The visit I made to the traditional balsamic acetaia in Modena got me thinking about other ways of making balsamic vinegar. I did a bit of research and found that apple balsamic vinegar is now being produced in Britain. I am delighted to welcome Vicky Morland of Liberty Fields as guest contributor for this month, who describes the process and how best to use apple balsamic vinegar.
A good few years ago, we were on holiday in Italy, and had the chance to look around a real balsamic vinegar producer in Modena, and to taste some of their amazing products. When we came back, Robert (who was originally a chef and was then running a business making salad dressings and marinades) noticed Nigel Stewart, a local cider maker, planting some new cider orchards. Research had shown him that the Trebbiano grape has the same flavour notes and characteristics as the west country cider apples, and that there are a handful of producers of balsamic vinegar using apples in the north of Italy. He started wondering if it would be possible to make traditional Balsamic vinegar, but using local apples to make a truly unique product. It seemed that the only people who made Apple Balsamic in the UK did so ‘industrially’ – that is, made using vinegar and adding caramel or flavouring. (Some of these balsamics can be very good, but they are not the same as traditionally made balsamic, as Saucy Dressing’s blog makes very clear.)
So we began experimenting in 2000 and by 2005 had gained sufficient expertise to make our first batch. Working out ways to gradually heat the juiced apples was one of the major problems, resulting in some Heath Robinson experiments and contraptions! Tracking down sufficient wooden barrels to age the vinegar was another hurdle (we use European oak, American oak and chestnut).
We were able to purchase surplus apples from local cider producers, but after several years we got very lucky: our friends, Pete and Ali Lemmey, were looking for ways to diversify on land owned by their family farm (Liberty Farm), and we discovered that we could apply for a grant to help with planting trees and converting derelict farm buildings into a purpose built solera for the barrels, and production unit alongside.
We planted the first trees in 2010, and now have 1700 trees on 12 acres. We have planted nearly 70 different varieties, mostly of traditional local varieties such as Somerset Redstreak, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, and Filbarrel, but also a number of far rarer heritage trees, such as Porter’s Perfection, Marlpitts Late Bittersweet, Yeovil Sour and Coker Seedling. We bought an apple milll and a press, and can now process all our own apples on site, before beginning the long slow process of reduction.
As in Modena, the balsamic is then stored in barrels in our solera (a converted Dutch barn) to start maturing. We now sell 6 year old Apple Balsamic Vinegar, and are the only people in the UK to make it in the traditional way. In a few years time we will be able to sell 12 year old Balsamic. In the meantime, we’ve started using our apples to make other products – Apple Aperitif, which is rich, mellow and reminiscent of baked apples, and we are launching Porter’s Perfection Vodka in May this year, made using the deep red heritage apple from our orchards.
What do you do with apple balsamic vinegar?
You can certainly use the balsamic in cocktails, as suggested by Saucy Dressings! It has a very intense flavour and a little goes a long way – you don’t need to use a great deal. We suggest trying some of the following ideas:
- Goats Cheese, Pear and Balsamic Salad: mix goats cheese, pear, rocket and dry-fried walnuts, add a little walnut oil and some apple balsamic vinegar.
- Seared Scallops with Balsamic. fry up some hot crispy bacon until the fat begins to run and add some scallops. Serve on a bed of rocket, top with toasted hazelnuts, and a couple of drops of balsamic.
- Baked brie. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Put a whole brie (or a slice) on a baking tray. Bake for ten minutes or so, and serve with a few drops of apple balsamic sprinkled over the top.
- Something Else Fishy serves beetroot gravadlax with balsamic drizzled over the top.
- add some apple balsamic vinegar, just before serving a risotto. Especially good with mushroom or leek risotto.
- In all kinds of sauces, stews and soups – add at the end of the cooking process.
- On courgettes and aubergines
- Combine with good quality olive oil, and make a dip for raw vegetables, breadsticks or bits of pitta
- If you have some good prosciutto or a hard goats or sheeps cheese, a couple of drops of balsamic alongside it will bring out the taste.
- with strawberries, peaches or watermelon, just sprinkle on a couple of drops
- make a refreshing salad of watermelon, feta cheese and apple balsamic
- use it in a cocktail – try a Monkey Business
- make a savoury rhubarb sauce with it
- for even more ideas, buy Stephen Harris’s The Sportsman – he makes his own apple balsamic vinegar, and uses it in recipes throughout the book.
Here is a cocktail recipe for Strawberry Fields, a cocktail created by David Smith Head Barman at the Anchor Inn at Seatown near Bridport.
- 35 ml Tarquins Gin
- 15 ml Liberty Fields six year old apple balsamic vinegar
- 50 ml strawberry puree (made by blitzing strawberries in the blender)
- 10 ml mint syrup*
- 15 ml egg white
- To garnish: crystallised apple mint leaves**
- Pour the gin, vinegar, puree and mint syrup into the small half of a cocktail shaker
- Fill the larger half of your shaker with cubed ice, seal the two halves together
- Shake for 15-20 seconds until desired dilution and chilling is reached
- Strain into a chilled coupe glass
- Add the egg white into the small half of the cocktail shaker
- Dry shake (without ice) vigorously for around 30 seconds to break up the egg white and create a foam
- Pour the foam slowly on top of the coup so that you have two distinct layers.
*to make mint syrup, heat 300ml of water with 600ml of brown sugar in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and add the mint. Allow to cool. Keep refrigerated.
**to make crystallised mint garnish dip apple mint leaves in 2:1 sugar syrup and leave to dry