Balsamic-based salad dressings have been trendy in restaurants and with in-the-know home cooks since the first decade of the 21st century. They add character to anything you drizzle them on. Balsamic dressing is so delicious and easy to whisk together that this recipe should be a regular in your cooking repertoire.
But before you begin, there's a lot to know below about balsamic vinegar. It's all in the details. There's genuine balsamic vinegar, which only comes from Italy, and then there's imitation balsamic vinegar, which has started showing up everywhere because of the rise in demand in recent years. Check below the recipe for the ways to tell what's what.
Combine the mustard, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and Italian herbs, if desired, in a mixing bowl. Whisk vigorously while very slowly drizzling in the olive oil. Use a blender if you prefer.
Season with salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
This dressing can be refrigerated overnight to intensify the flavors. Stir before serving. Balsamic dressing can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator.
About Balsamic Vinegar
Genuine balsamic vinegar is made from unfermented sweet white Trebbiano grapes, called must. Real balsamic vinegar is aged like wine, for at least 10 years, and must meet certain standards. The very best balsamic vinegar is aged 50 years. Genuine balsamic vinegar has notes of honey, fig, raisins, and caramel and is dark brown in color and syrupy. Just like really good wine, this stuff is only for those with deep pockets. Genuine balsamic vinegar always meets the following criteria: it is made in Modena, Italy; it has the word “tradizionale” somewhere on the label; it says it contains must; and it states how long it's been aged. If the labeling does not include all this information, and it doesn't cost a bundle, it is not the genuine article. If you can afford this kind of a splurge, use it to enhance cheeses or on strawberries or creamy Italian desserts. It's way too fine to waste in salad dressing.
Now for the stuff, you are more likely to find on the grocery shelves and more likely to actually use. This is called imitation commercial-grade balsamic vinegar, though on the label it will say "balsamic vinegar." This vinegar is not held to standards. It is a mix of apple cider vinegar, white vinegar or wine vinegar; sugar; caramel; and flavorings. It hasn't been aged since it doesn't contain grapes. It's cheap. But the good news is that this very affordable type of fake balsamic vinegar is fine for dressings since it is mixed with other ingredients. In a pinch, you can whip up a serviceable substitute balsamic vinegar.