On my way to finding it, I bypassed a lot of salsa — a LOT of salsa — and tried a lot of olives, cheese and chocolate, sometimes in a highly unfortunate order.
While it was all good — and certainly each was some degree of fancy — my attention wasn’t truly arrested until I got into the Italy section of the show, and specifically, the Leonardi booth. Leonardi makes balsamic vinegar or, more appropriately, aceto balsamico. When said in Italian, it sounds less like the stuff that passes for balsamic vinegar on U.S. shelves, and more like the anointing condiment it is in its homeland.
The first clue that Leonardi’s wares might be among the fanciest of the fancy was that the tiny bottles were displayed with the boxes that protected them, and the boxes were encrusted in faux gemstones.
I was in the homestretch after having walked 50-some aisles of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Most of the exhibitors are there to get you to taste their products — to the extent that you need to be careful with whom you make eye contact. When I got to Leonardi’s booth, I saw a bottle of 100-year balsamico. I made eye contact. The representative smiled. I picked up the numbered, 2.39-ounce bottle, and slowly tilted it. I was looking at the viscosity of the liquid. Balsamic gets thicker as it ages, so I wanted to see how it coated the inside of the bottle.
It did so impressively.
So I picked up a bottle of Leonardi’s 30-year balsamico, which is in a larger bottle, but comes in a no-less-encrusted box. I tilted it, too, and noticed that it coated the inside of the bottle nicely as well, if far less than the 100-year version.
“You know how to shop for balsamico,” the representative said to me, at least seeming somewhat impressed.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a 100-year before,” I told her. “I have 12-year at home, and I’ve had 25-year at restaurants. I bet this is amazing.”
That was me dropping a huge hint right on the floor of the convention center.
“It is,” she said without offering me a strawberry on which to sample a fraction of a gram of the good stuff.
At any other booth, if I had shown this much interest, I would have been offered a taste of every product in the general vicinity.
“Would you like our literature?” she asked, handing me a leaflet with the brief company spiel in Italian, French and English.
Sure. I knew that I wasn’t getting so much as a drop of 100-year balsamico — and that’s presumably all you need , so I’ve heard.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk retail price at the show, so when I got home, I looked the vinegar up online. The retailers I found that carried it were selling those tiny bottles for 675 euros, which at today’s exchange rate, converts to more than four times the price of my first car.