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August 6, 2006

Sherry vinegar (Recipe: panzanella) {vegetarian}

Sherryvinegar

Sher-er-rry, Sherry baby
Sher-er-rry, Sherry baby


Silly, I know, but every time I sit down to write, I start singing.

She-e-e-e-e-e-e-ry ba-a-by (Sherry baby)
She-er-rry, can you come out tonight (Come come, come out toni-i-ight)

Now you'll be singing, too. (Sorry....)

Of all the vinegars I've known — and I've known a few — the newest and oldest addition to my pantry is sherry vinegar, which comes not from Frankie Valli, but from Jerez de la Frontera near the Guadalquivir River Valley, in Andalucia, Spain.

The vineyards and bodegas that produce sherry wine and vinegar lie in region of Cádiz, primarily in the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria, which together constitute the Denominacion de Origen (DOC) formed in 1995, called Vinagre de Jerez. The DOC system ensures high standards of quality and consistency, requiring sherry vinegar to have less than 1% alcohol, and at least 5% acidity. Throughout the region, sherry vinegar is aged for at least six years, but often up to 30-50 years, or more.

The word vinegar originally meant "spoiled wine," and sherry vinegar was just that — the byproduct of accidental contamination of the sherry or poor wine-making practices, such as the use of barrels containing too much volatile acidity. These days, the creation of sherry vinegar is a deliberate — though old-fashioned — process, described on the Medinternational site:

Once the Sherry has begun to ferment it will be allowed to mature using the "Solera" system.
The Solera and Criadera are unique to the Jerez region and are crucial components in the maturing process of Sherry vinegar. The system consists of rows of 500-litre oak casks piled up in a pyramid, each containing Sherry vinegar of similar characteristics but different ages. The barrels, previously used to store Sherry, release their aroma into the vinegar.

The oldest vinegar is stored in the "Solera," the bottom row of barrels. No more than a third of the barrel content is ever removed from the Solera for bottling. This third is then replaced with younger vinegar from the first "Criadera"[nursery], the row of barrels stored directly above the Solera. The space in the first Criadera is then filled with still younger vinegar from the second Criadera from the row above, and so on. Finally, the top of the pyramid is filled with new vinegar.

New vinegars are added to older vinegars and are blended together, developing a uniform, harmonious colour, fragrance and flavour. The transfer from barrel to barrel increases oxygenation, which encourages the transformation and absorption of flavours. This process may be shortened or extended depending on the required age and quality of the final vinegar.

A few months ago, I added sherry vinegar to The Perfect Pantry. Cepa Vieja, by Vinagres de Yema, is made from palomino grapes and the constant blending of ancient vintages over the past 40 years. It has a deep, almost caramel quality, and a taste somewhat like balsamic, but not as sweet. Cepa Vieja is great in vinaigrettes, especially when you want the rich flavor of garden-fresh vegetables to shine through.

If, like me, you spent the '90s addicted to balsamic, maybe it's time to try something new.

I mean vinegar, of course. Because those old songs are still the best. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons rode this one to #1 for five weeks back in 1962.

She-e-e-e-e-e-e-ry ba-a-by (Sherry baby)
She-er-rry, can you come out tonight

(You're singing again, aren't you?)

Panzanella

The best of summer, tomatoes and basil. Add bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella), or leftover roasted chicken, for an even more substantial meal. Serves 4-6, as an appetizer, 3-4 as entrée.

Ingredients

1-1/2 lb Italian bread, day old, hardest crust removed, torn or cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large tomatoes, cubed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 small red onion, sliced thin
1/2 large seedless cucumber, cut into 1-/2-inch pieces (or use Kirby pickling cukes)
3 Tbsp black olives, pitted, sliced
Few Tbsp roughly chopped fresh herbs, like basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme or lemon thyme
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Toss bread cubes and tomatoes in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk together remaining ingredients, and let stand so flavors can develop, about 10 minutes. Combine with bread and tomatoes; toss to be sure all the bread is coated. If it still seems dry, sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp water to soften the bread. Serve – or, if using good firm bread, cover and set aside for up to 2 hours before serving, if desired.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

Can't wait to get a bottle and try this. Last week I made gazpacho with a touch of red wine vinegar and found it hada little too much of a bite (and the balsamic was too sweet.) But I think the sherry vinegar might give more depth.

Ack! Now I really truly have Franki Valli stuck on my head!

(I'm laughing out loud in my agony.)

On the *much* more pleasant topic of sherry vinegar, I've always thought it sounded great, but I've never cooked with it.

What do you like to use it for? And what are your criteria for choosing between vinegars?

Shaula, I use sherry vinegar mostly for salads, when I want something that's not as tart as red wine vinegar (especially the vinegar I've made at home.... http://ninecooks.typepad.com/perfectpantry/2006/06/red_wine_vinega.html

The only way to choose is to taste. Some gourmet shops will let you taste vinegars (Sid Wainer in New Bedford, MA, does). Or, go to the site of a good retailer like Zingerman's (www.zingermans.com) or Salumeria Italiana (www.salumeriaitaliana.com), and read the reviews. Look at the acidity percentages, too, as sherry vinegar can be 10% acidity or more. I like the lower acidity, which allows the sweet quality to come through (but not as sweet as balsamic). Buy two different ones, and compare. That's how I found the Cepa Vieja.

Please let me know if you discover a favorite vinegar. Happy tasting!

I love sherry vinegar and was lucky enough to visit the region on holiday about 11 or 12 years ago. I have fond memories of eating tapas and sampling lots of sherry in Sanlucar and lots of days heading inland.
Of course the sherry vinegar was good too!!
I tend to use it above other vinegars when cooking.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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