I remember, when I was a kid of 8 or 9, my mom would give me a grocery list. I would walk the three or four blocks to the Market Basket on the corner of Genesee and Van Patten to complete the chore. I got everything into the cart, excepting the vinegar. There were two kinds on the shelf, so I selected one and took my groceries home and inevitably the vinegar came into question. If I got the red she wanted the white, and if I got the white she invariably wanted the red. One day I got tired of it and I bought a bottle of each. I got quite a dressing down that day because I had wasted money, probably 7 or 8 cents, on an item we did not need. I trudged back to the Market Basket to get my money back on the red, she had wanted the white. It was Depression time, and 7 cents was a lot of money.
Life is different today. Nothing costs 7 cents, although vinegar is still very inexpensive. So before sitting to write this column I looked at the vinegar shelf in my kitchen. It is on the shelf below the one that has the 15 or 20 kinds of cooking oil that I will probably seldom use
It was hard to believe what I saw. Nearly 20 bottles of vinegar. Most, I am sure, were purchased over the years when I was doing a lot of cooking and when a recipe called for a specific vinegar, I got a small bottle of it. If I liked the recipe, I got a bigger bottle and then found recipes that I liked better, but used a different vinegar. And so it went.
But here are some of those that I still frequently use. Of course, in today’s cooking, balsamic is a must. But there are different types. I usually use the ordinary from Wegmans; unlike the aged balsamic, it is inexpensive. The balsamic from F. Oliver’s, a Canandaigua-based company, is pricier, but the flavors are wonderful. I believe it is aged longer. But they have flavored vinegar. I went through a full bottle of their dark chocolate balsamic in the last month. It is fantastic on strawberries. As a matter of fact, if you prepare strawberries, add a tablespoon or so of sugar and a couple tablespoons of ordinary balsamic, you will have a delicious desert. Oliver’s offers several fruit-flavored vinegars. I noticed that I also have cherry and fig on my shelf.
You see, fully aged Balsamic is rather expensive. The following is copied from an internet post from Modena, Italy: “Balsamic vinegar might be the most sublime of all the vinegars. Sweet and smoky, this dark elixir can be used in salad dressings, sauces and marinades, and even drizzled over steaks or fresh fruit.”
Real balsamic vinegar must be produced from Trebbiano grapes in the areas Modena, Italy, or in neighboring Reggio, in Emilia. The grapes are picked crushed and gently cooked, releasing their sugars, giving the vinegar its brown coloring. The juice is put into a large barrel for a year or two, the barrel is opened, and the juices have condensed so it goes into a smaller barrel. This process goes on for 15 to 25 years, with the barrel getting smaller with each change. Hence the price. I just looked on Amazon for a 14-ounce bottle of the 15-year, and it goes for $36. A 25-year-old Vinegre Balsamico di Modena goes for $176. Even at $36 it is bargain because half a teaspoon of it will give more flavor than a quarter or half of a cup of the inexpensive stuff. Yes, I do have a bottle of the real Mancardi Balsamic.
Certainly, one must have a bottle of rice vinegar on hand for some of those Asian dishes that we cook. I think that I must have a dozen recipes that call for tarragon. I think that Anne Marie bought the truffle-flavored vinegar and used it a couple of times. I will search for a recipe so I can try it.
Yes, I do have ample bottles of red and white wine and apple cider vinegar, as well as a gallon jug of distilled white vinegar for cleaning.