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Vinegar

I stopped by the William-Sonoma store on Bloor yesterday. I picked up the bottle of balsamic vinegar I was after (the Giuseppe Giusti five year variety). They sell it for reasonably competitive prices, believe it or not, given it's really quite a nice vinegar. The moment I had taken it down, a clerk approached me, "Have you tried the ten year variety?" I hadn't. I wasn't about to buy it either, given it runs somewhere over $100 per bottle, but since he was offering, I accepted.

The store has a vinegar and oil sampling counter, quite a good idea really, especially given the variety the store carries -- although it's not a patch on Pusateri's unsamplable but overwhelmingly diverse range. On two freestanding small marble islands, racks of open, spouted vinegars and oils are arrayed with paper plates, napkins, and crouton-sized bits of bread in a glass jar.

This vinegar wasn't there, I observed, as the clerk went to fetch it from behind the counter. He poured me a few millimeters worth in a paper condiments cup. "You can drink it like port. And it's amazing with strawberries," he effused. I doubted, and so used the tongs to fish out a piece of bread to use instead.

It was good, but the taste of the bread, while neutral, was much less interesting; so I took his advice and sipped the rest of the vinegar. Yes, vinegar. Ten years of maturing in wooden barrels sweetens and softens vinegar. It wasn't as vinegary as any other vinegar I'd ever tried. The flavor was richly smooth and complex. It tasted really, really good. Memorably good. It's been a day, and I can still remember the taste vividly.

I knew from experience that balsamic vinegar is one of those things that really is worth what you pay for it: do not ever buy cheap balsamic vinegar - it tastes awful. Around here, good vinegars start somewhere around the C$8 per bottle. I hadn't realized before trying the ten year old vinegar just how much like the wine market the balsamic market is, if on a rather smaller scale.

Another clerk wandered by, and observed me sampling. "That's really good with strawberries," she commented enthusiastically as I threw away my cup. She helpfully added that the one I was actually intending to buy works pretty well that way too.

After a moment or two of looking around, tempted by objects, if not by their prices, I paused to look through a new cookbook, one filled with brunch recipes from Mildred Pierce, a favorite brunch location of ours. Much as it was tempting, I had enough other errands to run, and anyways, I'd rather just eat there. I put it back and paid. The cashier looked approvingly at my choice of the much, much, much cheaper five year vinegar. "This tastes delicious with strawberries," she said. I nodded and left.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
maxineofarc
Jul. 29th, 2004 04:51 pm (UTC)
Well, vinegar is basically wine, right? :)
owlfish
Jul. 29th, 2004 05:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, but I've never seen grape varieties advertised on the back of a vinegar. Is this because of the stores I shop at? My ignorance of the subject? I've seen red and white wine vinegars, but they never specialized grapes. This rather nice balsamic I bought specifies only that they use "top-quality" grapes. Based on the advertising description, far more of the flavor comes from sitting around absorbing wood than the grapes.

Would an oenophile be able to taste the difference between a chardonnay and a pinot grigio vinegar?
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owlfish
Jul. 29th, 2004 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: strawberries
If they were trying to sell something strawberry-related, they failed to tell me what it was. I know they don't sell any actual strawberries there. The only special features I saw were the brunch cookbook and a bunch of barbecue-related features.

Not that I thought perky salesfolk were really innocent in their comments... but... insider scoop...
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owlfish
Jul. 29th, 2004 06:58 pm (UTC)
Re: strawberries
I bet there was a product-sampling session within the last few months and that combo happened to make a particularly big impression on the staff. I agree it wasn't coincidental.
cocoasushigrrl
Jul. 29th, 2004 07:02 pm (UTC)
Re: strawberries
I think you're probably right, that it wasn't coincidental. Though for what it's worth, I have actually heard that balsamic vinegar is good with strawberries from other, non-WS-related, people. Of course, at this point I haven't a clue where I originally heard that...
haggisthesecond
Jul. 30th, 2004 12:09 am (UTC)
The thing about really good balsamic vinegar is that it's fantastic with strawberries. ;)
owlfish
Jul. 30th, 2004 05:07 am (UTC)
I had no idea!
haggisthesecond
Jul. 30th, 2004 05:28 am (UTC)
What would you do without me?
owlfish
Jul. 30th, 2004 05:30 am (UTC)
Be uninformed?
innostrantsa
Jul. 30th, 2004 12:59 am (UTC)
wow. this is something i'll need to remember. i didn't even know that balsamic vinegar could be aged at length! that's fascinating to me.

someday, i'd like to go on some foodie tourism with you. honestly, shana-- your appreciation of, and writing about, your food adventures knocks me out... in a good way. ;)
owlfish
Jul. 30th, 2004 05:04 am (UTC)
I would love to! Hey, I bet there's good culinary tourism to be done in Texas, and I've never been there - whether or not you're still living there at the time.

My bf and I have some rather different interests when it comes to many aspects of travel. He has an extremely low tolerance for museum-going, so we don't do much of that when we go adventuring. Happily, we can both agree on culinary tourism and nice walks/light hikes.

Speaking of which, one of the niftiest trips I ever took with my parents was a circuit of northern England, in which we only planned a day or two ahead, and only went to inns and hotels which had received at least one rosette for the quality of their food in the Michelin guidebook. That was my first serious introduction to a vacation themed this way.
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owlfish
Jul. 30th, 2004 05:07 am (UTC)
That sounds really, really good.

One of the assorted W-S salesfolk also suggested making a balsamic reduction with a bit of honey and glazing the strawberries with it.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )