This last week in June ushers in the Cook’s favorite summer culinary events. In the US, Independence Day is but a week away. In France, the 21 days of Le Tour de France is about to begin, which always finds the Cook going to or hosting Tour breakfasts with fellow cyclists and friends that just like to eat for free. All are welcome! Mixed in, there is Bastille Day, which for the Cook, means a Tour breakfast in the morning and a Bastille Day celebration dinner in the evening, all in all, about 24 hours of cooking, eating, and merriment. What is your favorite summer culinary event?
For the Cook, summer menus are the easiest to plan. It is a season with abundant fruits and berries, fresh vegetables and herbs, and a choice of hot and cold preparations. The Cook does not find cold potato salad particularly inviting when it is snowing and minus 10 C outside. But in the summer, it is a standout and what BBQ can be considered complete without potato salad in one form or another as an offering.
The Cook keeps the summer meals on the lighter side. This is the season to experiment with sandwiches and protein enhanced salads. A favorite sandwich of the Cook’s is so simple: fresh baked beer bread, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (balsamic vinegar), tomato slices, and fresh basil, paired with a Spumante Brut, and good to go. Follow this with a fresh fruit medley tossed with a touch of Cointreau and fresh mint; very light and refreshing – just a perfect finale.
Speaking of Balsamic!
Balsamic vinegar has been produced in the Italian provinces of Modena and Reggio for about one thousand years but was only known to the local population and to Europe’s royalty. In early times, Balsamic, derives its name from balm (curative) and was considered a medicinal, an early day snake oil, as it was claimed as the cure for any ailment. Not until the last 25 to 30 years, has the artisanal balsamic vinegars been sold to the market place. Now, balsamic vinegar is the top selling vinegar, especially in the United States, where it accounts for some 40 percent of all grocery vinegar sales. Balsamic vinegars are produced in numerous countries but none have been judged to compare with the quality and taste of those that are produced in Modena and Reggio. These are considered as fine liqueurs.
Why can one pay 2 dollars versus 200 dollars for a bottle of balsamic vinegar?
Balsamic Vinegar: Not All Created Equal!
Here is where the price difference comes into play and it relates to how the vinegars are produced; one named Artisan and the other named Commercial. True Italian artisanal balsamic vinegars must meet criteria for certification within the Modena, Reggio Emila, and Spilamberto balsamic consortiums, and will have a label affixed to the bottle showing that certification. The bottles will each have their own distinctive shape as well. Expect to pay a premium for these balsamic vinegars. For certification, these vinegars must be aged for, at the least, 12 years and not contain any wine vinegar or caramel. Artisan crafted balsamic involves a long process of decanting in numerous stages and in different wooden casks, very similar to the production of fine ports. Only boiled down grape must is used. The Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes are the primary varieties used. Artisanal balsamic vinegars made outside of the Modena and Reggio Emila districts may not have any production requirements nor testing, so the quality may be variable; could be good- could be not so good!
Commercial balsamic vinegars are the most common vinegars found in the mass distribution system. These tend to be more acidic and less complex in flavor than their artisanal brothers. Commercial balsamics typically are made in large quantities and can be produced in a matter of days. Many will be produced by combining wine vinegars, caramel, and some grape must together and have no young balsamic at all. The better quality commercial vinegars will use some young balsamic as a part of the blend. Some may even be aged for 2 to 8 years but the bottom line is there are no regulations governing the commercial production of balsamic vinegar so it is a buyer beware purchase.
The Cook’s recommendations:
*Buy a bottle of certified balsamic and use that fresh only and in small quantities. Do not use to cook with! These balsamic vinegars will have incredible flavor, so a small amount goes along way. Drizzle a small amount on grilled poultry, seafood, and meats; on fresh fruit; on fruit tarts, and on cheeses or sip a bit as a liqueur. Store in a dark cool place.
Cavalli Gold Seal – 25 year
Manicardi – 12 or 18 year
*Buy a bottle of good quality commercially produced balsamic for additions into dishes, reductions, marinades, vinaigrettes, and glazes.
Lucini Gran Riserva
Manicardi – 6 year
See ya next time and Happy 4th, and enjoy the Tour my cycling friends!