For those who enjoy a drizzle, dressing, or dunk of balsamic vinegar (give us all the bread), you know that finding a brand that appeals to your palate is not always easy. The world of balsamic vinegar is vast and comes in a variety of flavors and finishes, which is exciting, but it can also be frustrating when trying to find your perfect match for a marinade. As fellow lovers of all things balsamic vinegar, we’ve put together some of our top picks as well as a guide on what to look for when searching for the perfect complement to your ice cream. Oh yeah, you can – and should – put balsamic dressing on ice cream.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy. Using locally grown Lambrusco or Trebbiano grapes, growers start with a must, which is a pressing of the grapes that includes the juice, skin, seeds and stem. Inexpensive balsamic vinegar is typically made with vinegar, sweeteners and thickeners. Authentic balsamic vinegar is made with must or a combination of must and vinegar.
Finding the right balsamic vinegar for your taste will require trying different brands, but there are some things to look for that can help steer you in the right direction. Balsamic vinegar that lists grape must as the first ingredient will be mellow and sweet, whereas brands that list wine vinegar first will be tart. The thicker the balsamic vinegar, which you can test by swirling it in the bottle (a coating inside means it has a syrup-like consistency), the better quality.
In addition to adding flavor to cheese, fruit and vegetables, meat and desserts, balsamic vinegar also has several health benefits. It’s been shown to lower cholesterol, help with weight loss and acne, reduce blood sugar and improve digestion.
Which balsamic vinegar should you try today? We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, but the best part is sampling as many as possible.
1. Giuseppe Giusti Gran Deposito Italian Balsamic Wine Vinegar
For balsamic vinegar lovers who are willing to spend a few extra bucks to enjoy a product that is bold and rich flavor in flavor, we recommend the Giuseppe Giusti Gran Deposito Aceto Balsamico Di Modena Aged Artisan Italian Balsamic Wine Vinegar. Using sundried Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes and aged wine vinegar to create their must, Giuseppe Giusti ages their vinegar in wooden barrels for 12 years. Designed to be paired with beef, cheese, pasta, and fruit, the award-winning balsamic vinegar has a smooth texture with notes of plum, honey, and vanilla.
2. Due Vittorie Oro Gold Balsamic Vinegar
BEST FOR COOKING
MasterChef fans make recognize the Due Vittorie Oro Gold Balsamic Vinegar, which makes frequent appearances on the reality cooking show. A staple for high-end restaurants, Due Vittorie Oro Gold Balsamic Vinegar is a favorite among chefs who appreciate the brand’s use of just-harvested white Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. Free from caramels, added flavors, and preservatives, the 100 percent natural balsamic vinegar leaves a pleasing black cherry aftertaste and can be used with cheese, fruits and vegetables and desserts.
3. Villa Manodori Balsamic Vinegar
BEST FOR DESSERTS
Villa Manodori is the creation of Italian chef Massimo Bottura, who uses grapes that have been aged 20 years, which is enough time to win the balsamic vinegar the Sofi Award in 2012. The Trebbiano grapes are aged in oak barrels and develop a tart taste with a thick consistency. Created for chef Bottura to be able to use in his own home, Villa Manodori can be used as a glaze for meat and vegetables or drizzled on ice cream and desserts. In addition to his award-winning balsamic vinegar, Bottura has also cooked in the White House and runs a three–Michelin star restaurant in Italy, so yeah, we’ll drizzle Villa Manodori on just about anything.
4. Colavita Balsamic Glace
A balsamic glaze differs slightly from a balsamic vinegar because of its consistency (thicker) and taste (sweeter). Like balsamic vinegar, a glaze can be used as a drizzle, marinade or for cooking. The Colavita Balsamic Glace has a tart and sweet flavor that works well with fruit, vegetables, meat and pasta. It can be used as a dressing or during the cooking process to help enhance the flavor of the dish.
5. Terra Verde Fig Balsamic Vinegar
BEST FIG BALSAMIC
Italy has been the leader in balsamic vinegar for thousands of years and while it still leads the charge, customers are beginning to expand their geographical search area. Case in point, the Terra Verde Fig Balsamic Vinegar. Made in Spring, Texas, Terra Verde starts with their signature traditional balsamic vinegar Di Modena Italy and then incorporates nutty and currant flavors of a fig. Terra Verde balsamic vinegar has an acidity of 4.2 percent, lower than the typical 6 percent found in most competitors. Not only is this good news for customers with acid reflux issues, but this lower acidity also provides a thick and smooth taste.
6. M.G. PAPPAS White Balsamic Vinegar
BEST WHITE BALSAMIC VINEGAR
White balsamic vinegar is a great option for food lovers who want a more subdued taste than traditional balsamic vinegar. White balsamic also begins with a must that simmers for an extended period, but then it is cooked at a lower pressure and temperature, which stops the grapes from caramelizing and turning dark. The white balsamic vinegar from M.G. PAPPAS is aged 10 years in a barrel. Free from preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors, the vinegar is a great option for marinades, mixed drinks, and is a healthy ingredient to use while cooking.
7. Blazing Bella Balsamic Vinegar
BEST FRUIT FLAVORS
If you’re not quite sure what type of balsamic vinegar you prefer, we like the sampler set from Blazing Bella. A great housewarming gift, the set features five 8.45 fl Oz bottles, including Traditional, Strawberry, Fig, Pineapple, and White. Each flavor starts in Modena, Italy, where it is aged in chestnut, oak, and juniper barrels before being exported to the US. Blazing Bella’s makes their balsamic vinegar without the use of caramels or preservatives. The company also makes its own olive oil and provides customers with a helpful guide on how to pair their products with each other and different foods.
8. The Pair by Brightland
BEST NON-ITALIAN GRAPES
North American growers are increasingly proving to be stiff competition for Italian balsamic vinegar makers. One of the biggest success stories out of the U.S. is Brightland, a California-based vineyard that is making their own raw balsamic vinegar. The company has now introduced Rapture, a balsamic vinegar that is double fermented and made with California-grown zinfandel grapes and blackberries, as well as Parasol, a champagne vinegar made with chardonnay grapes and oranges. The company sells both kinds of vinegar separately but we prefer to purchase the bold fruit-forward flavors together.