When I was attending Western Culinary Institute, here in Portland, Oregon, I went on the ultimate field trip. It was a culinary tour of Tuscany with two days in Paris. It was an extra expense but it was worth it. We travelled all over Tuscany in a giant bus visiting vineyards and wineries, olive groves, cheese and ham producers in the region of Parma, restaurants serving "traditional Tuscan meals", and a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena. I have always been a lover of Italian things, I took Italian in college, I love pasta, and Chianti is my favorite wine. Until I visited the balsamic vinegar producer in Modena I did not have a taste or appreciation for good balsamic vinegar. We saw how it was aged in casks like wine or whisky, every few years moved to smaller and smaller casks as the water evaporates and the flavor intensifies. Typically traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in oak for a minimum of 12 years. At this particular producer they had some vinegar aging in cherry casks and they let us sample it, by serving it over ice cream. The thought of vinegar on ice cream probably does not appeal to many people but you had to be there, in the Italian country side, wearing Italian leather shoes, and eating ice cream topped with cherry aged balsamic vinegar (for $40 a bottle). And although I did not purchase any balsamic vinegar on that trip (I had just purchased the Italian leather shoes) I have kept it in my mind that someday I will again find some that equals that experience.
This week's recipe: Bread dipped in oil and balsamic vinegar. What you will need is some good bread, some good olive oil, and some good balsamic vinegar. Pour ½ a cup of the oil on a plate then add a tablespoon or two of the vinegar, and then dip your bread and enjoy!
- Chef Brett