The Italian Pantry: Vinegar

Vinegar is another item that is essential to an Italian. It goes hand in hand, often, with olive oil, as in “olive oil and vinegar.” Contrary to popular belief, the vinegar of choice for most Italians is red wine vinegar, not balsamic. In fact, balsamic is not exactly a vinegar, but more of a concentrated and aged grape must. Grape must is an ancient form of sweetener used in Italy and the Mediterranean areas. True balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, Italy, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region in North-Central Italy. The majority of Italians who settled the United States were from Southern Italy, as I mention in my book, Authentic Italian, and the foodways of Italians here follow Southern Italian traditions. That is why balsamic vinegar is fairly new to the United States, although it is not a new product, but it was a regional one in Italy. Having said that, grape must was also used as a sweetener in Southern Italy. My family did not use balsamic vinegar, only red wine vinegar. In addition, the Waldensian Heritage Winery in Valdese, North Carolina, makes a red wine vinegar in addition to its wines, so I’m thinking that even though the Waldensians who settled the tiny town in the 1890s were from Northern Italy, they also used red wine vinegar traditionally.

What is it used for? The most popular use for vinegar is on salad. Italians dress their salad with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Simple and delicious!

–Dina Di Maio

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