A Sublime Culinary Marriage
One of the great pleasures of being in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil business is tasting each year’s new offerings and sampling oil from other groves. Even though we may be comparing and contrasting or blending for excellence the task is never an onerous one. A very special delight is tasting a new season’s oil as it flows straight out of the decanter after processing. The freshness leaps out & grabs all your flavour senses. A good EVOO needs very little extra to provide a great salad dressing, dipping for a crunchy roll or final flourish on food.
But when a really good EVOO meets & marries with a traditional balsamic (minimum barrel aging of 12 years) taste goes into another realm, for which the descriptor sublime is truly apt. Traditional balsamic comes from a relatively small area in Modena & the Reggio Emilia area of Italy. It starts with newly crushed grape juice (usually from Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes) being slowly reduced to a very sweet darkly golden, sticky syrup like consistency over low heat.
The resulting mosto cotto is then placed into a mother barrel where it begins the long slow process of acetification without the aid of any outside agency. The barrels into which the cooked must is placed h
ave years of the special acetobacters necessary for the process, impregnated into them over time. The barrels themselves are valuable for that reason. Each year for at least 12 years the must is transferred into a progression of smaller barrels – using a different wood from oak, ash, cherry, juniper, chestnut and mulberry for each barrel. After 12 years the balsamic has developed extraordinarily complex flavours with the sweet & the sour tastes achieving an amazing balance. At this time some of the balsamic may be drawn off and bottled for sale while some is left for further ageing. The older the traditional or true balsamic the greater and smoother the flavour becomes.
It is only from Modena & that small Reggio Emilia area that you can obtain the domain certified Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and it is worth every cent of the rather large purchase price. Good classic balsamics from anywhere else in the world all have to start from a base of the reduced must & usually need at least 3 years of barrel ageing with the addition of a good wine vinegar to provide the acetification. The holy grail of vinegar makers is to nurture a starter barrel of must in the right conditions for the acetification to occur without the addition of wine vinegar.
Lisadurne Hill planted trebbiano grapes on the north side of the Hill Paddock a year after the grove was planted. While we are a couple of years into barrel ageing some classic balsamic we do have a small ‘hope’ barrel of must put aside to age & ‘hopefully’ one day start to acetify. If the old saying ‘you plant olive groves for your grandchildren’ has any truth in it then you begin a quest for balsamic for your great great grandchildren.
For the ultimate salad dressing, toss & lightly coat your vegetables with a first class EVOO & then before serving drizzle a fine line of true balsamic over it. A small puddle of traditional balsamic at the bottom of a larger well of EVOO is the best dipping combination you will ever find.
The union of a young, complex and vibrant EVOO with an aged, smoothly balanced and complex Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is where youth an old age can join for their mutual enhancement