Making Sense of Balsamic Vinegar

There are many areas in the store where lots of variety is fun: chocolate bars, cheeses, and craft beers come to mind. Sometimes, however, too many choices can be positively confounding. Balsamic vinegar, I think, is an example of the latter, with varying sizes, shapes, and price points ranging from a few dollars a bottle to well over one hundred. You may wonder, “How much money should I spend?” “How many years should the vinegar be aged?” Then you have to navigate Italian terms such as “tradizionale” and “aceto”…mamma mia! Not to worry. Once you make some sense of it all, a little knowledge equips you to buy the right balsamic and the ticket to enjoying one of world’s great condiments. It’s health giving. It’s flavorful. And it’s a part of every well-stocked pantry. When it comes to classifying balsamic vinegar, you can think in three general categories: at the top end you have tradizionale, at the bottom end commerciale, and then there’s a huge middle ground with blends of varying degrees of the first two.

TRADIZIONALE AT THE TOP

Let’s start with the top, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale* is Italian for Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. Now then, why would you ever spend over $100 for a few ounces for any condiment? Indeed, why is it so expensive? For one reason, you could say, you are buying a little slice of history when you buy a bottle. Let me briefly describe how it’s made. The grapes, usually trebbiano, are harvested then crushed into juice called “must,” and put into vats. At the first signs of fermentation, the must is filtered and then boiled in copper pots until its volume is reduced by about 50%. This concentrated sugary liquid is put into large wooden barrels to begin its fermentation. A small amount of “mother vinegar” is introduced and its yeast aids in turning must into vinegar instead of wine.
After a couple of years aging in large wine size barrels, the vinegar is now ready for aging in a battery of five handcrafted wooden casks of descending sizes. The types of wood used in the five barrels may vary as well, contributing different characteristics to the vinegar. A producer may, for example, use chestnut for color, juniper for aroma, cherry wood for sweetness, etc. Barrel filling takes place in the winter since the cold weather causes slow alcohol fermentation; thus, the brew is allowed to settle which clarifies the vinegar. In turn, the hot summer months contribute to evaporation and concentration of the vinegar. Once a year, they top off the casks to 4/5 full by replenishing the smallest cask with liquid from the second smallest, the second smallest with liquid from the next largest…and so on, down the line. Only the largest cask of the five casks is replenished with liquid that has been outside the series of five.
After a minimum of 12 years of aging, a small amount is drawn off of the smallest barrel for bottling. To receive the tradizionale designation, the vinegar has to undergo rigorous production examinations, and finally pass blind-taste testing by master tasters of the official consortium, ie cooperative. If the vinegar fulfills all the requirements, the consortium (not the producer) bottles and seals it. Additionally, if the vinegar is aged 25 years and passes all the tests, it can be labeled as extra vecchio (extra-old). You can see why tradizionale is so costly when you see how the producer has invested so much money, not to mention many years nurturing it to maturity.

COMMERCIALE BALSAMIC

If you just get to the first stage described above, you essentially have the entry level balsamic, at least with the best producers. (On the other hand, beware of some cheap vinegars that contain added coloring and flavor.) Our producer, the respected Manicardi family of Modena, does things the right way for their entry level vinegar. That is, they use only cooked must that has been aged for 2 years in wooden barrels. We’ve offered this very product for many years now under our own label as “Aunt Angie’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.” We named it after my Dad’s oldest sister, whose father Frank emigrated from Italy. Aunt Angie was always proud of her Italian heritage, so we named this vinegar in her honor. We sell it for only $7.99 for a 500ml bottle. Although we have a couple of other lower priced balsamics on our shelves, our Aunt Angie’s is by far the best we offer in this category.

NEW! DLM AGED BALSAMIC VINEGAR OF MODENA

Having defined the top end and entry levels, there are a myriad of possible blends in between. When you mix some of the vinegar from the five cask sets and some of the vinegar from the larger wine size barrels, you get some of the best qualities of the top tier and entry levels. Specifically, vinegars in this range can have more viscosity and complexity similar to the tradizionale but for less money. As you can imagine, you find enormous variety in this middle range, depending on the percentages used in the blend, the producer’s palate and many other variables. In this category, prices can range from around $20 to up around $60 and more.
A couple years ago, several of us took a trip to Europe to visit suppliers and Modena was one of our stops. We spent an afternoon with Maria Livia Manicardi touring her family’s estate where they produce their wonderful balsamic vinegars ranging from their Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena to our own Aunt Angie’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. One of our goals was to taste various blends with the goal of bottling a mid-range blend that we could be proud to put our name on.

 

The Makings of a Rosé Picnic in 3 Steps

Pink wine, aka rosé, always elicits a smile this time of year because it’s springtime in a bottle! With bright fruits, crisp acids, and generally dry finishes, they’re perfect for an impromptu gathering on the patio or better yet, a picnic! Grab a picnic blanket, pour some rosé, and add these DLM favorites for a perfect springtime spread.

Step 1: Pick the Wine

  • Terra d’ Oro 2017 Rosé: A blend of Grenache and Nebbiolo that’s delightfully dry with nuances of orange blossom and strawberry.
  • Kim Crawford 2017 Rosé: A New Zealand find with a dry finish that we couldn’t resist that’s bursting with red berry fruit and a tinge of watermelon!
  • Charles & Charles 2017 Rosé: Blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Counoise.
  • Bieler Père et Fils Rosé from Provence: Full of bright floral and citrus tones that just make you happy!
  • Bierler Family Daisy: We couldn’t resist this daisy among the Rosés! Primarily Pinot Grigio with a bit of Riesling, Muscat, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Step 2: Choose Your Cheese 

  • Brie de Meaux: From the town of Meaux, in the region of Brie located just east of Paris, this cheese has wonderfully full  lactic tones with a mottled, soft-ripening bloomy rind and earthy aroma.
  • Société Roquefort: Having emerald-green veining and a creamy, moist texture, this sheep’s milk cheese is complex and rich making it perfect with a slice of pear and baguette.
  • Comté St. Antoine Gruyère: Melts in your mouth with a flavor range from dense and smoky to sweet and fruity!

Step 3: Don’t Forget the Accompaniments 

  • Rustic Bakery Sourdough Flatbread: Organic and baked by hand with natural products, these flavorful crackers are perfect for cheese and wine pairings.
  • DLM French Baguette: with a crispy crust and light airy interior and tasting just as if you were at a Parisian café, these baguettes are hearth baked everyday from scratch.
  • Les Trois Petits Cochons Cornichons Piquants: The perfect punch of sweet and spicy baby Gherkins from one of our favorite purveyors!
  • Les Trois Petits Cochons Charcuterie: Already sliced and ready for your charcuterie board, The DLM Cheese Shop has an assortment of Saucisson Sec aux Cepes, Saucisson Sec aux Herbes de Provence, and Chorizo.

Aspire to Asparagus

Nothing says spring like sweet, local asparagus displayed outside our stores.

These stalks, delicious and nutritious, are grown locally for us by two treasure Ohio-based farming friends.

Meet the Growers
Jon Branstrator is one of our excellent local farmers who brings us luscious asparagus this time of year with a slightly purple tint on the tips. It’s absolutely stunning! We wouldn’t blame you if you left it displayed in a bowl on your kitchen table until you were ready to enjoy.

Jon’s farm is located in Clarksville, Ohio, and for many years he has been providing us with this gorgeous asparagus. While in season, it’s picked daily in John’s field and then delivered to our Produce departments every day (yep, you read that correctly).

This farm-fresh asparagus has become so popular that we now source it from two local farmers. The second farmer being Rich Eshleman who is located in Clyde, Ohio, near the Great Lakes. Rich has a very large, beautiful farm that is loaded with fields of wonderful green stalks of asparagus. We are grateful to enjoy this nutrient-rich vegetable locally from both Rich and Jon.

Why Aspire to Asparagus?
Asparagus is a very low-calorie vegetable that contains moderate levels of dietary fiber. Fresh asparagus stalks can be a good source of antioxidants, and there is no asparagus fresher than what we receive from our farmers on a daily basis.

Beyond that, asparagus is incredibly versatile as its spears can be enjoyed raw, steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or mixed with vegetables, beans, poultry or seafood. Another way to devour these delicious stalks is to steam and serve with citrus hollandaise sauce, melted butter, Pecorino Romano, or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. There’s also nothing better than the simple pleasure of throwing a handful of stalks on the grill with some local shiitake mushrooms—it’s a must-eat local spring treat.
So as you look to transition your plate to local offerings, come Aspire to Asparagus with DLM.

5 Gourmet Grilled Cheese Ideas

A grilled cheese is a grilled cheese, right? As if! If you’re anything like me, then a grilled cheese sandwich was probably the first thing you learned to cook by yourself using the pre-wrapped cheese slices that shall remain unnamed. Why not do yourself some justice and gift yourself some of the cheesy, comforting goodness you deserve with a gourmet grilled cheese?

Take that old tried-and-true grilled cheese sandwich up a notch (or ten) by exploring all of the cheeses that The DLM Cheese Shops have to offer. The possibilities are endless! From the spicy, tangy flavors of goat cheeses, like Humboldt Fog, to the smooth, velvety flavors of the Comté Saint-Antoine Gruyère, we’ve got five sure-fire ways to elevate you to grilled cheese gourmand status:

1. FOGGY BOTTOM. Take our Raisin Walnut Bread as a base and add Humboldt Fog goat cheese plus a few slices of Prosciutto di Parma for a perfect salty-creamy bite.

2. THE ULTIMATE. Take two awesome cheeses, Comté St. Antoine Gruyère plus Barber’s 1833 Vintage Cheddar, put them on our classic Unbleached White Sandwich Bread, and you get a simply perfect grilled cheese.

3. DELISH. The perfect grilled cheese for brunch! Take slices of Deer Creek’s The Doe, stack them between slices of Sesame Seed Bread that is spread with DLM Apricot Preserves, and grill until golden brown.

4. THE RETRO. We love the retro flavor of DLM Pimento Cheese Dip paired with DLM Uncured Bacon piled between buttered slices of Farmhouse Bread.

5. CAPRESE. This is a toasty and gooey take on the flavors of a caprese salad: DLM Handmade Mozzarella, thinly sliced Roma tomato, fresh basil leaves, and Ciabatta Bread.

Inspiration from Italy: Pollo Ripieno

Roast chicken doesn’t get any easier than this! Last week for a fancy wine event, I plopped one of DLM’s Pollo Ripieno in a roasting pan and drizzled it with our olive oil. Then I tossed it in a 350°F oven, and in a little less than an hour time I had the most delicious roast chicken full of Tuscan flavors.

Everyone couldn’t get over that they could just buy this, oven ready-to-go and everything! I like to count on it for always being a crowd pleaser and something I never have to stress over while making dinner.

Our Meat departments make them by hand by taking our whole boneless chicken and stuffing it with ground pork, veal, and bread crumbs. Then, it’s seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, and garlic, and wrapped in pancetta. Buon Appetito!