Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Historical Vinegar

Happy New Year! Because my holidays were (for once!) filled with social activity, I have not done much cooking or blogging. Now, however, I am embarking upon one of my New Year's resolutions--to update this blog at least once a month. 

For my first post of 2016 I'd like to focus upon a phenomenon that my readers might know about but which is new to me; reproductions of historical vinegars. 

Alan Coxon, who is known as a "food archaeologist", makes and sells several historical vinegars as a sideline to his lecturing, writing, and doing videos about historical food. His on-line shop features three different vinegars: Ale-Gar, a 15th century English vinegar; Roman Viniagre, an ancient Roman style vinegar, and Ancient Greek Viniagre, an ancient Greek variation.

Ale-Gar is made from ale that itself is brewed using a 15th century English ale recipe.  It incorporates chocolate stout malt, and is "fermented over oak" to round out its unusual flavor, which Mr. Coxon compares both to balsamic vinegar and to Worcestershire sauce.  Like Worcestershire sauce, Ale-Gar is dark brown in color.

Roman Viniagre is made with what Mr. Coxon describes as a "quality wine", and then is infused with spices and sweetened with honey.  As he describes it, "[i]t oozes herbs and spices, fruit and floral undertones".  Tasting it, one detects "cinnamon, hints of camomile and a touch of peppercorn."  It is lighter in color than Ale-Gar, rather like a cider vinegar in appearance, judging by the photographs on the website.

Ancient Greek Viniagre is made from a different, more acidic wine than the Roman version, and is spiced with coriander, resulting in a product that balances sweetness with a slight bitterness.  He suggests using it where one might use a modern rice vinegar.

Each of these vinegars costs 9.95 BRP for 300 ml (about 10 ounces).  That's pricey, but I may order the Roman version someday, just to see how it works as part of a dressing for salad.

What I would rather have, even more than bottles of the vinegars themselves, is more information from Mr. Coxon, not about his recipes, but of the research that led him to make the choices he made in creating those recipes.  Ale-Gar is made from ale brewed using a period recipe, but what evidence led him to make the Roman and Greek vinegars as he did?  They may be fine tasting products, wonderful for use in cooking, but I wish I knew more about why he believes the combination of wines and spices make them Roman, or Greek.

Unfortunately, (judging from his Facebook page), Mr. Coxon appears more interested in traveling, promoting British tourism, and cooking, than in disclosing his historical research for others to use.   I hope that will change as he gets older and seeks to build a legacy for himself.  In the meantime, it is good to see that someone other than the Dogfish Head Brewery* thinks there is profit to be made by recreating the tastes of a bygone age.

* Note: Dogfish Head requires web surfers to input their (presumably adult) birthday onto a splash page in order to be permitted to access the site.

No comments:

Post a Comment