons and white balsamic. Italian Herb—well, it’s Italian herbs. We also have whole fruit balsamics such as Cranberry Pear or Fig. You guessed it—they are made from cranberries and pears or fig and aged balsamic vinegar. Our Pino Nero rose balsamic is created from Pino Noir grapes, and our White Balsamic, a sweet surprise if you’ve ever tried one, is made from the same grapes as Pino Grigio.

What should you look for when you’re shopping for balsamic? First, observe the texture when you pour it. A good balsamic should never look ‘watery’—even our white balsamics look more syrupy than watery.

But here’s something—our Traditional or our 25-star (Estilo Affinato di Modena) pours almost like a glaze. In fact, we have customers who come in looking for a ‘balsamic glaze’ and I tell them that it’s incredibly easy to make your own, and to make it better than any commercial product, by starting with one of our balsamics and reducing it over medium heat, until it becomes extra thick and rich. That way, you can serve an ‘Italian Fig balsamic glaze’ or a decadent ‘Torino Chocolate balsamic glaze’ on your ice cream dessert!

Next, have a taste. That’s not something you can do in a grocery store, but we’re a tasting bar and we encourage you to discover something you like…we can show you how to combine oils and balsamics, and we love to help you add healthy oils, dressing and glazes to jazz up your cooking and eating routines.

Finally, go ahead and use your product. At home, at the cottage, in gift packs, wherever you might be. We especially like to hear how you use the product—in fact, we learn so much from our customers that it seems as if together we’re a team of expert foodies when it comes to delicious, healthy and simple!

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