A new year invariably means new food-trend predictions. In the past, the culinary prognosticators have called for the year of the pie, doughnut, diminutive portions and fennel pollen.
Some hunches, such as a rising interest in fermented goods and ancient grains, have come true. Others, including a wave of food trucks for dogs, seem to have fallen through.
One 2014 food forecast that I hope hits the mark is the craze for tart flavors. Specifically, I’m rooting for the piquant condiment white balsamic vinegar. Neither a misnomer nor a gimmick, white balsamic vinegar is what its name implies: balsamic vinegar that’s light in flavor and color.
White balsamic vinegar begins in the same manner as dark or black balsamic, with fruity, white Trebbiano grapes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. These grapes are pressed, and the resulting juice or must is then cooked.
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For white balsamic, the juice is pressure cooked; this prohibits caramelization. Aging takes place either in uncharred oak or stainless steel barrels. Unlike dark balsamic, this vinegar ages for no longer than a year. These steps guarantee a fresh, mildly sour fruitiness and amber hue unique to white balsamic vinegar.
To me, white balsamic has all the benefits and none of the drawbacks of its darker relation. Although similar in taste to dark balsamic, it doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of other, more understated ingredients, as dark tends to do. It also doesn’t possess a heavy aftertaste. Instead, it leaves the palate feeling clean and refreshed.
Its light color means it partners well with pale, delicate foods. Chicken, cheese, seafood and fruit are all enhanced but not discolored by white balsamic. As someone who has served countless balsamic vinegar chicken dinners and cringed each time over the drab, dusky meat resting on guests’ plates, white balsamic is an aesthetic dream.
Not only food but also dinnerware benefits from this vinegar’s subtlety. If you want to keep your white platters and bowls looking tidy and elegant even after plating the night’s meal, dress your meats, vegetables and salads with white balsamic.
White balsamic vinegar won’t overpower other ingredients
In Napa, Calif., chef Sam Badolato uses white balsamic for deglazing and in dressings, including a radish one for spinach salad. “Red balsamic would have been too strong for this dressing. I wanted the radish flavor to come through but needed a soft vinegar taste,” says Badolato, who is chef de cuisine at soon-to-open Velo in downtown Napa.
He also features it in desserts. “Over the summer I used it on a strawberry bread pudding. It was a big seller. I’ve added it to the Velo menu as a drizzle with olive oil over ice cream,” he says.
As Badolato indicates, white balsamic vinegar marries well with many of the same foods that dark balsamic does. Apricots, strawberries, tomatoes, green beans, leafy greens, white-fleshed fish, brown butter, honey, mustard, onions and truffle oil make outstanding partners for white balsamic vinegar. Along with salads and desserts, dishes such as grilled halloumi, pan-seared scallops and tomato soup are likewise enhanced by a splash of the sweetly tart condiment.
If 2014 is to be the year of sour, I’m cheering for white balsamic vinegar to reign over this tart taste trend. Delicate yet versatile and packed with flavor, it is a delectable addition to innumerable savory or sweet foods.
Yountville Radish Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy of Sam Badolato
Makes about 15 ounces
8 ounces radishes
1 ounce fresh garlic
2 ounces white balsamic vinegar
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Drizzle over a bed of spinach and serve immediately.
Top photo: White balsamic vinegar. Credit: Kathy Hunt