10700 Corrales Rd. NW, Suite E
(North of Flying Star)
Albuquerque, NM. 87114
8001 Wyoming Blvd. NE, Suite B-1
(NW corner of Paseo & Wyoming
in Paseo Village Shopping Center
next to Mario's Pizza)
Albuquerque, NM. 87113
Mon - Sat
10:00 - 6:00
Sun 10:00 - 5:00
We encourage you to refer to our dark balsamic as “Traditional Style Condimento, Aged Up to 18 Years.” Our dark condimento is of the highest quality and is made in Modena, Itlay from cooked, high quality caramelized grape must from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The grape must in our Condimento is cooked over an open wood fire, just as DOP Traditional Balsamic grape must is. It is cooked down to the same consistency, density and dry solid extracts, actually. DOP Traditional Balsamic dictates that wood-fire-cooked grape must is then put directly in to old, firedwood barrels which were used to age balsamic in years past. These barrels become progressively smaller as the product becomes thicker and naturally evaporates over time. The barrels as well as the product they once contained, add character to the must over time. Nothing is ever added to the cooked, caramelized must of DOP balsamic. Pro-biotic wild yeast and acetic bacteria colonize it and eventually raise the acidity. It slowly ages in this manner and turns in to "vinegar" by itself over the course of many years, hence the scarcity and price tag.
By Italian law, DOP balsamic must then undergo strenuous sensory evaluation as well as laboratory analysis which measures extensive criteria including and most importantly, dry extract solids. Once approved as DOP, it can then only be sold in 100 ml. bottles which are identical based on two exclusive regions of production, Emilio Reggiano or Modena Italy. The bottles from each region are uniform in size and shape regardless of who produced the balsamic. The consortium then licenses the producer to use the 100 ml. DOP bottle which is then, wax sealed, numbered and boxed for individual sale. The wax sealed numbered bottles will never be sold unboxed, as a loose bottle by itself. Furthermore, it is never, sold in other types of bottles outside of the 100ml. DOP bottle, and certainly never in bulk, EVER! Furthermore, this product is rarely if ever used for cooking. It is far too prized and expensive. For this reason, it’s typically served drop by drop on a spoon, like a digestive after a meal. We urge you to open a tiny wax sealed and numbered bottle of DOP balsamic and compare it with our Traditional Style Balsamic Condimento of Modena, Italy. The similarity is remarkable.
The primary difference between DOP Balsamic and our condimento, is that out of the gate our Condimento is inoculated with a very small amount of premium quality, barrel aged Italian wine vinegar. The barrel aged wine vinegar introduces the natural acetic bacteria and yeast and begins the process from cooked grape must to “condimento.” It is then aged using the Solera method which dictates that it be placed in a succession of different types of very old, fired wood barrels, each of which previously contained residual amounts of older balsamic dating back as far as 18 years and in some cases 25 years. It’s topped off as it moves from barrel to barrel, based on the Solera method, and with younger, wood fire cooked grape must as it naturally evaporates. For this reason, no product except actual DOP certified balsamic in licensed 100 ml. bottles can make an actual age claim - ever! However, you can accurately and confidently say that our product has been “aged for up to 18 years” if you would like to mention age at all. However, age is not a criteria of quality.
As with DOP balsamic, our condimento’s very low acidity of 4% is a function of the grape must being naturally cooked down, condensed, caramelized and aged without the addition of much else, unlike so many “balsamic-like” products on the market which are not from Modena and are comprised almost wholly of poor quality wine or distilled vinegar, thickeners, color and sweeteners. The density and complexity of our condimento are a testament to the fact that it is made in Modena in the Solera method from high quality grape must, cooked down over an open wood fire. Its’ very high level of dried extract solids is close to if not identical to that of DOP Traditional Balsamic sold exclusively in 100 ml bottles.
Our white balsamic vinegar is made from white Trebbiano grapes in Modena, Italy. But while dark balsamic vinegar is cooked and concentrated to produce a dark color and deep, rich flavor, our white balsamic vinegar is cooked at high pressure to prevent carmelization, giving the vinegar a golden color. Our white balsamic condiment, aged up to 12 years, is more acidic with a clean, fresh taste.
“Mother” of vinegar will naturally occur in vinegar products as the result of the vinegar bacteria itself. Mother is actually cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods like celery and lettuce) produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria. After opening, you may notice “Mother” beginning to form. Vinegar containing “Mother” is not harmful or spoiled. You can remove the substance by filtering it out with a coffee filter or just leave it in and ignore it and continue to enjoy the product.
The Vinegar Institute conducted studies to find out and confirmed that vinegar’s shelf life is almost indefinite. Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time.
Our Traditional Style Condimento contains less than 5% high quality, barrel aged red wine vinegar from Modena which is added to inoculate the must with pro-biotic (acetic bacteria). The rest of the volume is wholly comprised of cooked Trebbiano grape must. The must is made from grapes cultivated in the region of Modena, which are crushed and cooked in the ancient “Traditional Style” in copper kettles, within the region of Modena, Italy.
Cooking in copper kettles to caramelize the grape sugar is more than just a quaint or romantic production step. Cooking down the grape must in copper is a rare production step which makes a monumental difference in terms of the quality and authenticity of the end product. Today most producers in Italy have opted for the vastly more efficient and modern method of condensing grape juice into a concentrate utilizing the relatively new process of vacuum evaporation. The use of this technology also typically necessitates the addition of up to 2% caramel color/dye to be added to the otherwise pale, anemic white grape must in order to add a deep, rich, mahogany-brown color. This practice was recently sanctioned by Italian law to allow producers to give the end consumer a false impression that the grape must was in fact cooked and caramelized in the "Traditional Style" in copper kettles.
However, it it not legal in Italy or North America, or most other countries to add artificial color or any other ingredients to a product and not disclose them on the ingredient statement. Despite this, many retail products labeled as balsamic do contain artificial color, thickeners, and types of refined sugar which are not disclosed on the product's ingredient statement. Our Traditional Style Condimento and all of our infused dark balsamics which are made with it are certified on Third Party Certificate of Analysis to contain no caramel color, thickeners, or forms of refined sugar. It is conservatively estimated that upwards of 95% of all retail products labeled as "balsamic" do contain caramel color despite non-disclosure of it and other extraneous ingredients on the ingredient statement. If there is no traceability and guarantee via lab analysis otherwise, it is wise to be dubious. With no domestic industry in North America to protect, there is little to no interest in regulation of this product category by government. And with the most proficient third party labs that test for fraud being in Italy, adulteration is rampant in this product category. Even when the product is tested in proficient labs, it is incredibly difficult to test for caramel color as it's typically added in less than 2% by volume and requires very specific testing methods to identify it.
In relation to the artisan method which is used to produce it, our Condimento is lab certified to have an extraordinarily high minimum relative density of 1.28+ - the highest minimum measured density on file for any standard. It is measured by a third party lab in Italy and carries traceability through each batches certificate of analysis. We are extremely proud that our Condimento contains on average, a whopping 749+ grams of dried extract solids per liter - a lab measurement which speaks to the extreme loss of moisture through natural evaporation which occurs in the cooking process and also while it ages in five types of wood barrels over time. The higher the amount of dried extract solids, the more complex a balsamic will be, as we are talking about the concentration of grape solids including grape sugar, which impart flavor and make for a thicker, naturally sweeter, and more complex balsamic.
We like to use these very exact and meaningful measurements and means of certification conducted by third party labs to detail quality as opposed to the often misleading, competing, and confusing Italian based categories and trade association standards such as the Leaf System, Star System, PGI, etc., And we urge you to do the same. In most cases these categories are ambiguous, romantic and hollow when drilled into. The common theme most share is that they place high value on the fact that Balsamic must be certified to come from specific regions, yet offer little to no measurable scientific, or production standards beyond geographic location. They don’t speak to the nuts and bolts of what really constitutes quality in balsamic such as density, dried extract solids, process, fruit maturity and quality, must percentage, barrel system, etc...
"But what about age?", you say. Age claims are strictly illegal in Italy. Only here in North America do you see rampant, unqualified, and totally bogus age claims being made which would be prohibited if the product were being sold in the more regulated market of Italy.
With decades worth of experience driving our own balsamic standard ever upward, we are currently in the process of creating the first measurable chemical/production standard for balsamic in North which will use good science and meaningful criteria as opposed to superfluous romance which currently places all emphasis on the idea that place dominates. It will be akin to the difference between saying I have Italian extra virgin vs. saying "here's my Fusti tag with all of the pertinent chemical parameters as detailed by my third party laboratory analysis ALONG with full traceability in terms of production method and lastly, origin certification.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a very special vinegar that roots back to ancient Roman times and instead of using wine like other Italian vinegars, the product is obtained by using the cooked juice of the grape, known as the “must”. There are several different types of balsamic vinegars and unfortunately, sometimes they are represented with false claims; for example for their aging claims, quality of ingredients and origin. This has led to some misconceptions and originated some confusion among traders and consumers. This presentation aims to clarify the different types and its production so to offer a better understanding of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. Two different recipes originated throughout history, and gave birth to the only two existing, regulated products: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) Again, these two items are the only two items regulated and approved by the Italian Government and European Union.
What is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena?
It is a special vinegar produced by obtaining the juices (must) from pressing the grapes and this must is cooked for hours over direct fire until a brown, syrupy liquid with a good grape smell is obtained (cooked must.) This cooked must is then aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 years following the Solera System.
These barrels are made of different types of wood, such as cherry, chestnut, oak, mulberry, and ash and they each hold different capacities (the first barrel holds about 40 gallons and the last one holds about 2 gallons capacity). Normally there are sets of 5‐7 or 9 barrels. This set is called “batteria.”
The Solera system, also called ‘topping up,’ calls for the continuous (every year) and consequent topping up of the cooked must into the next smaller barrel so each year the ‘newest’ cooked grape must is blended with the one from the previous year already contained in the barrel.
It is very important to understand that it is constantly a blend of new harvests with previous one which explains why the legislator in Italy forbids any aging claims on labels for this item. The legislator also strictly forbids any aging claim due to the fact that there is only an organoleptic test performed to the product. In fact, the only way to determine a precise age is actually with a Carbon 13 test.
The barrels used for ageing the vinegar are stored in attics in which the temperature and different seasons determine the speed of fermentation. In the cold winter months the process of fermentation is slow and with the heat and humidity of the summer months the fermentation process speeds up and causes a natural concentration of the grapes by evaporation. Each barrel actually absorbs some of its content, allowing for the aroma of each particular wood.
After a minimum of 12 years (again, according to the Solera system, so in reality it is really the age of the barrel and not of its content) the result is a very sweet, thick, rich, and complex vinegar. The producer can submit the product to a panel of Master Tasters within the Consortium of Producers of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (CPABTM). This panel of master tasters only performs an organoleptical evaluation on the color, viscosity, taste, flavor and aroma. If the product scores more than 250 points the producer is allowed to bring the product to the Consortium who actually fills the bottle for all their associates, so the product is actually packed by the Consortium and not by the individual producer. By law, the product may only be bottled in a unique 100ml bottle (designed by a famous designer: Giugiaro) and this particular bottle is the same for all the producers. This is an important step in controlling and guaranteeing the quality of the product.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is produced in 2 distinctive qualities, being the Red Seal (one that is aged for a minimum of 12 years) and the Gold Seal (one that is aged for a minimum of 25 years). Not to be said, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena DOP is a very expensive vinegar; it easy retails for $ 100 for 100ml (3oz).
The price is explained by the high cost of the barrels. Balsamic vinegar barrels are actually more expensive than wine barrels because they are made of a thicker wood since they need to sustain the acidity of the content. A set of empty barrels (batteria) easily costs around 8‐10 thousand USD and the cost of the raw materials are high because one loses around 30% of the original must throughout the cooking process. It is also explained by the length of time one needs to wait before actually selling the product: it takes a minimum of 12 years to be able to produce about 1 gallon per year of vinegar.
Since they couldn’t really sell such an expensive and scarcely available product, few stores in Modena (Fini and Giusti) started the practice of blending Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena with strong, aged, red wine vinegar. The product they created is not as thick (easier to use), and less expensive product (wine vinegar is not expensive) but has the same types of organoleptic features as traditional (so, somehow sweeter, denser and more complex than regular wine vinegar). This process originated what is very popular and sold today in more than 60 Countries (it’s among the first 5 Italian food products naturally recalled by Chefs all around the world): BALSAMIC VINEGAR OF MODENA PGI.
This product is obtained by the blending and consequent fermentation of must (either cooked or concentrated) with wine vinegar. The addition of less than 2% of caramel color is also comprised by the law which is a natural product and is used to uniform and keep a consistent color.
The concentrated grape must is a vacuum process with low temperature that creates a low flavor profile with a sweet and fruity taste at a lower cost. The cooked grape must is under direct fire, burning sugars and creating a high flavor profile, full body at a higher cost (same type as used for Traditional). Even though many claim not to, it is important to understand that ALL producers use caramel coloring. It is simple to understand this due to the fact that the color of the products is always the same year after year, despite the obvious difference in characteristics from one harvest to the next.
The concentrated or cooked must or a blend of the 2 is mixed with wine vinegar that creates a mass which is then fermented and aged. It is the quality of the must along with the wine vinegar in this primary blend that is important to the quality of the final product. The quality and quantity of these ingredients can be measured by a simple lab analysis that measures the density, dried extracts, and dried extracts without sugars.
The quality of the final product is more the result of the blend of ingredients rather than the mere ageing of them. Because of this blending and due to the different quality levels of each individual harvest, exact ageing claims cannot be proven and the Italian government forbids ageing from appearing on labels.
Basically, the goal for a Balsamic Vinegar of Modena producer is to offer their clients a steady and consistent quality (taste, aroma, and flavor profile). Since each grape harvest is different, the vinegar maker needs to blend and age different qualities for different amounts of time in order to obtain this consistency of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI.
The quality of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PGI is determined by 3 main factors: Quality of Ingredients, Quantity of Ingredients, and Ageing. Within the same category, there may be substantial differences in quality and the degree of concentration which is a very important factor in determining the quality of the final product.
A deep study was run by the AIB (The Italian Association of Balsamic Tasters) along with the CSFA (a well reputed sensory analysis center) to implement a reliable tool so they are able to grasp the true meaning and quality of Balsamic Vinegars of Modena and to steer clear of gimmicks and misrepresentation. This system determines standards of quality in which 4 basic quality categories were identified and certified, known as the “Leaf System.” Those classified under the 1 Leaf Categories are the lowest grade quality with a lighter flavor profile, and those classified under the 4 Leaf Categories are the highest grade quality with a more superb taste and fuller flavor profile.
Bring your bottle back clean and dry. Then we will refill it and give you $1.00 off your olive oil or vinegar purchase.
Ask about our frequent shopper card (in store only) to earn points toward a free bottle of olive oil or vinegar!