A couple years ago I fell in love with a fruit vinegar. This may sound like an easy love to consummate — there are many fruit vinegars in the stores, after all — but this vinegar was delicious beyond all of them. Unfortunately it's only available in England, so I had to turn to alternatives. This fall, I decided to try to fill my vinegar craving myself. The process turned out to be shockingly easy. Here's what I did.
The Quest for Fruit Vinegar
The vinegar that I fell for is made by Stratta, a small family operation located in East Sussex, England. I tasted their cherry vinegar in a cooking class in France two years ago. Rosa Jackson, my hostess, had a bit of vinegar she had brought back from a farmers market in England, and the taste of that sweet, rich, cherry-infused liquid on a simple salad sent me over the moon.
• More about Stratta: Stratta's website - They make such wonderful vinegars as elderberry, raspberry, fig, and redcurrant! Many are award-winners in Great Britain. Check them out if you are lucky enough to live close to one of their markets.
I thought it would be easy to find something comparable in the States, but so far I haven't. Most of the fruit vinegars I've found have been balsamic, which are too heavy and not fruit-forward enough for me. Other fruit vinegars turn out too-sweet or fake-tasting.
So I turned back to Stratta, who is very generous with their own process. There is very little that is exotic or unique about their vinegars — they are simply made of good white wine vinegar, steeped with fresh local fruit. The thing that makes them special is the fruit itself — much of it gathered from the garden of owners Mary and John Stratton — and the time that fruit steeps.
Many commercial vinegar makers won't let fruit sit in the vinegar very long, but the Strattons leave it in for up to two weeks. This gives an incredible depth of fruit flavor to their vinegars. They talked with Rosa Jackson about their process here:
• The best fruit vinegars at Rosa Jackson's Edible Adventures
That looked pretty easy to me! Inspired by this, and by ">Dana's adventures in improvised fruit vinegar, I decided to try it for myself.
Making Fruit Vinegar at Home
Here is how I made my own fruit vinegar.
First, the base vinegar. It's important to find a high-quality white wine vinegar to start with, one with minimal levels of ethyl acetate, the compound that shows up in lesser-quality vinegars. (You can tell if it's there by the strong characteristic smell of nail polish remover.) Learn more about white wine vinegar and see some ratings (if you have website membership) at Cook's Illustrated:
• White Wine Vinegar at Cook's Illustrated
I didn't have any of their recommended brands, so I ended up using Napa Valley Originals Organic White Wine Vinegar. It tasted bright and sprightly, and had no ethyl acetate scent or taste at all.
Then the fruit. You want an equal weight of fruit to vinegar. I found some local, late-season raspberries at the farmers market. They were very sweet and fragrant.
I picked over the fruit and removed any bad berries, then I crushed the raspberries lightly with a fork in a saucepan. I poured in the vinegar and brought everything to a simmer. I simmered for just a minute to help release the raspberries' flavor into the vinegar, then I turned off the heat. I poured everything — vinegar and fruit — into a hot sterilized jar. I let it cool with the cap off, then capped and put it all away in a dark cupboard.
See how easy that is?
It is currently steeping away in the jar, so I will report back on it next week. (Although I will tell you that it has turned a brilliant bright pink hue from the raspberries!) When I strain all the fruit out I will also sweeten just a bit, to taste.
Have you ever made your own fruit vinegar? What has been your favorite flavor? Any particular tips to impart?
More Vinegar Tips & How-To:
• How To Make Your Own Vinegar
• Recipe Review: Improvisational Cherry Vinegar
(Images: Faith Durand)