For years, I swore off balsamic vinegar. I’d intentionally order Caprese salads with just olive oil or request that my mother-in-law cook her favorite shredded Brussels sprouts salad without her go-to balsamic vinegar. This was because what I knew to be balsamic vinegar—a watery, dark caramel-colored liquid with burning acidity—wasn’t actually balsamic vinegar at all. It turns out most things labeled balsamic vinegar in the United States are completely different from the complex, subtly sweet, subtly tangy, intensely flavored condiment that originated in Modena, Italy.
How It’s Classified
The difference is this: in order for balsamic vinegar to be designated as “DOP,” aka Denominazione di Origine Protetta, it must be made from cooked grapes and nothing else. The grapes must mature naturally through a long and slow acetification process.