The Insider's Guide to Vinegar

Our popular 'Insider's Guide' is back this month. Everything you need to know about vinegars; whether you're on the hunt for the perfect vinegar for dressings, or want to learn more about how you can use them as a great flavour hit for your favourite recipe.

| James Robinson

What makes a vinegar?

Vinegar is an acidic liquid made by the secondary fermentation of alcohol by acetobacters, bacteria which convert alcohol to acetic acid. One of the great things about it is that it is produced from a remarkably wide variety of base alcohol substances ranging from rice to grapes to barley and dates, or even from sugar, beans or maize. This creates a wide variety of flavours and aromas. In Europe the majority of vinegars are made using fruits, particularly grapes, but also including stone fruits, berries and apples. In eastern Europe vinegars are commonly made from soy beans, rice and other grains.

The history of vinegar 

Vinegar is amongst mankind’s earliest processed products. Evidence of its use dates back to at least 4,000 BCE in Mesopotamia, where archaeologists have discovered tablets describing a method of turning beer into vinegar. We know that it was widely used in many cultures, including Egypt, ancient Greece, Rome and particularly in the Far East, most notably in China by the 2nd millennium BCE, but also subsequently in Korea and Japan. Vinegar has continued to be central to the food culture of these Asian countries ever since.

How alcohol turns into vinegar

Acetobacters, responsible for the transformation of alcohol to acetic acid, are present everywhere. They are the reason that the wine left in a glass for a couple of days begins to become acidic. This is still the way in which some vinegars are produced. Officially known as the Orleans method, in essence an alcoholic liquid in a cask is exposed to air and allowed, over the course of many months, or even years, to turn to an acidic liquid.

This is the method that is still used to make Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (DOP), or traditional sherry vinegars; it takes a long time, but produces a vinegar with great complexity of flavours. The other main methods used these days are the Schutzenbach or the Generator method, which produce vinegars in a matter of days or weeks. The Submerged Fermentation method which, by adding powdered acetobacters, heat and passing lots of air through the alcohol, can produce a vinegar in a matter of hours.

Brindisa vinegars 

Brindisa’s range of vinegars are all made using fruit derived alcohols, wines and cider, but produced by different methods.

Valdespino

 

Valdespino, one of the oldest sherry houses in Spain, makes a classic sherry vinegar using Fino sherry. It is aged by the same solera system that creates the sherry, resulting in sharp, woody, hay-like notes. The same vinegar, matured in PX sherry casks, has aromas and flavours of dried figs, raisins and prunes.

Sotaroni PX vinegar

Sherry Balsamic Vinegar

The Torrevella PX vinegar, made from dessert sherry grapes, is sweetened by the addition of grape must, a concentrated juice, to produce a sweet, dried fruit, intensely flavoured vinegar. The vinegars under the Forum label are wine vinegars, produced by the Schutzenbach method, to which must is added before they are aged for years. This produces a balanced, sweet/sharp vinegar with distinct grape varietal notes in both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay styles.

The Unio Range

Unio Moscatel Vinegar

The Unio range is made with grapes from the same region as the Forum vinegars. However, without ageing, resulting in simpler, more acidic flavours. The exception to this is Moscatel vinegar, made with the Moscatel de Alejandria dessert wine grapes. This vinegar has sweet, floral, stone fruit aromas and flavours. Our Llagar de Oles cider vinegar comes from Asturias and is famous throughout Spain for its dry, slightly fizzy cider. It is produced using the Orleans method, resulting in a powerful, nuanced, fruity vinegar.

Guide to using vinegar

Although many households probably only have one or two vinegars, each type or style will give distinctly different results when used in the kitchen. I always have at least 6 vinegars on the go at once and use them almost every time I am preparing something in the kitchen.

Valdespino vinegar

Valdespino Sherry Vinegar

Valdespino sherry vinegar is not the one I use the most, but for me it has the most distinctive flavour. Whether used in a dressing, marinade or cooked dish. It always reminds me of Spain and Spanish food, despite the fact that it is very much an Andalusian product.

Great things to use it with...

Gazpacho, seafood and chorizo stew, fried scallops.

Balsamic sherry vinegar

Torrevella’s PX vinegar is so full of the notes of Christmas pudding that it is entirely appropriate to use in desserts, taking advantage of the balance of sweet and sharp notes. It is also perfect to bring a little sweetness to sharp or salty dishes or simply used in making a vinaigrette.

Great things to use it on...

Roasted onions, berries in chocolate sauce, strawberries

 

Forum's vinegars

Forum’s matured wine vinegars are also very adaptable and ideal for use in dressings, marinades, reductions, cooked dishes and desserts. The Chardonnay with its hints of citrus, tropical fruits and slight oakiness is an excellent partner to fish, seafood and poultry dishes, while the Cabernet Sauvignon, with notes of chocolate, red fruit and oak can work beautifully in desserts or with red meats. Perhaps the perfect choice for a vinaigrette.

Recipes:

Cabernet Sauvignon - Braised pig’s cheeks, Boeuf Bourguignon, ice creams.

Chardonnay - Crab salad, roast chicken, roasted peaches.

Unio Vinegars

Unio’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vinegars are at their best when used in cooked dishes; reducing them, by deglazing in a pan or simply cooking them down, brings out the fresher fruit flavours and ups the level of sweetness. They are decent, everyday vinegars which will provide a touch of acidity and complexity to many dishes.

Great things to use it with...

Cabernet Sauvignon - Pickled beetroots, honey-baked figs, pork and venison meatballs.

Chardonnay - Poached octopus, roasted chicken thighs, baked apples.

The Unio Moscatel vinegar is something else; light, fragrant, and fruity, with a lovely sweet/sharp balance. This is a wonderful vinegar with fish and seafood or to make a delicate, floral dressing for salads. Reduced to a thick glaze it works perfectly either in desserts or with poultry.

Great things to use it with...

Steamed mussels, poached fish, vinaigrettes.

 Llagar de Oles

Llagar de Oles cider vinegar is powerfully fruity with the crisp acidity of green apples and makes an excellent vinegar for use in pork dishes in particular, where it brings heft and fruitiness to the recipes it is also excellent with seafood.

Great things to use it with...

Poached salmon, pot roast loin of pork, grilled mackerel.

 

 

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