This Strawberries with Pepper and Balsamic recipe is a tip I got from my friend Lina Castle. Lina was the founder of Lina’s Italian Market in Calgary.
I loved shopping there when Lina owned the place. In the 20 plus years she was owner, she was always “in the house.” If she wasn’t in her tiny office placing orders or doing the books, she was sipping an espresso or very often, stocking the shelves. Lina started her grocery store career in Canada at Safeway. She worked her way up to inventory management and loved seeing grocery store shelves full of delicious ingredients.
Lina was always up for a chat. And especially, if the talk was about the ingredients she so proudly imported from her home country. Lina really loved balsamic vinegars. She taught me all about the REAL balsamic vinegars from the Modena and Reggio Emilia areas of Italy. Do you know about this?
What’s a Balsamic vinegar?
Balsamic vinegars are usually made from the must of Trebbiano grapes. They are aged in casks of different woods descending in size as the vinegar evaporates. As they age, they become quite thick and syrupy, sweet and viscous.
There are a few key types of balsamic vinegars and its important to know the difference when you are shopping for them. Because, when it comes to balsamic vinegar, you truly get what you pay for. Let’s start with the primo – the best.
The original and authentic balsamic vinegars are made by families who pass their recipe from generation to generation. They are always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and they carry a D.O.P. (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta”) stamp. This is a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin. The only ingredient in these vinegars is grape must. And, they will only contain naturally occurring sulfites; none should be added.
Traditional balsamic is sold in wax-sealed bottles with unique identifying numbers. Ones from Modena are only sold in a bulb-shaped 100 ml bottle. And from Reggio Emilia they’re only sold in a 100 ml bottle shaped like an inverted tulip. If it’s from anywhere else, it’s not traditional balsamic vinegar.
These balsamics cost from $50 – $200.00 per ounce and are used sparingly. They may be further delineated by age. From Modena, the balsamics can only be labeled as having vinegar that is either aged 12 or 25 years. From Reggio Emilia, it can be aged 12, 18, or 25 years.
These vinegars are not used in cooking. They are used to finish dishes. You can drizzle them over parmesan as an appetizer or over risotto, grilled fish or veal for a main. I love to sprinkle them over ice cream, panna cotta or fresh berries for a dessert. But what if you don’t want to spend this much?
condimento – I.G.P.
The grade below D.O.P. are artisanal balsamic vinegars which are aged for less time and are not made under supervision, Therefore, they’re available at more moderate prices. Known as “Condimento” balsamic vinegars they’re often excellent balsamic vinegars made outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia, or vinegars made by tradizionale producers that have only been aged for three, five or seven years.
Condimento will not have D.O.P. stamp on the label. But they should have an I.G.P. stamp — “indicazione geografica protetta,” which means protected geographical indication. Condimento may also carry the seal of the Consorzio di Balsamico Condimento. This is a consortium set up to monitor condimento grade balsamics. They guarantee quality and subsequently a good size bottle will set you back about $40.
Do check the ingredients list. Grape must should still be the only ingredient. If you see wine vinegar as the first ingredient, you’re looking at generic vinegar sweetened with balsamic must, not balsamic must balanced with a little vinegar.
If you see a family name and an estate address on the label, it likely means that small scale production of an I.G.P. Some condimentos are even made by tradizionale balsamic producers. Use these as you would the D.O.P. and to make VERY GOOD salad dressings.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P.
Introduced by the European Union in 2009, the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. guarantees that the product is made from grape varietals typical of Modena (Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana. Lambrusco, Montuni, Sangiovese, and Trebbiano), BUT the grapes themselves can be from anywhere. They only need to be processed in Modena. This is the only way balsamic vinegar of Modena can be produced in volumes sufficient to meet the demand of their current popularity.
With these balsamics, the vinegar is cooked in pressurized vats and aged for at least two months in large wooden barrels. There is no fermentation stage. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. must contain wine vinegar to bring its acidity to at least 6 percent, and can contain up to 50 percent wine vinegar, often both aged and young. When you read the label, you may find thickening agents, caramel or other colouring agents to make it appear like real balsamic. If the label doesn’t list thickeners and the vinegar seems thick it’s likely to contain more grape mut. They may be priced from $5 to $50. Use these as you would vinegar. They’ll just be a bit sweeter.
Instant Balsamic and Balsamic-Inspired Products
Finally, there is “instant balsamic” which is really just red wine vinegar with artificial flavours, sweetness and colour added. They can be made anywhere in the world. I usually avoid them but I do like some of the balsamic-inspired products.
My favourite for a quick jolt of flavour on food is balsamic glaze. These are thick syrups usually made with grape must, I.G.P. balsamic vinegar, guar gum, and xanthan gum. They have the consistency of expensive balsamic and can be used in the same way – as a drizzle or finishing sauce.
There’s also balsamic ketchups, pearls, syrups, sabas and flavoured-balsamics. The pearls are a really fun way to jazz up the presentation of a salad or cheese course.
For the Strawberries with Pepper and Balsamic recipe that follows, I most often use a Canadian-made balsamic glaze because I found a really tasty one (Nonna Pia’s). It doesn’t break the bank and has a shelf life of four years. I look forward to the day when I can return to Italy and bring home the real deal once again.
I truly appreciate my friend Lina Castle teaching me so much about the levels of quality in one of her favourite Italian ingredients. Because she shared her knowledge with me, I can savour it all™ when I use balsamic vinegars. I hope this post does the same for you.
Note: This is NOT a sponsored post. It’s just me reminiscing and sharing.Print
Strawberries with Pepper and Balsamic
Ready in a flash, the balsamic glaze and pepper compliment and fully develop the flavour of fresh strawberries. This is the dessert to make when you are having too much summer fun to make something more complicated!
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Total Time: 5 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: desserts
- Method: slicing
- Cuisine: Italian
2 cups hulled, sliced or halved fresh local strawberries
4 cups vanilla ice cream
4 Tablespoons balsamic glaze OR the real deal D.O.G. balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pepper to taste.
4 sprigs of basil
- Slice the strawberries into a bowl. (Note: you can either coat the berries with the glaze now or wait and drizzle them after.)
- Scoop the ice cream into four dessert bowls and arrange the berries over top. If not already coated in the glaze, drizzle the berries with it now.
- Add freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Enjoy immediately with a sprig of basil on top.
Keywords: Strawberries with Pepper and Balsamic