Balsamic vinegar, or in Italian, Aceto Balsamico
It's the nectar of the gods, but they are at least willing to share. During the traditional, minimum 12-year maturing process, they give up "the Angel's share" through evaporation.
The traditional product, identified on the label as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, is made from the juice of Lambrusco or Trebbiano grapes. Simmered slowly in large copper cauldrons, the liquid is reduced by 50 per cent before maturing in a battery of seven barrels of diminishing sizes and a variety of wood types. The family secret is the type of wood and the length of stay in the barrel. By law, the approved wood types are chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash or juniper and the resulting glossy, deep brown, sticky yummy liquid has a complex flavour with hints of the wood from the barrels.
Ancient Romans used this liquid for medicinal purposes, hence the name balsamic and parents passed the battery of barrels from one generation to the next.
Modena and Reggio Emilia are both protected regions of production, and while the most expensive vinegars from there come in designer bottles and labels, less expensive imitations of the traditional vinegars are also available -- and good for salad dressings.
The real stuff is divided into age groups: (oh, if only humans were appreciated like Balsamic!) Young -- three to five years old; middle aged -- six to 12 years; old from at least 12 years and up to the highly prized and priced 150 years old (extra vecchio), which runs upward of $600 for 150 millilitres.
Don't waste real balsamic vinegar on salads or bread and oil, though -- drizzle it on strawberries, melon, prosciutto, mozzarella di bufala or chunks for parmigiano reggiano, savour every drop and remember the angels already had their share!
Keith F. Muller is Dean, School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, Red River College