A LESSON IN: BALSAMIC VINEGAR

Costing more than many wines, real, Italian balsamic vinegar is distinctively glossy and viscous – a similar consistency to syrup.

With a dark brown colour that captures light beautifully and a velvety texture on the tongue which releases a rich, complex sweetness that explodes in the mouth with notes that it picked up from the barrels it matured in, often fruity, with a slight smokiness. Monari Federzoni’s IGP Fondo Carrate balsamic vinegar (£9.60, www.bellavitashop.co.uk) is as dense and full-bodied as they get, having been aged for a minimum of 12 years. Traditional balsamic offers a mellow tartness rather than a strong acidity, which is more often associated with cheaper types of the glorious Italian syrup.

Traditional balsamic should never be used to cook with — heating it will kill its distinctive bouquet. Instead, use it where it can truly shine. Drizzle t over salad, eat it alongside ciabatta, or add a few drops on top of a chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto. It works well with both sweet and savoury, just add about a teaspoon per person just before serving to get the best of its flavor. Try drizzling it onto fresh berries like strawberries, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or in a creamy dessert like panna cotta, zabaglione or vanilla ice cream. The proof is in the pudding and you’ll never look back on your balsamic investment.

As veterans of the quality over quantity cuisine, in Italy, really good balsamic is also drunk as a palette cleanser, aperitif or digestif, especially on special occasions such as weddings. The name “balsamic” highlights the vinegar’s original use as a tonic or “balm.”

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