When we talk about our Apple Vinegar the most common question we get asked is “Is it a cider vinegar?”. It is not, and that is because of the way it is made by Judit, our fifth generation Vinegar producer. Judit knows a little something about what it takes to make a vinegar packed with fresh apple flavour.
In the Lleida region of Catalonia, Judit and her sister source local apples which are pressed for juice, then slowly fermented to create our Apple Vinegar. Yeast converts the sugar in the apple juice to alcohol before bacteria converts it straight into acetic acid. With cider vinegar, the yeast converts the sugar in the apple juice to alcohol, then the cider alcohol is stored in barrels, giving it a distinctly different, woodier flavour. So, this contrast in fermenting techniques causes a distinct difference in flavours, with our vinegar having crisp apple notes that can be used to bring fresh apple flavour to your cooking.
On our annual trips to visit Judit, we have learned how the Schutzenbach method for our Apple Vinegar, an early 19th century method, sped up the vinegar making process but crucially maintains the flavour of the apple juice. Fresh apple juice is drizzled over absorbent discs that have been soaked in a mother vinegar. The mother vinegar provides the yeast that produces alcohol and acidifying bacteria.
The discs increase the surface area for the bacteria, oxygen and alcohol, to work together to create the vinegar. Once drizzled over the discs, the vinegar collects in a reservoir at the bottom of the tank, where it is pumped back up to repeat the whole process. This goes on 24 hours a day for several weeks until the resulting vinegar is ready. Keeping the tanks between 24 – 30°C means the temperature is perfect for a slow fermentation that produces the best flavour.
Judit and her family with Adam, one of Belazu's founders. Picture taken on one of the trips taken to Catalonia to visit our suppliers.
A selection of vinegars made using the Schutzenbach method, ready for a tasting session.
There are three main methods of making vinegar:
1.Orleans – A slow, gentle process that is done in a barrel, producing excellent vinegars and taking 2-3 months to complete.
2. Submerged – A fast, crude and cheap way of making vinegars in a large tank, vinegars take less than 24 hours to make this way.
3. Schutzenbach – A slow, gentle process that also happens in a tank, but producing vinegars with similar complexity to the Orleans method.
The beauty of the Schutzenbach method is that it ensures that the flavours of the original apple juice are preserved. The resulting vinegar is a subtly sweet vinegar, with distinctly fresh apple notes. The mild acidity is well balanced by the natural sweetness of the local apples. It isn’t the quickest or cheapest way to make vinegar, but it is a tried and tested process that produces the best flavours, ready to be drizzled over salads, added to slaws for a tang, or used to pickle seasonal vegetables.
For a liquid to be classed as a vinegar the acidity level must be at least 6%, giving it that classic sharp taste. Lower than 6% and it’s classed as an agridulce, which means bittersweet. Higher than 8% and it’s extremely sharp and not a vinegar you’d enjoy tasting! The best way to taste vinegar is to pour some onto a teaspoon, take a small sip into the front of your mouth, let it sit there for a few seconds until saliva starts to be produced, then swill it around the mouth and swallow.
When you next stand next to the sea of vinegars in the supermarket take a moment to think about the flavours, look for the acidity levels and read the labels to find out about how they have been made. With 6% of the vinegar being acid, it leaves 94% that is made up of flavour compounds and water. It’s these flavourful elements and the unique production method that distinguishes the good vinegar from the bad vinegar.