11 Feb 2011, Posted by admin in EAT, 1 Comments
It’s hard not to love really good balsamic vinegar, especially the extra aged, tangy-sweet-syrupy stuff. As of late, I’ve also been getting reacquainted with saba, the ancient precursor to balsamic that’s made from the must of Trebbiano, and often Lambrusco, grapes (barrel aging helps lend that dark caramel color to the white grape juice). In essence, saba is literally balsamic before becomes balsamic — in Ancient Rome it was known as defrutum or sapa. The name “cooked grape juice” pretty much says it all, as the juice is cooked slowly until reduced by a third or more so it becomes concentrated and slightly caramelized.
Saba is sweeter than many balsamics, so you can drizzle it straight up on so many things. A great brand is Acetaia Leonardi, and not just because it comes in a fantastic chubby bottle with a swan neck that’s impossible to throw away (Hoarders, consider yourself forewarned.). The vinegar, made by Giovanni Leonardi and his son, Francesco, is aged for five years until it gets that characteristic thick, syrupy complexity.
The family’s infatuation with saba dates back to 1871, when they founded the business in Magreta di Formigine, a small town in northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. My obsession is a more recent affair that I blame entirely on working briefly in the pastry kitchen at Lucques restaurant after culinary school. The saba was stored on a shelf in the tiny back office, where it would make select drizzling appearances on dried fruit and nut tarts, tangy yogurt ice cream, or one of my favorites, roasted figs with goat cheese.
Recently, that saba appeared on our family holiday table drizzled over Gorgonzola and some really hard core pears (In our house, that means Pittman and Davis Comice pears, the sort of thing that you are thankful someone else splurged on.). Yup, it’s still as good now as it was on the first tasting round.