The world of Vinegar can sometimes seem confusing and can easily overwhelm, which is a shame because vinegar can completely transform, and enrich so many recipes.
We are going to break down the main French, Italian and Spanish vinegar's so you know what they are and how to make the most of them in your cooking.
The word "vinegar" comes from a French term "vin aigre" which means "sour wine." Which helps to explain what vinegar is. The grapes in vinegar have been fermented twice, the initial fermentation is the same as when wine is created and sugars turn into alcohol, the second process turns the alcohol into acid, which is vinegar.
After the second fermentation, the vinegar's are aged, how this aging takes place depends on the desired outcome. For instance many Italian balsamic vinegar's are aged in multiple wooden barrels for many years.
Of course, not all vinegar's come from grapes, however generally they do follow the same process but can be made from other produce such as barley or apples.
White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegar is created from grapes that have been fermented twice, and as with wine these can be labeled simply white wine vinegar or labeled with specific varietals which have different complexities, strengths and uses.
For instance we have an Italian Aceto di Vino Da Roero Arneis, which comes from the Arneis grape, and tastes of honey and acacia flower. A delicate flavour which will work with more delicate dishes.
White wine vinegar is great to infuse with other ingredients, like Tarragon vinegar which can be used in cooking the same way as white wine vinegar bringing acidity as well as the additional flavour of the tarragon.
White wine vinegar is great in mayonnaise and salad dressings or bearnaise sauce. Many butter or tomato based sauces will be taken to the next level with just a little drizzle.
Red Wine Vinegar
Again, the same process of oxidizing or fermenting is performed however red wine is used as the base.
It has a pronounced tangy, rounded taste. Use red wine vinegar for salad dressings, marinades, pickles, and sweet and sour dishes especially good in dishes with red cabbage, liver and red meat.
As with wine, grape varietals, regional differences as well as quality and aging means there are many varieties available.
Sherry vinegar is said to be one of the oldest vinegars in the world. At first the winemakers considered this a failure but it was eventually discovered that sherry vinegar made a delicious condiment. The vinegar is aged in old oak sherry barrels, stacked three or more levels high. The youngest vinegars are stored in the top row of barrels and, as they age, are transferred to the lower barrels and blended with older vinegars. This ageing process gives a touch of oak flavour and adds complexity to its naturally nutty flavour. Sherry vinegar is a deep caramel color and has a lovely rounded mellow flavor.
How to use it? Try making a traditional vinaigrette, 1/3 cup sherry vinegar to 1 cup of olive oil, a teaspoon of mustard and a little salt and pepper. Or, blended into a gazpacho. It makes a great marinade because the acid in vinegar breaks down protein fibers, helping to tenderize meat. Use it to glaze vegetables like sweet potatoes and de-glaze a frying pan after cooking meat to create a rich sauce. Sherry vinegar splashed over ice-cream, or goat’s cheese is also a delight.
Balsamic vinegar is made from un-fermented grape juice aged in wooden casks. The quality of the finished product depends a great deal on the type of wood used and the skill of the vinegar maker. This process can take anything from two to ten years and can even extend over many decades.
Balsamic vinegar production is certainly an art, similar to wine making to produce an exceptional product. Traditionally made balsamic vinegar can be costly, although you will taste the difference when compared to an industrial product.
What to use it for besides salad dressing or dunking bread??
Its amazing on ice cream to add intensity to your fruit especially on Strawberries (drizzle a little and cover chopped strawberries and leave for few hours in the fridge). Or why not try it in your next strawberry daiquiri, and of course it is amazing with pork, or to glaze fish.
The pulp of apples are fermented into a cider vinegar using the same method as white wine vinegar. Cider vinegar has a sharp and quite strong flavour which means it can sometimes over power dishes. So use sparingly.
Looking after your vinegar
Keep vinegar in a cool place away from light; they do not need to be refrigerated. Most vinegar can be kept almost indefinitely if stored correctly.