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Gifts for cooks: New Mexican balsamico

December 11, 2009 | 12:19 pm

All right, if you have an intimate knowledge of New Mexican geography, you might think this is a joke: a $150 bottle of balsamic vinegar that comes at least in part from vineyards that just happen to be located near the town of Truth or Consequences.

But this is the real thing: Paul Bertolli, former chef at Chez Panisse and Oliveto and current maker of Fra’Mani sausages, recommended it to me, and I don’t know anyone more exigent when it comes to fine Italian food products.

Cask-aged for 12 years in barrels made in Italy from the seven classic woods, it has the viscous, slightly syrupy texture of the Italian original and the same explosive, complex flavor. This is vinegar you use by the drop, not the tablespoon. You can go old-school and sprinkle a couple of drops on fresh strawberries, or on a shard of Parmigiano-Reggiano; I sprinkled it on sliced Fuyu persimmons and it was terrific.

Traditional aceto balsamico of Monticello, $150 for 4.5-ounce bottle.

-- Russ Parsons