Let’s keep it up with the balsamic vinegar, yeah? Today we’re going to look at Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze.
Now a glaze is an interesting thig to buy – one of those intriguing grocery product outliers, like bouillon cubes or cloves – that you only by once every 3 years or so and which seems to be manufactured exclusively by tiny, unknown companies with names like “Winslow’s” or “Classic Star”.
Let me say, up front, that this is a pretty good product. Glaze is a weird accessory to food – only lending itself to a few dishes – and I’ll admit that this glaze has vexed me in my efforts to incorporate it into my meals. It’s certainly not something you’re going to use every day, but it does have a multi-year shelf life so that’s not a big problem. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze is a mixture of a thick, natural grape syrup (called grape must) and balsamic vinegar, and it tastes exactly like what you’d expect a vinegar infused grape syrup would taste like. It has a sweet, strong tang that pairs nicely with pork medallions or roast beef, or as a side sauce with Italian-herbed potatoes. There’s no sugar added to the glaze, but don’t underestimate the sweetness – the grape must, being the concentrated remains of crushed grapes, is 10-15% glucose by weight. That said, the balsamic vinegar is strong enough that it makes up the primary taste. This one will zing your tongue before it soothes it. I’m not going to ladle the praise on too liberally here though. A sweet, vinegary syrup is a bold new taste but not necessarily one everybody is going to flip over. I dip into this bottle twice a month or so and have always left satisfied but never blown away.
What intrigues me more than the taste is the weird marketing shenanigans Trader Joe’s has gotten up to with this product. This is sold on the Trader Giotto’s label, it also proudly touts the fact that it’s not just “Made in Italy” but even a “product of Modena” made with “traditional methods”.
Let’s take a look at what they’re insinuating.
Balsamic vinegar, true balsamic vinegar – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – is essentially refined grape must, aged for a decade in special casks within the town of Modena, Italy. This is a designation protected by international law to prevent cheap knockoffs. True balsamic vinegar sells for around $100 an ounce, and is justly craved by the well-to-do trendy gourmet set.
On the other hand, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (no “tradizionale”) is an inexpensive, commercially produced imitation of true balsamic vinegar, which is to say it’s the only type you or I have every had. This balsamic vinegar is really just a mixture of ordinary vinegar with food coloring, some caramel and bit of thickening agent. A dollar a gallon, in other words.
If Trader Joe’s were the hardcore mofo’s they want us to think they are we would be discussing the former right now. In reality, of course, this glaze is made with the latter. What I don’t understand is why they’re bothering with the antics here. We’re not idiots, TJ, we’re not going to think you’ve somehow figured out a way to package super-expensive, authentic balsamic vinegar into a plastic squeeze bottle at $2.99 a pop. Why bother with the misleading language? Made with “traditional methods”? Really? You mean the method of mixing food coloring and ordinary wine vinegar, just like they did in the middle ages?
It’s a sad fact that we live in a time where the shape of our daily life has predominantly been decided by marketers trying to make a buck. Every man-made thing we come into contact with, from our cradles to our coffins, have passed through the hands of a marketer at some point. I’m aware of this, it’s the way of the world, but I sometimes like to fool myself into thinking that maybe there’s a corporation out there that could change things, that maybe there’s a CEO who values genuine human interaction over a forklift full of money. Trader Joe’s does a better job than most at coming across as sincere, so moments like this are important reminders that in this day and age, faking sincerity is just one more way to get that dollar out of your pocket.
Would I Recommend It: If you have use for a sweet, vinegar glaze this is a good bet.
Would I Buy It Again: One is enough, thanks.
Final Synopsis: A sweet, tangy glaze that promises more than it can deliver.
I should develop a special Star of Excellence to award for the best products at Trader Joe’s. I won’t because, you know, eh – life, but if I did I would not hesitate to award it to Trader Joe’s Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken.
How did they do this?! It’s astounding – there it is, a big hunk of cold chicken sitting in a little cheap, plastic bin sealed by a flimsy bit of plastic, basting in a dubious looking dark fluid, packaged with an actual twig, sitting in the refrigerated section between shapeless strips of sliced turkey and uninspiring lasagnas. How could this thing, this ordinary thing, be very good? Maybe it could be not bad, maybe it could even be decent, but there’s no way it’s going to be exceptional, right?
Goddamit people! This is what I’m tell you – it is exceptional. I don’t know how the mighty food wizards at TJ’s did it again, but they did it again. They took a cheap chunk of sub $5.00 chicken, the same thing you’ve been sold a 1,000 literal times – at grocery stores, in restuarants, in fast food bags, frozen, grilled, broiled, boiled, cubed, chopped and pathetically garnished in a myriad ways. An no one has ever done it right. No one has cared enough to do it right. No CEO has ever thundered, “You know that chicken with the low profit margin, the one people will buy regardless? I want you to work around the clock until it is goddamn delicious!”
TJ is smashing through this wall of mediocre chicken with his own two bare fists, showering the promised land beyond with wobbly breasts. “NOOOOO MOOOOOORE!” he screams, hurling his besprigged packages to the benighted populous. “HAVE GOOOOOOD CHIIIIIIIIICKEN!”
Look, let’s really get into this.
This chicken, a hefty 12 oz breast, is redolent of fragrant rosemary and lightly infused with the delicious tang of a balsamic vinegar marinade. The basic nature of it’s ingredients only serves to magnifies Trader Joe’s own glory and to further rebuke everyone else in the world. This is an easy recipe guys! Everyone could be doing this!
Balsamic vinegar and rosemary have a long history of working together with chicken, and for good reason. Here they bring a nice, considered touch to the dish, balanced in every dimension – neither too acidic or too musty, too watery or too weak. The sauce is so good you’ll be tempted to lap it up after – and it makes the marinated chicken a taste sensation whether it’s eaten cold and dripping in it’s own juices, or hot and sweaty. Oh, and by the way, that twig in there? Well, as you probably guessed, that’s an actual spring of rosemary packaged in for good measure. The country-side notes of the rosemary sing along with the tasty tang of the balsamic in this very low fat, very healthy dish. Like Trader Joe’s Stuffed Red Peppers, I’m drawn back to it time and time again.
In other words, if you’re stuck in a bad chicken rut, you can’t go wrong with this chunk of clucker.
Would I Recommend It: Yeah, I like this one.
Would I Buy It Again: Weekly.
Final Synopsis: Proof that incredible eats can be found for under $5.00 in a cheap plastic tray.