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Every week I answer a question from a Good Food listener. You can email me a question to goodfood@kcrw.com, leave one on Facebook or add one in the comments section here. This week’s came from Birdie:

How long does balsamic vinegar last and do you have to keep it in the frig?

To answer this question I have to first define what Balsamic Vinegar is vs the imposters.  Real Balsamic vinegar is made in a lengthy and time consuming process that can last for decades.  First the juice of very specific grapes is reduced and thickened by cooking it down in large cauldrons.  The cooked and reduced “mosto” is then put into a very large barrel to begin the alcoholic and acetic fermentations which must occur.  The resulting “vinegar” is then moved over time through a series of 5 ever smaller barrels made of varying woods.  Like the Spanish solera process of making sherry none of the barrels is ever completely emptied so the new liquid mingles with some that may be as much as 100 years old (in the case of Pedroni Balsamic).  The barrels are in an attic and so are exposed to extremes in temperature that happen over the course of  the seasons and years.  To be called Balsamico Tradizionale the liquid must age under very specific conditions and pass a sensory evaluation before bottling.  It is at a minimum, usually 12 years old but the truly great stuff is 25+ and very pricey at $125 for a few precious ounces.

Regular balsamic vinegar (small “b”), the stuff you see at the super market is simply red wine vinegar with caramel added for color and grape juice for flavor.  Some is thickened with “wheat starch” eg gluten.  This vinegar because it’s not really vinegar does not age well.  It gets strangely gloppy with off flavors.  So if you’re using balsamic vinegar, use it or lose it.

Bourdain’s No Reservations on Emilia Romagna has a wonderful segment with the Pedroni Family of Modena.

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