Balsamic vinegar is one of the most well-known Italian contributions to the culinary world, now a basic condiment found in many kitchens here in the US. It is common all over Italy, we find it at every table in the regions we visit on our bike or ski tours, but to truly appreciate it requires a bit of background on it’s origins and the role it has played in the households over the centuries. Balsamic vinegar hails from the Emilia-Romagna provinces of Reggio Emilia and Modena, with its origins dating almost 1000 years ago. The name comes from the Latin Balsamum, meaning a ‘balm’ or a restorative, and it was originally used for it’s curative properties. Supposedly, during the plague of 1630, the Duke of Modena carried an open jug of the vinegar in his carriage to ward off the disease.
In the farmhouses and estates that in Reggio Emilia and Modena which have been producing balsamic vinegar for centuries, enter their sunny attics and you will find a row of wooden barrels, of increasing size, lined in a row. The number of barrels may vary, but the minimum was 3, and the DOP regulations require at least 7 barrels, and a total aging period of at minimum 12 years. The types of wood used for the barrels varies as well, one may be chestnut, one cherry, one mulberry. Each year, a bottle of vinegar – the families allotment for the year – is removed from the smallest of the barrels. The smallest barrel is then topped off with vinegar from the next smallest barrel, and so on down the line. The sweet concentrate produced each fall by pressing and cooking down this year’s grapes enters the largest barrel, beginning its slow progress into the wonderful balsamic vinegar – now one may understand why, in Modena, it is said “One generation makes balsamic for the next.” Balsamic vinegar was traditionally part of a brides dowery, and one of the families prized possessions that traveled with them during wartime evacuations during WWI and WWII.
I just included this recipe in a fun cooking class event in Falmouth, ME to benefit the Portland Symphony Orchestra. We were able to grill the steaks in a wood fired oven, and our host cooked them to perfection! I like to make this recipe with Tendercrop Farms own flank steak or hanger steaks. I marinate them in a little balsamic, grill, and then thinly slice and serve with grilled vegetables.
Bistecche all’Aceto Balsamico
2 tablespoons butter
4 steaks of your choosing (I like to use flank steak, that I’ve marinated in about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar for a few hours)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Season the steaks with salt and pepper, and grill until they have reached the desired doneness. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to sit for a few minutes.
Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the shallot to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, and any steak juices that may have collected on your serving dish. Reduce for about a minute or so, then remove from heat, pour the sauce over the steaks and serve.
We paired this with the robust Cormi from Zenato, a blend of Corvina and Merlot. This big, tasty red was a great pairing with the grilled meat.