While working at The Chopping Block over the holidays, I had a few customers ask me about our Cream of Balsamic Vinegar. One woman told me that she was given a bottle over a year ago and has not opened it yet because she doesn’t know what to use it on and was fearful of its flavor. She went on to say that she had never heard of the product before and that her family had turned up their noses at it before tasting. The bottle sits in her cabinet waiting to be discovered.
I was saddened by this story because food should never be thought of as frightening or scary. Of course there are many foods that can be a little intimidating, but certainly not Cream of Balsamic. I hope this post will enlighten you to the many uses of this dynamic vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar (Italian: aceto balsamico) is a vinegar originating from Italy, increasingly popular throughout the world. The original, costly, traditional balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale), is made from a reduction of cooked white Trebbiano grape juice and used as a condiment. It has been produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy since the Middle Ages being mentioned in a document dated 1046. Appreciated in the House of Este during the Renaissance, it is highly valued by modern chefs and gourmet food lovers. Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes boiled down to approximately 30% of the original volume to create a concentrate or must, which is then fermented with a slow aging process which concentrates the flavors. The flavor intensifies over the years, with the vinegar being stored in wooden casks, becoming sweet, viscous and very concentrated. During this period, a portion evaporates: it is said that this is the “angels share," a term also used in the production of bourbon whisky, scotch whisky, wine and other alcoholic beverages.
None of the product may be withdrawn until the end of the minimum aging period of 12 years. Freshly reduced cooked must is added to the largest cask and in every subsequent year the drawing and topping up process is repeated. This process where the product is distributed from the oldest cask and then refilled from the next oldest vintage cask is called solara or in perpetuum. This is quite a process in itself… all for balsamic vinegar!
Here at The Chopping Block, our chefs and culinary staff incorporate Cream of Balsamic into dishes ranging from dips, marinades, salad dressings, sauces to desserts. Cream of Balsamic is made by cooking/reducing down balsamic vinegar by one half its volume and adding a hint of brown sugar, black pepper, lemon and vanilla. Voila, Cream of Balsamic is born!
One of our favorite ways to utilize it is as a dipping sauce for our wonderful Bacon Wrapped Dates. Simply drizzle your serving tray with the Cream of Balsamic and place your warm Bacon Wrapped Dates on top. So simple yet elegant and very tasty! It is also wonderful on a piece of salmon. While baking your fish, simply coat the top with cream of balsamic and bake, creating a caramelized, sweet yet savory flavor. Another great use is to add it as a salad dressing to your favorite version of the traditional spinach salad with bacon and hard boiled eggs. It can also be used as a marinade for any protein including a pork tenderloin or use it as a sweet and tart sauce over any fresh fruit or a drizzle over gelato or ice cream. Grill some fresh, halved, pitted peaches until slightly softened, plate with 2 scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and drizzle with Cream of Balsamic. Delicious!
One of my favorite recipes for Cream of Balsamic is my Coleslaw.
Tom’s Amazing Coleslaw
1/2 head of raw Napa cabbage, chilled, sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 head of raw red cabbage, chilled, sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 of a sweet Vadalia onion, raw chopped, medium dice
1/2 of red onion, raw chopped, medium dice
1/2 of green pepper, remove seeds, medium dice
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine, set aside
1 medium carrot, peeled and shaved into thin strips
3/4 cup Isola brand Cream of Balsamic (sold at The Chopping Block)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard
3 tablespoons Frantoia brand extra virgin olive oil (sold at The Chopping Block)
1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt (sold at The Chopping Block)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
In a large bowl, combine all chopped vegetables, mixing them together until blended.
In a skillet over medium heat, sweat garlic in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes for 5 minutes.
Combine Cream of Balsamic into skillet and warm mixture for 3 to 5 minutes. set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, fold 1/4 cup of mayo, 1/4 teaspoon of yellow mustard into the cooled balsamic, garlic mixture. Blend throughly.
Pour mixture over chilled vegetables and mix throughly.
Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. This dish is best when made 2-4 hours in advance to allow flavors to meld together!
The Chopping Block sells Isola brand Cream of Balsamic in Wild Berry flavor, made with real fruit, for $9.99 per 8.5 oz bottles. The original, non-fruit flavored, 17 oz bottles sell for $18.50. Pick some up today and explore the many uses for this amazing product. Your friends and family will be glad you did!