The Seasons Condimento and Vinegar Selection
At Seasons, we use our own cutting-edge, highly controlled process to make the next best thing to Traditional Style vinegar, at a far more accessible price. Instead of a multi-year aging process, we slow-cook our pinot grigio grape must (for our white condimento) and trebbiano, lambrusco and sangiovese grape must (for our dark condimento) in sealed containers. Inspired by heritage techniques, we then age them for 6-12 months in smaller-than-typical wooden barrels (more surface area contact with wood = more intense flavor). Then we blend the cooked must—which constitutes about 75 percent of the finished product—with high quality red wine vinegar to create a tart, satisfyingly viscous, fruit-forward product with no added sugar, thickeners or preservatives. It’s a fresh, healthy balsamic condiment that you can feel good about using every day.
All the vinegars you’ll find at Seasons are made from high quality wine grapes, which are slowly cooked into high quality grape must. Mass produced, lower priced vinegars often use water and cheap wine as a base, resulting in a less desirable product and a typically sharp, astringent and burning taste. As they say in Italy, a beautiful wine makes a beautiful vinegar. Thanks to our traditional cooking process, the fine Italian wine grapes we use in our vinegars release the fruit’s natural sugars, resulting in products that are tangy, fresh, and complex—just like the grapes from which they’re made. Like a refreshing bottle of rosé or a dry Reisling, our white balsamics are meant to be consumed fresh—they don’t have to be aged forever to taste great.
Our flavor infused vinegars are made with all natural, non-GMO flavorings. The natural flavor components represent less than 1% of each total product. We never use artificial flavoring, thickeners, or non-natural substitutes in any vinegar we offer at Seasons.
Using Your Seasons Products at Peak Freshness
For peak freshness and flavor, it’s best to use our Balsamic Vinegars (both white and dark) within approximately three years. Fruit vinegars containing fruit puree (with its water content removed) maintain their exceptional taste for roughly 18 months before the fruit begins to oxidize. Our apple cider vinegar and wine vinegars can be stored indefinitely with no negative impact on quality. Shelf life is a function of determining the highest quality aromas, flavors and overall quality. Remember: vinegar does not spoil, but it does lose some of its aromatic attributes and its color may change due to exposure to air and light over time. There’s no need to refrigerate vinegar, it can be kept at room temperature.
How is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is a tart, fermented liquid created by a two-step fermentation process, first by yeast (lactic acid bacteria) and then by acetic acid bacteria. It can be made from many different natural products—rice, cider, malted barley, wine or fruit—and is a key component in cuisines around the world. Vinegar was most likely first made with wine, and in fact it gets its English name from the old French words vyn (wine) and egyre (sour).
In order to make vinegar, the source liquid must first be fermented without the presence of oxygen (that’s where yeast comes in) which creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. That part of the process can take years. Then, with the addition of oxygen, the bacteria begin to produce amino acids, water, and other compounds, which results in vinegar.
What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegars, which are made from wine grapes, are known for their balanced sweet and tart taste, deep color and complex aromas. They are also typically known for the maturation process they undergo. Balsamic vinegars date back to the early Middle Ages (or, according to some historians, Ancient Roman times) and are an important part of the culinary history of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the Italian provinces where the finest balsamic vinegars are still made. The Italian word balsamico derives from a word that means soothing, healing and, more generally, good for health. In the 19th century, balsamic vinegar was an important part of a woman’s wedding dowry—so much so that families would start aging a batch as soon as a daughter was born.
Balsamic vinegars are made from grape must (a mixture of juice, skin, and seeds), which is slow-cooked to produce a highly concentrated liquid. Typically, the more viscous the balsamic vinegar, the higher quality (and more expensive) it is.
In the 1980s, white balsamic vinegars were introduced, which are a blend of grape must and vinegars from various sources.
Sources: Balsamic Vinegars, by Paolo Giudici, Federico Lemmetti & Stefano Mazza; Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, by Michael Harlan Turkell
Local Designations, Heritage Techniques and Quality Control
Certain types of vinegar are classified according to where they were made and under what conditions. When it comes to balsamic vinegar, there are four main categories. Generic balsamic vinegar, which has no recognized geographic origin, and must only comply with general vinegar regulations, which vary from country to country. Balsamic vinegar with protected geographical indication (PGI), such as balsamic vinegar of Modena, must contain at least 10% wine vinegar, a small amount of vinegar aged 10 years, and be aged in wooden barrels, casks or vats for at least 60 days. The production process must take place within the Italian province of Modena (Reggio Emilia also has a PGI, with similar designations).
Balsamic condiments with protected designation of origin (PDO) have the strictest qualifications, much like fine wines. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena or Reggio Emilia must contain only cooked grape must and have been matured for at least 12 years before bottling. These vinegars are evaluated by trained tasting panels before they can be labeled with this name, and are further qualified into either affinato and extravecchio levels (in Modena) or aragosta, argento, and oro (in Reggio Emilia).
Balsamic glazes, sauces, and jellies are not technically classified as vinegars and have no restrictions on composition or quality—it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re getting, as these typically contain a multitude of thickeners, preservatives, colors, and artificial flavors.
Professional tasters evaluate balsamic vinegar using three types of tests: the olfactory test, to sample aromas and pungency; the gustatory-olfactory test,which tests for viscosity, sweetness, acidity, astringency, bitterness and saltiness; and the visual test, which looks at clarity, color, gloss and viscosity.
The professional tasters on these panels are looking for 24 sensory attributes of traditional balsamic vinegar, referring to four macro-categories (appearance, aroma, taste, and trigeminal sensations) and tasting notes of carav mel, cooked must, dried prune, honey, apple, licorice, vanilla, mustard, carob, spices, coffee, and chocolate. Other frequently used descriptors regard the four consolidated tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, the tactile perception of viscosity, and the three trigeminal sensations of pungency, spiciness, and astringency.
The Facts About Traditional Style Vinegar
Less than 30,000 liters of traditional balsamic vinegar are made in Italy every year, making it quite rare and totally unavailable to purchase in any large quantity—it’s a precious substance, to be used very sparingly. Each of these tiny Tradizionale bottles (think the size of a shampoo bottle you can take in a carry-on bag) retails for $100 or more — an impossibility for the home cook and connoisseur who wants to reap the health benefits and taste of delicious balsamic vinegar on a daily basis. These vinegars are made entirely with grape must and fermented over at least 12 years with bacteria, slowly evaporating and reducing in large, space-consuming barrels. These deep, complex, syrupy vinegars are to be used sparingly—more as an occasional treat than as an everyday ingredient.
The Health Benefits of Vinegar
Vinegar is a natural antiseptic that has been used in traditional remedies for millennia. Some small studies have shown that consuming balsamic vinegar can help regulate blood sugar, cholesterol and insulin levels. It also contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, which can help boost circulation, and antioxidants, which can reduce your risk of cancer. Acetic acid, one of the components of balsamic vinegar, contains probiotic bacteria that can help support digestion and immunity.
Seasons vinegars are made from cooked grape must and wine vinegar for acetification. They contain natural fruit sugars, but home cooks usually use them in such small quantities that a few spoonfuls won’t make or break the healthfulness of most dishes. That sweetness also comes with all the complexity and organoleptics of the fruit from which it came—and we all know that enjoying your food is an important part of enjoying and looking forward to cooking for a healthy lifestyle.
Cooking with Vinegar
Vinegar functions as a natural preservative (hence its use in pickling brines), but it’s also prized for its ability to facilitate all kinds of chemical reactions that change the texture and flavor of food. It helps tenderize meat when added to marinades by breaking down fibers and makes doughs and batters light and fluffy when combined with baking soda. The acidity in vinegar is an essential component of marinades, dressings, sauces and dips—as a condiment, it adds a tartness that perfectly balances out creamy, rich flavors found in cheese or even gelato.
Simple Techniques to Learn
How to Make a Reduction
Add about two cups of balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it reduced to about 1/2 cup of liquid. You’ll know it’s done when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Use this sweet, intense condiment on grilled chicken, drizzled over bruschetta, or over fresh, crunchy vegetables.
How to Make a Vinaigrette
Vinegar is the key ingredient in vinaigrette, which is often used as a delicious, tangy salad dressing—but you can spoon it over anything from grilled fish to steamed vegetables. The easiest rule to follow is about a 3-to-1 olive oil to vinegar ratio. Add a little bit of mustard, a squeeze of lemon, and some salt and pepper to liven things up a bit.
How to Make Agrodolce
Agrodolce is a traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce made by combining vinegar with honey or sugar, fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices. It’s an easy, versatile way to add tons of flavor to all kinds of dishes. Try combining equal parts olive oil and vinegar with a few tablespoons each of honey, golden raisins, chopped almonds, thinly sliced red onion, fresh parsley and lemon zest, a bit of salt and red pepper flakes for a deliciously addictive topping that keeps exceptionally well in the fridge.
How to Make Aioli
Some aioli recipes call for lemon juice, but you can easily substitute apple cider vinegar or a tart white balsamic instead. Combine three egg yolks, six cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper to a blender and blitz for about 20 seconds. Then, keep the blender running as you add a little less than a cup of olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Voila!
How to Make a Foolproof Marinade
Generally, the rule of thumb for marinades is one part oil to three parts acid. You can combine different types of vinegar in a marinade, punch things up with fresh citrus juice, or mellow it out with a dash of wine. Try pairing any of our vinegars with our extra virgin olive oils for an easy, foolproof way to elevate fish, poultry or meat before cooking.
Adding Vinegar to Cocktails or Seltzer
Looking to add some tartness to a cocktail or midday pick-me-up? Try adding a few teaspoons of fruit vinegar or apple cider vinegar to unflavored seltzer, or a cocktail made with fresh fruit, tequila, gin or vodka. If it’s too sour for your taste, try adding a few drops of agave or simple syrup.
Need more recipe inspiration?
Check out these easy, delicious favorites from the Seasons team: View Recipes