Monday, March 16, 2009

The New "New" Thing

“Love-matches are made by people who are content, for a month of honey, to condemn themselves to a life of vinegar.” ~The Countess of Blessington, 1789-1849

I read recently that bartering, though it’s been around for centuries, is the new ‘new’ thing and with the economy falling out from underneath us, the online bartering community has exploded with new websites popping up everyday.’s barter section has more than doubled in just the past year! My cooking skills have been a handy bartering tool in the past. I’ve gotten discounted dental work in exchange for catering a baby shower, some yoga lessons and even tax advice, but that was some time ago and I decided recently that it was time to put my bartering skills to work again.

I’ve been wanting to make vinegar for quite some time now but it’s not as simple as just leaving a bottle of wine out in the open air – just like making cheese is not simply leaving a carton of milk out on the counter for a month – wine needs the right bacteria to make a good tasting vinegar. Many of the articles that I had read on vinegar making suggested buying a vinegar ‘mother’ or starter (essentially a ‘live’ vinegar containing the right bacteria for a good flavor) from a beer brewing supplier, while others recommended starting with a live vinegar such as Bragg’s Live Apple Cider Vinegar and then adding water and juice and allowing time for the cultures to grow before building it up with wine or more juice. One article described a complicated arrangement of garden hoses and water buckets to let C02 out of the soon-to-be-vinegar, without letting any oxygen in, and then lots of mixing and toiling, while another involved making fruit juice from fresh fruit, converting that to alcohol and then to vinegar and so on. It seemed rather complicated for a process that has probably existed for over a thousand years and most likely did begin with someone forgetting to cork their wine vessel.

So, I decided to talk to a family friend who happens to be a wine importer. If anyone is going to know about vinegar, I imagine it would be someone in the wine business, right? Right. You can only imagine my delight when I found out he heads up a super-secret vinegar society on the west coast. A whole group of people who gather together to make and taste and talk about vinegar? Awesome. He lead me to the back of his store, where, in a dark recess, underneath the stairs was a very large, glass jug filled with a deep purple liquid. “That, my dear, is made from a 109-year old balsamic vinegar starter from Modena, Italy, brought to the United States by Benedictine Monks. The starter is kept in a monastery in a location that I cannot reveal. I can’t even tell you how I received it or the Monk who gave it to me could be excommunicated from the church by The Pope, himself!”. “Wow, a super-secret vinegar starter – so sought after that a monk risked his life to give you some?”. My mind raced. I could distract my little wine-importing-friend while someone else heisted the bottle for me. But that wouldn’t be very nice. I could ask to use the restroom and siphon some off of the top of the bottle. He probably wouldn’t notice. But that isn’t nice either, and karmic retribution is a bitch sometimes… Hmmm, “would you be willing to trade something for a little starter?” I appealed to his Italian heritage, “how about some jars of homemade mostarda and homemade blood-orange marmalade?”. “Ok”, he said. “Come back tomorrow, at midnight. The exchange must take place in complete secrecy. No one can know. And bring an empty wine bottle with a cork.” Hmmm, an empty wine bottle. Now where am I ever going to find one of those?

I ran home, looking over my shoulder to make sure there were no Priory of Sion followers after me - but this is Ashland, Oregon. I’m more worried about the Prius of Sion followers. A non-violent environmental fringe group dedicated to electric cars, green energy and tofurkey. So, I returned the next night, under the veil of darkness, with my jars of homemade condiments and an empty bottle in hand…

“Hold the funnel”, my friend told me, as he poured the giant jug into my little wine bottle. Glug-glug-glug. “Doesn’t that make you just dream of salad?”, he said, as the aroma of the tangy, jewel colored liquid filled the air. I corked up the bottle, slipped it inside my coat, waved goodbye and slid out the backdoor. Walking home, my eyes couldn’t help but watch the sidewalk, taking careful steps so as not to fall.

I poured half of the contents of the wine bottle into a 1 gallon glass jug and added a bottle of red wine, gave it a good shake to aerate it, as my friend told me to do, tied a piece of cheesecloth over the top and stuck it in the pantry where it will breath and grow and turn my wine into more yummy vinegar. Then, I slit an avocado in half, drizzled it with a little bit of the remaining vinegar and a sprinkle of Maldon Sea Salt, grabbed a spoon and had a little feast. My mouth watered. There was nothing offensive or obtrusive about the flavor. It was sharp, tangy and good.


And what's so wrong with a life of vinegar?


Zora said...

Brilliant! I've been thinking about making vinegar for a while. I doubt I'd ever get my hands on such good starter, though. Excellent bartering work!

Wayward Chef said...

Zora, I always have an open door for you and the One Ass Kitchen crew! I won't even make you cook either - just git yourselves out to Oregon and we'll eat lots of amazing, local, fresh organic food, visit farms, wineries, local distilleries, local cheese producers, etc. and I promise you'll leave with a bottle of my 109-year old vinegar starter!

tammy said...

just goes to show it's all in how choose to look at things: for you vinegar DOES = honey (ambrosia) perfect!

Wayward Chef said...

Thanks Tammy!

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