Once you understand the difference between traditional and commercial balsamic vinegar, it’s time to consider how the aging process affects cost and quality. We mentioned the expedited process used to produce commercial balsamic vinegar can significantly cut production time, but only covered the minimum aging time of 12 years for traditional balsamic vinegar. According to Start Cooking, the aging process for high-quality authentic balsamic vinegar can exceed 150 years. It’s possible to find good quality balsamic vinegar in the supermarket. Here’s how to separate the wheat from the shaft.
Top-shelf balsamics, wherever you buy them, will bear the label DOP, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta, to verify their authenticity and protected status. A small bottle will cost more than $100 (via Saveur). The next level, more commonly found in grocery stores, will be labeled IGP, or Indicazione Geografica Protetta. The mark verifies it’s a genuine product of Modena or Reggio Emilia and prices will vary according to age. The final, least expensive, grocery store balsamic vinegar is the one with the sweeteners, thickeners, and artificial coloring we mentioned. You’ll know it by looking closely at the bottle. it won’t bear any label or seal indicating protected status. Take that as a buyer-beware sign. Anyone who’s ever shopped for deals on New York City’s Canal Street knows the drill: Sometimes you get what you pay for.