Thursday, February 1, 2018

Lesson on Balsamic Vinegar

It was an educational experience when I came to Cucina a few weeks ago for a tasting session on Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena followed by a dinner with the very ingredient being the theme and paired with wines. Balsamic Vinegar was probably one of the most widely used yet most misunderstood condiments at any kitchen pantry so I was happy for the opportunity to learn more.

We started off in the early afternoon with Davide Lonardi, a third-generation owner of Acetaia Villa San Donnino in Modena, guiding us through the history and production process of traditional balsamic vinegar. Along with those produced in the neighboring Emilia Romagna region, the production of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena was guarded by the strict DOP process, starting with the only ingredients being the must, or pressed juice, of local Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes then being boiled and reduced, and went through the long aging process in wooden barrels in the way similar to the solera process used in Sherry for a minimum of 12 years to achieve the taste and viscosity of the product, which one may find in the standard 100ml-sized bottle at the finer food section and cost at least 10 times more than the ordinary vinegar.

I am no vinegar connoisseur but it didn’t take one to taste the difference between the real traditional balsamic vinegar to the regular ones. It has a well-balanced taste of prune and figs and definitely smokiness, smooth and mellow rather than overpowering acidity. The Affinato grade, one aged for a minimum of 12 years, was already one that impresses, but the Extra Vecchio one which went through 25-year aging and differentiated by the gold cap on the bottle, was even more profound – I could definitely enjoy that on its own. Davide also introduced us to some other products made in a similar manner but went through a shorter aging process (hence more reasonably priced) and well-suited for everyday cooking.

We then proceed to the dining area of the restaurant for a sumptuous 5-course dinner, with the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena being the theme. It’s such versatile condiment that worked well with many dishes, from salad to seafood to meat to desserts. It was a nice evening dining in this casual restaurant with a gorgeous harbor view with delightful treats by Chef Andrea Delzanno.

A few dishes shone – starting with the seafood course with the scallop perfectly seared and served with a sweet onion emulsion and fried leek on top, with drizzles of the white dressing vinegar, made with white grape must and went through fermentation in stainless steel containers.

The pasta course was my favorite course of the evening, done in traditional Modena style of Tortelloni, made in-house with pumpkin and sage, then served with Parmigiano cheese crisp, a light butter sauce and of course, the balsamic vinegar which made all the difference to this dish, with that combination of sweet and savory flavor accented by the mellow tartness of the vinegar. That was truly memorable.

Our main course of veal was said to be a re-interpretation of a dish which was the favorite of Maestro Luciano Pavarotti, probably the most well-known Modena native. Roasted veal loin was served with parma ham foam on top, sautéed spinach underneath, whipper potato on the side, and a simple jus reduction with the balsamic vinegar. It has excellent flavor, more from the sauce then from the foam, and the meat was rich with a good bite. The wine that paired with the veal was great too – a pre-release tasting of the 2015 riserva from Chianti Montalbano DOCG which has good intensity for the meat course.

In my opinion, balsamic vinegar also works best with dessert, and all you needed was a scoop of good vanilla icecream, which was what we got along with a slice of panettone. Not the most traditional pairing but a glass of Vin Santo worked just fine for the course.

Thanks Cottage Vineyards for the kind invitation and for the fun and extraordinary evening of wine and food and vinegar, and for me to learn something new!

When? January 16 2018
Where? Cucina, Level 6 Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel, 3 Canton Road, Tsimshatsui, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Handmade Tortelloni with Pumpkin, Butter, Sage and Parmigiano Cheese
Fattoria Moretto "Canova" Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC NV
2013 Molino di Sant'Antimo Chardonnay Toscana IGT
2013 Tenuta Cantagallo Riserva Chianti Montalbano DOCG
2014 Tenuta Le Farnete Carmignano DOCG
2015 Tenuta Cantagallo "Il Fondatore" Riserva Chianti Montalbano DOCG
2010 Tenuta Cantagallo Vin Santo del Chianti Montalbano Riserva DOC

Villa San Donnino:
Cottage Vineyards:

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