Remember when one could go to a restaurant and order a simple salad with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing?
Good luck with that now. Selecting a vinegar for a salad can be just as challenging as selecting the right wine to accompany a meal. Grapevine Trading makes a hibiscus vinegar. New York Mutual Trading makes a vinegar called Benimosu out of sweet potatoes – but not just any sweet potatoes; these are organic purple sweet potatoes. B.R. Cohn, a noted Sonoma County wine estate that also makes wonderful olive oil, offers a pear-Chardonnay vinegar.
According to Maggie Green, an editor of The Joy of Cooking, circa 2006, every kitchen should be stocked with three basic vinegars: balsamic, red wine and rice vinegar. She recommends avoiding vinegars with added ingredients such as sugar, because those ingredients often are used to mask inferior flavors.
What is fueling the interest in high-quality vinegar? Many believe it’s the shift away from the traditional American palate (which embraced sweet, salty and fat-laden foods) to a more European palate (which leans more toward bitter and tart impressions).
An artisanal infused vinegar typically costs in the $80-15 range, but just like fine wine, some can fetch much more. For example, a 25- to 35-year-old Giuseppe Giusti commands $130 for a mere 100-ml. bottle at one specialty foods store in New York. (And, yes, some vinegars age just as gracefully as some wines.)
As palates evolve, more and more people are embracing high-quality vinegars because they can liven up an array of dishes – not just salads.