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Balsamic vinegar : a gift from the gods?

Its Thanksgiving in the USA this week, no doubt a bitter sweet time for many over there right now. But its at times like these that we do need to reflect on what we are thankful for; our good health, our family etc….there are always so many worse off than we are. My heartfelt best to you all, in particular to those of you in the Big Apple. I was there, in January of this year for the umpteenth time and love the place dearly . . . the Hello Deli is the best! Maybe you would like to try this week’s recipe for something different for dessert this year?

What Champagne is to wine, Balsamic is it to vinegar . . . but before that, a little about vinegars in general. Vinegar (from the French vinaigre for 'sour wine') is an acidic liquid obtained from the fermentation of an alcohol and used either as a condiment or a preservative. Vinegar usually has an acid content of between four and eight percent; in flavour it may be sharp, rich, or mellow. Vinegar is made by combining sugary materials (or materials produced by hydrolysis of starches) with vinegar or acetic acid, bacteria and air. The sugars or starches are converted to alcohol by yeasts of the genus Saccharomyces, and the bacteria make enzymes that cause oxidation of the alcohol. There are natural and artificial vinegars; natural vinegars are produced from fermenting fruits, grains etc while artificial are a manufactured product made from chemicals.

Artificial vinegars are all cheap alternatives to malt, cider, white and red wine vinegars. Their flavours are harsh and should be used sparingly, commonly called; brown, red and white

Natural vinegars however, like wines, can range from cheap ones with harsh flavours to more expensive ones, who’s flavours can be mild, subtle, aromatic and full bodied. Vinegars such as:

  • Cider vinegar (made from apples)

  • Rice vinegar (popular in Japanese and Chinese dishes and may be purchased as sour or sweet)

  • Dahong Zhecu (a red coloured vinegar used in Asian cuisines)

  • Malt vinegar (favoured in the UK for its earthy flavours, commonly used on fish and chips)

  • Red wine vinegar (used for marinades and salad dressings, made from grapes)

  • White wine vinegar (used for marinades, sauces and salad dressings, made from grapes)

Above all of these is ‘Balsamic’; with its rich, mellow flavour and a very pleasant aroma, it is, in my opinion the undisputed King of vinegars.

Produced (originally) in Italy, where the art is handed from generation to generation in the family. It is made from unfermented Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes (white wine variety). It is aged in small wooden barrels for a minimum of five years, that are stacked in a pyramid formation with the youngest at the top. A system of siphoning is used to transfer the maturing vinegars from the top to the bottom barrels over time. Each level of vinegar has a small amount of the oldest vinegar in them. The quality of the vinegar depends on the age, quality of wine and type of barrel used to hold the vinegar. It is transferred to barrels made from mulberry, chestnut, juniper, oak or cherry.

Uses for it, are as ‘complicated’ as its manufacture, besides using it for salad dressings, try using it for deglazing pans when sauce and gravy making; to bring all that wonderful sediment off the bottom of the pan and as a seasoning or flavouring in dishes such as pilaff, risotto, stews, ‘Stroganoff’, steak and kidney pies . . . the uses are endless!


One of my favourites however, is in a dish that I only served last week at a farewell dinner party for a friend that has gone to Australia to live: with strawberries! I kid thee not, the dish has another unusual ingredient also, but believe me they all blend so well together. It is not some new fusion dish either, I first had this dish when an apprentice in Frankfurt, Germany, in the late Seventies, where it had already been served for decades. It never surprises me that people have never tried strawberries this way. My variation has a few twists to it that I am sure you will love as much as I do and that your friends will comment on as mine always do. With strawberries available all year now, this dish is great with both the full flavoured summer berries and boosts the usually tasteless winter, hydroponic strawberries too.








balsamic vinegar



liquid honey



green peppercorns



liquorice stick




  • Lightly whip the cream and set aside (the cream should be whipped until it is just nicely thickened but not pipeable)
  • Remove the stalks from the strawberries and half or quarter, depending on size and place in a large bowl
  • Combine the balsamic and honey to form a dressing, pour over the strawberries and allow to marinade and infuse for 5 - 10 minutes
  • Roughly chop the green peppercorns (these are a soft peppercorn from Madagascar) and gently fold through the strawberries
  • Drain away any excess marinade and fold the strawberries through the cream
  • Spoon into champagne flutes, add a liquorice stick and top with a sprig of fresh mint

Chef's Tip

I always ensure I serve this with a pepper-mill full of black peppercorns, to grind over the top.

Never wash strawberries or any other berries, they will readily absorb moisture and make them watery in the mouth.

See tip on cooking / usage of vinegar

Enjoy your strawberries and bon appetit . . . . .

Chef's terminology:

litres   tsp = teaspoon
millelitres   tbs = tablespoon
kilograms   sq = sufficient quantity (add to taste)
grams   pc = piece, meaning a whole one of

Recipe from professional
Chef Tallyrand

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