Fustini’s versatile and Northern Michigan–inspired balsamic vinegar adds the perfect gourmet touch to local and seasonal recipes.
When it comes to condiments, olive oil may often get top billing, but a certain magic happens when the rich and nutty oil pairs with sweet and savory vinegars that make it pop.
Balsamic vinegar is among the most coveted and versatile—rich, glossy and complex, it adds tangy interest to meats and salads or can balance the sweet richness of certain cheeses and desserts.
It’s an ingredient Michigan entrepreneur Jim Milligan knows well—and one that changed his life. Throughout his career as a 3M and Imation executive, he was so enamored of the oils and vinegars he encountered on his business travels in Europe that he was inspired to launch his second act by founding Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars a purveyor of craft oil and vinegar, in Northern Michigan, a place dear to his heart.
Northern Michigan also happens to be a place perfect for connecting with like-minded foodies, farmers and producers, and creating recipes and pairings that speak to the culinary influences in the region. Here’s what makes balsamic vinegar a perfect pantry staple.
What Makes a Great Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional Modena balsamic vinegar is aged in small wooden barrels for more than a dozen years to achieve that balanced degree of acidity and grape-derived richness. Fustini’s puts enormous care into the creation of its balsamic vinegars, resulting in best-sellers like the 18-year traditional balsamic that many Fustini’s devotees say they would eat on its own.
It all starts with a very high-quality grape grown on Lambrusco, Sangiovese or Trebbiano vines. As the grape is cooked down, it thickens and red or white vinegar is added along with any purees or natural flavors. Fustini’s has made a name for its custom products that include a cheery white Sicilian Lemon balsamic and a line of Michigan exclusives that pull in regionally grown and sourced fruit and honey. Working with local producers and listening to what customers want lead to the top-selling Traverse City Cherry balsamic, West Michigan Blueberry balsamic, Michigan Apple balsamic and an Iron Fish Distillery white-wine vinegar made with honey from the distiller’s own hives.
Fustini’s top-of-the-line balsamic vinegars and olive oils are imported from select artisans and small-batch growers in Modena, Italy. This coveted hamlet is birthplace to the Holy Trinity of Italian foods—Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, prosciutto ham and balsamico di Modena—and home to families carrying on the age-old tradition of producing balsamic in their attics.
Nothing artificial or synthetic is added to Fustini’s balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, and everything is allergen free and vegan. As vinegars are naturally low in calories and oils are high in antioxidants, they can help create the foundation of a healthy, Mediterranean-inspired diet. But perhaps even more important is the condiment’s incredible versatility and the way it can complement such a wide range of regionally inspired dishes.
The 14-year-old Michigan company keeps a close pulse on culinary trends, believing a recipe can only be as good as its ingredients. The essence of the Fustini’s dream has always been to be a part of great food and culinary creativity and to nourish a customer’s inner gourmet. Fustini’s evolution spawned a series of five cookbooks in 2011, each with a varied focus on how to incorporate oils and vinegars into cooking. For more inspiration, QR codes on each label bring you to healthy and flavorful recipes found on their website.
The Fustini’s Pantry—via brick-and-mortar locations and online—is stocked with gourmet pastas, tapenades, honey and more. (Tip: the black-fig maple spread, horseradish maple mustard and Michigan-shaped charcuterie board are solid additions to any pantry stash.)
In 2013, the Fustini’s School of Cooking by Corporate Chef Andy Stewart began offering cooking classes that saw a popular pivot to virtual sessions during Covid-19. Today, classes are taught virtually where qualified chefs instruct participants from the comfort of their own kitchens.
How to Enjoy Balsamic Vinegar: Fustini’s Tips
- Aged balsamics are fabulous to add to beverages. This basic formula never fails: something bubbly (sparkling water, ginger ale or Sprite) + Fustini’s balsamic + liquor of choice. Find a full list of drink and cocktail recipes here.
- Shop early for the holidays. Special releases on gift boxes launch mid-August. The best-selling Taste of Michigan Gift Set features one bottle each of Fustini’s Traverse City Cherry balsamic, Fustini’s West Michigan Blueberry balsamic, Fustini’s Michigan Apple balsamic, Fustini’s Basil olive oil and an idea card in a beautiful customized gift box.
- Gather your favorite foodie friends for a virtual cooking class. Experienced Michigan chefs lead interactive classes and invite you to discover new dishes and techniques from your home in these 90-minute sessions.
Photo by Fustini's Oils & Vinegars
Fustini’s Must-Try Recipes
Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Fresh Cherry Salsa
- 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 cup shallots, chopped
- 1 cup Fustini’s Traverse City Cherry balsamic
- 1/4 cup Fustini’s Persian Lime olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Cherry Salsa
Photo by Fustini's Oils & Vinegars
Combine tenderloins with the next 4 ingredients in a large Ziploc bag. Marinate 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in refrigerator.
When ready to cook, remove tenderloins from marinade and season with salt and pepper. Heat grill to medium high. Grill tenderloins about 15 minutes, turning at regular intervals so scoring occurs on all sides, until internal temp reaches 145 degrees. Let tenderloins rest about 10 minutes, then slice 1/2 inch thick and serve with Fresh Cherry Salsa.
Fresh Cherry Salsa: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper and set aside to meld flavors.
West Michigan Blueberry Chicken Salad
- 3 tablespoons Fustini’s West Michigan Blueberry balsamic vinegar, divided
- 3 tablespoons Fustini’s Basil olive oil, divided
- 3 large chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon Fustini’s Tuscan Spice blend (optional)
- 1-2 heads romaine
- 4-6 leaves of fresh basil
- 1 pint fresh blueberries
- 4-6 oz fresh mozzarella
- 1 small red onion
Photo by Fustini's Oils & Vinegars
Combine 1 tablespoon Fustini’s vinegar and 1 tablespoon of Fustini’s olive oil, place into a marinating bag with the chicken. Marinate chicken 2 to 4 hours.
Season chicken with herbs (optional), salt and pepper. Grill, pan sear or bake chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Let rest several minutes before slicing against the grain and serving with the salad.
Salad: In a small bowl whisk remaining balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Chop romaine into bite-size pieces. Tear basil into small pieces and toss with romaine. Toss lettuce with salad dressing and add mozzarella, onion and blueberries. Divide salad between serving plates and top with sliced chicken breast.
For more healthy cooking inspiration, visit fustinis.com/recipes.