When we at Vines & Branches are asked to conduct olive oil and balsamic tastings, we are always asked questions about our balsamic vinegars.
Those who have never tried this product are amazed that it is actually vinegar, given all their previous experience with the usual vinegar products. While the typical kitchen vinegar—be it wine, white, apple cider or any one of several flavored types—is a fermentation product, balsamic is not.
Balsamic vinegar is an evaporative condiment. Unlike regular kitchen vinegar, it’s not a fermentative one.
Production starts with the skins of high sugar content white grapes, most often Trebbiano and occasionally Lambrusco (remember Riunite?). The grapes are crushed and pressed, but the wine is separated from the skins before fermentation starts.
Unlike all other vinegars, balsamic does not come from wine. The skins are called “must” and are then slowly cooked in large copper pots over a wood fire for up to two days, which removes up to half of the remaining liquid.
After a period of cooling, each maker adds some completed balsamic vinegar, which may be up to 25 years old and is called “the Mother” or “the starter.” This is similar in concept to the starter artisan breadmakers use.
The mixture is then placed in large, white oak, aged (up to 50 years old) barrels in a warm to hot area in the home if it is a small maker or heated space for large producers. This first barrel is part of a series of progressively smaller barrels, which is called “the battery.”
Each region in which balsamic is produced—Modena in Italy being the most popular and well known—has regulations as to how many (as a minimum) progressively smaller barrels the balsamic must be moved through and how many different woods the barrels need to be made from. The woods that can be used include cherry, chestnut, ash, walnut or other regional types, which add the nuanced flavors to the balsamic and its characteristic dark brown color and syrup like consistency.
White balsamic undergoes the same process but is cooked at a lower temperature for a shorter time to avoid the darkening that occurs during the extended cooking. It also goes through a battery using white wood barrels—mostly white oak and ash—or is allowed to evaporate in stainless steel.
During this process the sugars undergo a change to alcohol that then turns into acid, which ultimately turns the must into vinegar. To be certified as a quality balsamic, the entire process from start to finish must be a minimum of 12 years to a full 18 years.
Salmon With Cara Cara Orange Vanilla Salsa
eatures Cara Cara Orange Vanilla White Balsamic
4 salmon filets
2 Cara Cara oranges, zested and juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Vines & Branches Lemon Olive Oil
For the salsa:
1 Cara Cara orange, peeled, segmented and diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon jalapeño pepper, minced
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon Cara Cara Orange Vanilla White Balsamic
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to broil.
Place salmon filets in a shallow baking dish.
Combine orange zest and juice, garlic and olive oil in a bowl.
Reserve 1/4 cup marinade for broiling.
Pour remaining mixture over salmon.
Place in refrigerator and let marinate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine salsa ingredients and set aside.
Remove salmon from the marinade.
Place the fish on a sheet pan.
Pour the reserved marinade over the top.
Broil for 10 to 12 minutes, until salmon easily flakes with a fork.
Top with Cara Cara Salsa and serve.
Vines & Branches stores are located on Main Street in Greenport and on Moniebogue Lane in Westhampton Beach. A new shop will open on Main Street in Southampton in April. For more information, visit vinesandbranches.net.