When shopping for balsamic vinegar, look for the legendary “aceto balsamico tradizionale”, which indicates that it’s the the result of the traditional method of production involving five years in wooded barrels of different sizes.
The vinegar so labeled is far superior, and is accordingly quite expensive. Its characteristics are molasses-like consistency, lively brown color, a mildly acidic “nose,” and a smooth, subtle interplay of sweet and sour flavors. The aceto balsamico tradizionale is packaged and sold only in small bottles that have a bulb bottle as a base and a long neck and are marked “tradizionale.” Do not cook with the tradizionale; you can drizzle it over cheese, salad, grilled meats, or strawberries and ice cream. All other bottles are aceto balsamico commerciale, these are more affordable and are the kind of balsamic you use in cooking. The commerciale does not have the traditional fabrication and aging process of the tradizionale, but nonetheless, it delivers a lot of flavor to dishes.