Vinegar Types, Methods of Making Vinegar
History of Vinegar
Wine , beer or any liquid containing less than 18% alcohol
becomes vinegar when airborne bacteria called acetobacter aceti converts
the alcohol into acetic acid. Vinegar is a natural by- product of making
alcoholic beverages and its discovery was almost certainly accidental.
This discovery was made in different parts of the world independently, and
for as long as there have been undistilled alcoholic drinks there has been
Ancient civilisations as far back as the Sumerians used
vinegar as a condiment , a preservative, a medicine, an anti-biotic and a
detergent. Just as we do today.
The earliest method for making vinegar was to leave wine ,
or beer, in an open container and wait for it to turn sour.The French word
vinaigre means sour wine, the word ale-gar was used at one time to denote
vinegar made from beer or ale. As with so many things to do with food and
drink, the French developed a more sophisticated way for producing quality
vinegar. They left wine in wooden casks for two to six months and it
slowly turned into vinegar.It was then filtered into other casks and left
to mature for a period of months or years. This became known as the
Orleans method after the place where this technique was perfected. Good
quality wines were used to make good quality vinegar and the practice
continues to this day. Red wine vinegar is left to mature for a longer
time than white wine vinegar. Vinegars made by the slow Orleans method are
as complex and flavourful as fine wines and just as expensive.
In the mid 19th. Century Louis Pasteur published the most
modern scientific research on vinegar , still used as a reference today ,
and it was this research that brought about the process for commercial
production of vinegar.
In the commercial process , wine is slowly poured over
wood chips in giant vats. As the wine trickles down it takes on some of
the flavour of the wood and the airborne acetobacter uses oxygen in the
air around the loosely packed wood-chips to oxydise the alcohol in the
wine and turn it into acetic acid.The result is the sour liquid we call
vinegar. The quality of vinegars produced this way varies according to the
quality of the wine used , and is never as good as vinegar made in the
traditional way. In the commercial process the more subtle flavours and
nuances of the wine are lost and no amount of cask maturation can
compensate. It is these 'lost' elements of the wine that develop in the
cask using the Orleans method. They give fine vinegars the character and
subtlety that make them distinct.
The acetic acid content , the 'sourness' of vinegars
varies according to what they are made from. Rice vinegars are the mildest
and Distilled vinegar is the strongest. Beer and wine vinegars generally
fall in the mid-range, with wine vinegars slightly more acetic than those
made from beer or cider.
Vinegars made from other alcoholic liquids are made in
much the same way as wine vinegar. The better quality ones are also stored
and matured in wood. These other types can be made from fruit juices ,
syrups, like honey and molasses and cane sugar.
There are also cheap (and nasty) vinegars made from ethyl
alcohol, a by-product of the pulp and paper industry, and from diluted
artificial acetic acid. These are definitely not for the discerning.... !
If you can learn to read vinegar labels the same way you
read wine labels, you open up a large world of curiosity and adventure and
maybe make some wonderful discoveries.
The first literary references to balsamic vinegar date back to the year
1046. In that year Emperor Henry III went from Northern Europe to Rome. On
the way, while stopping in Piacenza, he asked Marquis Bonifacio, father of
Countess Matilde di Canossa, for a small cask of the famous laudatum
Further documentary proof confirms Modena as the birthplace of balsamic
vinegar, whose method of preparation did not undergo any significant
changes for many centuries. The traditional raw material for balsamic
vinegar had always been wine vinegar, which was then aged for even
hundreds of years. This is the hallmark of a tradition which was handed
down from generation to generation.
Even the Estense family, which ruled the Duchy of Modena from 1598 to the
middle of the 19th century, possessed large stores of balsamic vinegar
which became famous throughout Europe. Menus from this period show that it
was never lacking at meals
The culinary requirements of such a renowned court made it necessary for
the west tower of the Ducal Palace in Modena (residence of the Estense
family) to be dedicated exclusively to the production of balsamic vinegar.
In 1861 Mr. Aggazzotti, a lawyer, introduced a revolutionary production
technique that used concentrated grape must as the raw material instead of
wine vinegar. This is the method that has been used ever since to produce
traditional balsamic vinegars.
Cider Vinegar at Home