Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Good Food Awards 2016

Graham Klee Wiles-Pearson with Alice Waters
This past weekend we had the honor of receiving a Good Food Awards 2016 medal for our Blackstrap vinegar. It was an inspiring experience to be in the company of Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini, chef and farm-to-table activist, Alice Waters, philanthropist and sustainability activist, Nell Newman, and so many others who we admire. This year there were 1927 entrants from 33 states with 176 winners in 13 categories. Winners were determined through blind tastings by a panel of over 200 industry experts. You can see the full list of winners here.

US! (Cherie and Graham Klee Wiles-Pearson)
While we are incredibly proud of the recognition of our work and methods, this weekend's events left us more with a sense of profound necessity for the adoption of sustainable and humanitarian practices. Carlo Petrini's words at the awards ceremony emphasized the significance of community and of understanding the value of what we have as opposed to what we want. It is the individual that has the power to promote positive change by embracing such change in their own life.

During Sunday's Marketplace our vinegar table was accidentally placed among the honey vendors. We found this to be a lucky privilege as we were able to spend some time getting to know these amazing keepers of bees. What impressed us the most was that their primary focus was to educate others on the importance of bees in agriculture, and on sustainable bee-keeping methods. The award-winning honey was just a happy byproduct.
Meeting distributors and retailers at Saturday's Mercantile
Over this next year we hope to be able to expand the production of Spoiled Rotten Vinegar and our beloved urban farm, Potager Cottage. We want our business to grow but our focus on learning and promoting sustainable living practices has become primary. We will be sharing our journey with you along the way on this blog as well as on our Potager Cottage blog and on Facebook (here and here). We hope you will follow along and spread the word!

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.