The store has a vinegar and oil sampling counter, quite a good idea really, especially given the variety the store carries -- although it's not a patch on Pusateri's unsamplable but overwhelmingly diverse range. On two freestanding small marble islands, racks of open, spouted vinegars and oils are arrayed with paper plates, napkins, and crouton-sized bits of bread in a glass jar.
This vinegar wasn't there, I observed, as the clerk went to fetch it from behind the counter. He poured me a few millimeters worth in a paper condiments cup. "You can drink it like port. And it's amazing with strawberries," he effused. I doubted, and so used the tongs to fish out a piece of bread to use instead.
It was good, but the taste of the bread, while neutral, was much less interesting; so I took his advice and sipped the rest of the vinegar. Yes, vinegar. Ten years of maturing in wooden barrels sweetens and softens vinegar. It wasn't as vinegary as any other vinegar I'd ever tried. The flavor was richly smooth and complex. It tasted really, really good. Memorably good. It's been a day, and I can still remember the taste vividly.
I knew from experience that balsamic vinegar is one of those things that really is worth what you pay for it: do not ever buy cheap balsamic vinegar - it tastes awful. Around here, good vinegars start somewhere around the C$8 per bottle. I hadn't realized before trying the ten year old vinegar just how much like the wine market the balsamic market is, if on a rather smaller scale.
Another clerk wandered by, and observed me sampling. "That's really good with strawberries," she commented enthusiastically as I threw away my cup. She helpfully added that the one I was actually intending to buy works pretty well that way too.
After a moment or two of looking around, tempted by objects, if not by their prices, I paused to look through a new cookbook, one filled with brunch recipes from Mildred Pierce, a favorite brunch location of ours. Much as it was tempting, I had enough other errands to run, and anyways, I'd rather just eat there. I put it back and paid. The cashier looked approvingly at my choice of the much, much, much cheaper five year vinegar. "This tastes delicious with strawberries," she said. I nodded and left.