Who knew vinegar could make or break a salad?
I used to buy whatever vinegar was available in the grocery store. That changed once I tasted the good stuff and understood how it’s made. Now I buy only from people specialized in producing this delicious product, like the master vinegar maker Laurent Faure.
I never realized, before coming to France, that there were so many varieties to choose from. The ones the French consider as kitchen basics – like white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar – are not just for salad dressing, but also used in cooking to add a je ne sais quoi zing to sauces.
I’ve figured out that a variety of delicious artisan-made vinegars and great olive oil make eating veggies a pleasure.
I’ve accumulated so many different flavors that I call it my artisanal vinegar “forest” – because the numerous tall-necked bottles remind me of tree trunks.
The latest addition to my collection is a raspberry vinegar, naturally aged with no preservatives such as sulfites. (I’ve put a how-to video of my favorite tomato salad with raspberry vinaigrette recipe on Instagram). And I’m waiting for the delivery of another addition: a white wine vinegar with Calamansi lemons. I’ll use that one for a pasta dish with hazelnuts.
Why all the fuss over artisan-made vinegar?
What’s the difference between a high-quality artisanal vinegar and the mass-produced brands sold in grocery stores? There are two main differences: the quality of the base product used to make the vinegar and the time required to make it:
All products that contain sugars are used as a basis for vinegar. Wine but also apple juice can be used. First, the sugars are converted into alcohol by using yeast. Next, the alcohol is transformed, with the presence of oxygen, to acetic acid by the acetic acid bacterium “Acetobacter.”
Vinegar is produced either by a fast or a slow fermentation process.
Large quantity, industrially produced vinegar uses an acetator- a machine that speeds up oxidation through a constant stream of air bubbles. This speeds up the fermentation so that vinegar can be produced quickly -in 1 to 3 days. However, it also causes the vinegar to lose the flavor characteristics of whatever was used to produce it-like wine. So it no longer has the innate flavor profile of the source used to make it.
Slow methods are used in traditional vinegar production, where fermentation progresses over the course of a few months to a year or longer. The more extended fermentation period allows for the accumulation of a nontoxic slime composed of acetic acid bacteria.
Vinegar made with the “Orleans” method:
Over 400 years ago, in 1580, the King of France recognized the confraternities of Vinegar and Mustard Manufacturers of Orleans through letters patent. This established the basic manufacturing method originating from the French city of Orléans, where it is still used today.
It demands a lengthy aging process in oak barrels, yielding a naturally stable product that doesn’t need preservatives or sulfites. The final result also carries the full flavor profile of the underlying high-quality base used. It’s a better tasting and healthier product than the quickly made processed version.
Where to buy great vinegar online plus an excellent book on vinegar:
An excellent place to start, and an example of one of the last great artisanal vinegar makers in the Orleans style, is Martin Pouret. This company has been operated by the same family since the 18th century and is now run by the 6th generation of the Martin family!
You can find 3 of Martin Pouret’s top vinegars on Amazon here:
Red Wine Vinegar: https://amzn.to/2vT9ML5
Raspberry White Wine Vinegar: https://amzn.to/2MwFzuJ
Orleans White Wine Vinegar: https://amzn.to/2vYr6i3
Here’s an excellent book on vinegar with perspective from around the globe:
Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, by Michael Harlan Turkell: https://amzn.to/2MYA3hP
What vinegar do you use? Have you ever tried an artisan-made vinegar? Tell me about it!
And come on over and say “Hi” on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nancyconwayparis/