JEFF TIEDEMAN: Vinegar — with a kickAmericans discover the joys of using balsamic variety.
I’m not sure how and when my dad developed his taste for vinegar. But what I do know is that he liked the acidic liquid with a variety of foods. And as a consequence, I received my vinegar baptism at a fairly young age.
Just about every way I remember Dad using vinegar he passed on to me. (I certainly am my father’s son.)
— In the summer, I still love to put garden onions and radishes in a bowl of vinegar. (Of course, you have to make crosscuts in both of them so the vinegar is more readily absorbed.)
— On the occasions I’ve had head cheese, a sprinkle of vinegar — with a little salt and pepper — has been the order of business. (My cousin, Gordy, used to make the best homemade head cheese; now my choices are limited to store-bought varieties.)
— And the cabbage that’s contained in my version of a New England boiled dinner wouldn’t be the same without a dab or two of vinegar. The same for homemade bean soup.
My affinity for vinegar had me go as far as even putting it on potato chips, trying to replicate that Canadian favorite, before they became available in the States.
Always a mainstay in pickle-making, vinegar’s popularity has skyrocketed in the U.S. Cooks not only are using it in salad dressings but also to deglaze pans, marinate meats and add tang to vinaigrettes, sauces and desserts.
And the vinegar most of them are turning to is balsamic.
While Italians have been relishing the rich and slightly sweet flavor of balsamic vinegar for centuries, Americans only started enjoying it the past two decades. Today, it is one of the most popular condiments available in American grocery stores.
Unlike most vinegar, which start as fruit juice or wine, balsamic originates with unfermented crushed trebbiano grapes. Authentic balsamic vinegar, which come from Modena or Reggio Emilia, towns in northern Italy, is aged in wooden barrels for 12 to 25 years. Prices in specialty stores can top $100 for a small bottle. (The highest-quality is labeled “condimento” or “tradizionale.” Some professional chefs keep it in spray bottles and spritz it on foods.)
Inexpensive imitations of the traditional balsamic are widely available in most supermarkets, right next to the cider and wine vinegars. This is the kind commonly used for salad dressing together with oil. (A low-grade imitation balsamic can be made by adding brown sugar and caramel coloring to red wine vinegar. This mimics the sweetness of a balsamic, but you probably will be disappointed.)
While we’ve had a bottle or two of the expensive balsamic vinegar at home, it’s a little too pricey for salads. So, Therese generally buys a thick, cheaper version at T.J. Maxx, which works just fine. I also like to use it when grilling portabella mushrooms on the Foreman. Most recently, I made some balsamic-glazed pork chops.
One of our favorite soups (pasta and bean) also contains balsamic vinegar, as well as spinach and horseradish. (See recipe at www.grandforksherald.com/event/tag/group/ Features/tag/food/.)
The surge in popularity of the dark, syrup-like balsamic vinegar is not only because of its remarkable taste but also because of its health benefits, which include reduced risks of heart diseases, cancer and other infectious diseases as well as decelerateing the aging process, controls diabetes and assists in digestion.
I bet my dad would have liked it.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.