The Meteoric Rise And Unexpected Crash Of My Love Affair With Artisanal Balsamic Vinegar

Let me preface all that follows by noting that if this is the biggest problem I have all week, I am one of the blessed of the earth. Trust me, it is not. It’s just the one I’m choosing to write about.

I hate people who bullshit the customer.

I hate pretentious business models.

I especially hate it when some skinny spa-buffed menopausal broad in ever so expensive attire and makeup looks me smack in the eye and hands me a line that we both have to know is complete fucking bullshit.

What happened was, one of the local fawncy shopping strips became home to a startup retail business, with an oh so cutesy name,  selling artisanal oil and flavored aged balsamic vinegar out of tap vats, so that you could go about the store with teensy paper cups and taste this and that aromatic condiment before buying; either a sampler of four bottles en bloc, costing about twenty-three bucks US, or a shy pint priced at seventeen clams. A few weeks ago the Cute Engineer — scion of a foodie family so intense that close relations once contemplated opening a wine bar — swung me by there and we snapped up a random assortment: Greek oil, oil flavored with lime, fig and bergamot-lemon balsamic vinegars, the vinegars unctuous and slow-running as liqueurs, laden with aromas and mellow tang. Holy Crustacean. We had made a find. We ate it on salad, on cheeses, on everything in the fridge. Finally I understood how people can eat this balsamic stuff on ice cream. Yowza. I don’t even like ice cream, by the way.

Last night, in the punishing heat, I proposed we dine on Caprese salad (I had mozzarella, and the garden is extruding heaps of tomatoes and basil), stopping first at the oil and vinegar place to replenish with a few new flavors.

The little sampler size bottles were gone, replaced by we-know-what’s-best-for-you boxes with coy labels: “Fruit Basket,” “Sunday Brunch,” “Viva Italia,” and whatever someone’s twee imagination could devise.

I asked the woman who seemed to be the manager of the hour why I couldn’t get small bottles of flavors like garlic and cilantro, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon pear (the cinnamon-pear vinegar was to die for, but how is even a passionate hobbyist of foodcraft like me going to dispatch a pint of the stuff?).

“Oh,” said Ms. Maquillage-and-Designer-Frock, “we found that these were the combinations that people were picking anyway.”

Bullshit. You found that people asking your store staff to fill small bottles from the vats was, like, work to the pampered children of the wealthy that work in your snooty storefront. Or that it was too much trouble to keep small bottles in stock. Or something. And the solution was to be glib and expect people to sink seventeen bucks on spec or stick to a few limited picks, with the not-too-faint subtext that someone who doesn’t have seventeen bucks to blow on random experiments shouldn’t be darkening your door. Trust my antennas; my first post-college stopgap job was in a wine and cheese shop, and at least once a year I ask the powers that control the universe to ensure that the condescending, snobbish (yet Gallo-drinking) proprietor — whose first interview question was “What does your father do?” — is still sizzling in hell.

I am in business for myself. Unless someone is clinically irrational, I consider it a failure if I have the ability to give them what they want and they leave without it. Funny how I am still here after 25 years.

I didn’t answer her. We bought a little four-bottle set because we had our teeth set for dinner. But forget going back.


10 thoughts on “The Meteoric Rise And Unexpected Crash Of My Love Affair With Artisanal Balsamic Vinegar

  1. Costco’s Kirkland 4 Leaf Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is pretty darn good. You have to like it because it comes in a full liter bottle. But it is only about $12.50. So if you have a Costo membership, or have a friend who has a membership, try a bottle, it is a lot better than much, much more expensive Balsamics I have tried.

    BTW, they have a really great estate bottled extra-virgin Tuscan Olive Oil also. Yummy, and not too expensive (i.e. cheap).

    Is Still Here

    • Costco is a great consumer resource. My Albino Ex retains his membership there and once in a while asks me what I want. But my soul yearns for that vanillla and cinnamon pear stuff. Not enough to traffick with the nouveau, though.

  2. They should be shot just for that cringe-making store name, and then shot again for their crap customer service. Though the fig and bergamot-lemon balsamic sounds divine.

    I tried some gazpacho icecream topped with a drizzle of balsamic recently – very good, and like you I don’t really like icecream.

    Have you ever tried Pedro Ximenez vinegars? Saw some in little spray bottles a while ago and thought of you.

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