Step Away From the Balsamic! Food Rules, Italian Style

If you’ve spent any time at all in La Bella Italia, you will, I’m sure, be familiar with a number of Food Rules that can sometimes bewildering to us Anglophones.

Such as:

  • Pineapple Does Not Belong On A Pizza. Thankfully, my favourite pizza has always been ham and mushroom, which is socially acceptable here. Fruit on a pizza, however, is NOT acceptable. Except for pear, which can be found on a pizza along with gorgonzola. Also fig, which can be found paired with prosciutto crudo. But not pineapple, not ever.
  • Spaghetti and Bolognese do NOT belong together. Each region, each province, each town, each village, each household has its own version of a meaty sauce that belongs on pasta, but Bolognese belongs to the Northern town of Bologna, and spaghetti belongs to the Southern city of Naples, and so never the twain shall meat. Spaghetti is an ideal pasta for oily, tomato based dishes. Bolognese (in fact, any sort of meat based sauce) sauce requires a thicker pasta such as tagliatelle or pappardelle for the sauce to adhere to, or the sauce just gets left behind in your bowl, and the whole point of pasta pairings is to get the sauce and the pasta into your mouth TOGETHER!
  • Mai formaggio sul mare: Never, ever put cheese on a fish, or seafood based dish. Just don’t go there. It is an absolute taboo. In fact, as a general tip, when eating at a restaurant in Italy, if cheese is not offered by your server, it’s best not to ask for it. And don’t even THINK about asking for salt or pepper.
  • Keep the cream way from the Carbonara. Carbonara consists of four ingredients: Pecorino Romano cheese, toasted black pepper, guanciale (cured pigs cheek, similar to, but not the same as bacon), and eggs. All that is added to this is a little bit of the starchy water that the pasta has cooked in. That’s it. Basta. Nothing else. Pasta in a creamy, cheesy, bacony eggy sauce is perfectly nice (it does not exist in Italy), but it is not Carbonara.
  • Cook with onions OR garlic, but never both: I’m not really sure why, when it comes to this rule, and I will confess to breaking this rule fairly routinely. But there you go.
  • Cappuccino is a morning drink. In tourist centres, the “foreign” habit of cappuccino after 11am is tolerated, but scorned upon. Out here in the sticks, our bar will serve afternoon cappuccino to the “stranieri” with a smile, but it is bewildering and, frankly, weird.

Ok, here we go.

While we are on the subject of bewildering, and frankly weird … This one is so weird that it’s not even one of the Sacred Food Rules, as it simply goes without saying.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar TOGETHER??? Noooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

I am not suggesting, even for a moment, that the two do not taste delicious together, but they do not belong together: indeed, the paring was apparently invented in San Francisco in the 1990s, and is about as Italian as that enormous pepper mill that was once proffered in “Italian” restaurants like Bella Italia and Pizza Express …

As a producer of EVOO, I’m going to tell you that real, authentic, genuine, early harvest and fresh extracted EVOO does not need balsamic vinegar to be stirred into it. You will lose all of those delicious grassy, herby, peppery tones that our careful growing, harvesting and milling processes ensure. Our olives did not die in order to have all their gorgeous flavours drowned out by the taste of vinegar.

But, and this is possibly even more important!

Any producer of real, genuine, authentic aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena will tell you that their wonderful condiment is way too valuable and delicious to be mixed with olive oil.

And they’d be right.

REAL, genuine, authentic aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena is made with one ingredient, and one only.

Grape Must.

This is simmered to reduce it to a concentrate, fermented, and then barrel aged for a MINIMUM of twelve years (often much longer). The barrels are changed every couple of years, decreasing in size each time they are changed, in order to impart flavours from the different woods used in each barrel. The resulting vinegar is thick, sweet and almost syrupy. It is also eye wateringly expensive. And most definitely not to be wasted by mixing it with olive oil. Anything in your cupboard is likely to be an industrial “balsamic” – essentially it will be any old wine vinegar with caramel flavouring and artificial colours, and probably sulphites too, all added to give it a decent shelf life, and a hint of a balsamic flavour. And of course there will be a huge uplift in price when you compare it to the price of any old wine vinegar.

You can read more about the process here (in Italian, but Google Translate will help you out):

Sampling the wonder that is aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena.
Credit, Stefania Lettini and Acetaia Guerzoni SRL

An Italian will also tell you that you should not eat bread before a meal, as it will ruin your appetite, and make you fat. I have no comment to make on this point: I’m not Italian, and I happen to rather like bread before a meal.

So how can you enjoy our EVOO without balsamic vinegar?

  • Toast a piece of bread (preferably over a flame!), and pour the oil over it. It’s that simple. If you feel like fancying it up, rub a clove of garlic over the bread while it’s still hot, or mill a little salt over the bread before drizzling the oil over it.
  • Dunk bread in it (but don’t tell an Italian that you’ve done it!)
  • Pour it over steak, over beans, over vegetables, over your pasta dish, over your pizza, over your soup, in your mashed potatoes, etc etc
  • Use it, on its own, as a salad dressing, with a touch of salt.
  • Drizzle it over a really fabulous vanilla ice cream, then add a few flakes of sea salt.

And how can you enjoy REAL balsamic vinegar without EVOO?

  • A few drops is enough – use as a glaze on chicken
  • Drizzled on savoury dishes such as fish, carrots and tomatoes
  • On fresh strawberries
  • Drizzled over a green salad (ok, this time you CAN use it with our EVOO)

So. And this is a a heart felt plea.

Step away from the “balsamic” when you want to taste our EVOO.


Treat yourself to some real, genuine, actual Aceto Balsamic di Modena. And use it well.

You’re welcome

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