Two years ago, I received as a gift, a lovely bottle of white balsamic vinegar that was slightly sweet in its softness, yet still with the unmistakable character of vinegar. Hardly a vinegar, truly. Perfectly clear light gold in its elegant bottle, when poured it was almost a very thin syrup. Checking the label, the ingredient simply stated: Must of white grapes from Modena.
I know this little bottle was very expensive, so it lasted me a year, until my son gave me another one. Now the second bottle is almost gone. Off and on over these past two years, I’ve tried to replicate its soft sweetness by adding a touch of sugar to other white balsamics. Not at all the same thing.
I guess I’m a little slow that it took me so long to finally put two and two together to come up with the obvious answer. A reduction.
When making jam, for instance, the sweetness and essence come from boiling away the water content in the fruit. When making a wine or port reduction, at least half the water content is simmered off to make the intense syrup that still maintains the character of the wine or port, but with none of the alcohol and all of the sugar. The same method is used in making a balsamic glaze.
Of course, the trick in all of this is how much the fruit, wine, port, vinegar needs to reduce to have the desired result. When my sister Betty and I went on a cruise to Alaska, we had the memorable experience of one evening at the Chef’s table. He explained that the thick, burgundy-hued syrup that he drizzled artfully over Crostinis and melted Brie came from a full bottle of port: 750ml slowly reduced to one cup. Since there are a little over three eight ounce cups in such a bottle, he had to reduce his port by at least two thirds.
I started by making a balsamic glaze. I simmered two cups of Kirkland brand balsamic vinegar (from Costco) and reduced it to one cup. That seemed about right except it resulted in a syrup that was almost too thick, so I added in a little more vinegar. Next time, I will let it reduce from three cups to two and check it then.
Now came the true test. I poured a full 16.9oz. bottle of Trader Joe’s white balsamic vinegar (somewhat tart all on its own) into a saucepan, and reduced it to 10ozs. Still a little too sharp, so I simmered a few minutes longer to 8ozs. I set the timer on this so that I could watch it more carefully (I tend to forget how long something’s been cooking away). The whole process took about a half hour.
Now came a taste test. I broke off a little bread and set out little dishes of about a teaspoon of each of the reductions: the balsamic glaze, the amazing white balsamic from Modena, and my effort to duplicate it. Joe would have to be my taste tester.
As I suspected (because he really has a sweet tooth), his favorite was the reduction made from the Kirkland brand of balsamic vinegar. His next choice, of course, was the true white balsamic, though he did say that my effort to duplicate was close.
This effort has inspired me to try other flavors and to move beyond my basic herb infused garlic olive oil. Delicacy has never been my forte in the kitchen, but I’m determined to explore more subtleties of taste. For example: Why not try something with an essence of Meyer lemon, since they are in season right now?