For the November 2012 “Taste” department, Senior Editor Lori Moffatt discovered the complexities and health benefits of balsamic vinegar at a class at Con’Olio, an olive-oil-and-balsamic-vinegar tasting bar in Austin. She followed up recently with Con’Olio co-owner Jeff Conarko to learn more about the business and how a sip of vinegar (trust us; it’s delicious!) may keep holiday weight-gain at bay.
“My wife, Tabatha, and I worked at Dell for many years, and our hobby has been traveling to Europe, cooking, and drinking wine. We noticed that when we went to Europe, the quality of the oils and vinegars were of a much higher quality than what we found here at home, even at the highest price point. What we learned is that olive oils are supposed to be eaten fresh, in the season they were produced, otherwise they start to lose their fragrance, flavor, and antioxidants. Most of the olive oil sold isn’t fresh.
“And the vinegar is different, too. True balsamic vinegars are made by only 55 families in the world, all in Modena, Italy. The vinegars are aged in barrels according to a 1,000-year-old, trademarked process.
“In the end, olive oil should taste and smell fresh, like it just came from a tree, and vinegar should taste sweet, smooth, and thick. Our concept at Con’ Olio is that we import the best oils and vinegars, but we also encourage people to taste them, to sip them, to appreciate them.
“I hear this from new customers a lot: ‘You want me taste olive oil? I don’t want to do that without bread!’ Or ‘What? You want me to sip vinegar like wine?’ But then they do, and they have their eyes opened.”
“The word ‘balsamic’ actually comes from the Latin word for ‘cure’ or ‘medicine.” I teach a class at St. David’s Hospital about how to use vinegar to control diabetes and bring about health benefits, including weight loss. As balsamic vinegar ages, the acidity changes and sugars come to the forefront. There’s not a lot of sugar, but it tastes sweet, and taken with food, vinegar lowers the glycemic index of whatever you eat, slowing the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. For diabetics, at St. David’s we recommend three tablespoons of vinegar in the morning to kick-start your metabolism.
“Here’s a very simple recipe to try: With our vinegar, which is already sweet and thick, you don’t need to ‘reduce’ it, a step called for in many recipes here in the United States. Just mix it with fresh olive oil, one part to one part, and use it as a marinade or as a basic vinaigrette.
“One of my favorite recipes uses our Tuscan herb olive oil and espresso balsamic vinegar as a steak marinade.
“And if you want to try sipping it for health benefits, try a little espresso balsamic to sweeten your coffee, or try a few tablespoons of pineapple balsamic in some soda water.”
From the October 2012 issue.