Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blackstrap Vinegar

Since I started fermenting vinegars I have made both traditional varieties and then some pretty unconventional concoctions. There never is a guarantee when working alongside mother nature that your desires will be met in the end result, even when a repertoire has been developed. Still once I feel confident and satisfied with a recipe I inevitably immerse myself into the mystery of possibility.

My insatiable appetite to create and explore has led me to building a selection of vinegars which I now sell. It was this curiosity which gave life to my favorite vinegar which I now produce - Blackstrap Vinegar. I am proud to say that this delicacy was made without intensive trial or research, rather it was made on a whim with a standard ratio of ingredients inspired by one of my favorite pantry staples, blackstrap molasses.

I found myself complacent with the successful progress of three vinegars I had fermenting in my shop yet I wanted to play. Without any spare cash to spend on produce or specialty ingredients I rummaged through my kitchen until I found myself staring at a partially used jar of organic blackstrap molasses. Without any other reasoning other than assuming that the sugars in the molasses might convert into alcohol and then the alcohol ferment into vinegar, I measured and blended the ingredients. To add another touch of carelessness to the process I hadn't considered that all of my vinegar fermenting vessels were being used so I poured my brew into a plastic gallon milk jug, cutting a larger hole in the top for oxidation. I cut piece of bandana to secure over the opening and into the dark corners of my shop it would go until the day I would begin to test it.

Upon tasting the ferment near it's expected completion I was a little concerned. The consistency was very viscous and the flavors of the molasses minerals were stronger than the acid content. It was like tasting soured blood....I imagine. With the lack of an appropriate acidity I decided to keep the mixture fermenting which would be the beginning to a whole new vinegar experience.

An extra four months later I pulled the blackstrap mixture from the dark corner of my shop to see what I had. I could not believe what I was tasting. Quickly I carried the jug into the house where I could get a better look and taste of my vinegar. Removing the silky, rich caramel brown mother from the surface I could see and smell the rich, almost black vinegar waiting inside. Tasting the vinegar was one of the most rewarding experiences of my culinary life. First taste on the tongue is rich. As rich as it looks black. Melting into the back of my palate the acidity and sweet hit me simultaneously followed by the best part. That mineral flavor from the molasses gave hints of earth, iron and caramel. Quickly I rounded up my wife to try this new creation. I needed a palate that had no idea what this was and no emotional investment in the project. Out of all the other faces she has given me when tasting my vinegars I could tell this taste was causing deliberation. Later in the evening after some time had passed she looked at me and said, "Balsamic?...but with more going on."

Of course I did not want to hear that I had simply recreated a renowned vinegar from odds and ends in my garage. And I knew that I indeed had not. So I took the balsamic reference as a compliment and focused on the differences. We did, however, proclaim in our kitchen that we had just created America's reply to Italy's ever loved Balsamic Aceto.

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