Personally, I would want to have about half a dozen vinegars available. They keep better and for longer than oils, so it’s good to have a varied selection suitable for different kinds of salads, confits (preserves) and sometimes cooked dishes.
You will find dozens of designer varieties available but, as always, I say keep it simple and buy the best quality you can afford – some cheaper vinegars are too acidic and lacking in flavour.
Wine vinegar: Originally the French word vinaigre, from which we get our word vinegar, meant sour wine, but now it embraces all similar liquids where alcohol is turned into acetic acid. As you might expect, wine vinegar comes either red or white, and the best quality is that made by the Orléans method, which, because of its long, slow fermentation in oak casks, has depth of flavour without the overpowering acidity.
Balsamic vinegar: after struggling in the past to find good-quality wine vinegar , when aceto balsamico (as it’s called in Italy) appeared, it was like discovering heaven. It is not a wine vinegar but a grape vinegar, made from fresh-pressed grape juice, aged in barrels of oak, ash, cherry wood, mulberry and juniper – all contributing to its unique flavour. Each year new grape juice is added and skilfully blended over a period of eight to 12 years to produce the dark, sweet-sour amber liquid that makes one of the best salad dressings of all.
Sherry vinegar: A very special vinegar made, if I may say, from a very special drink. I love Spanish sherry, both to drink and to cook with, and the vinegar from the sherry grape must (newly pressed juice) has its own delightfully rich, sweet, nutty flavour. Though quite different from balsamico, it is equally good sprinkled over salads and cooked vegetables just by itself.
Cider vinegar: As you’d expect, a vinegar distilled from cider, milder and less acidic than wine vinegar. It has a lovely, fragrant apple flavour and is good for salad dressings, particularly if the salad contains fruit.
Rice vinegar: It’s marvellous how vinegar turns up around the world distilled from whatever grows locally, so it’s not surprising that in the Far East vinegar is made from rice. The Japanese have the best quality, and I always have some handy for making oriental salads and dipping sauces.
This very simple little salad makes a nice side dish. I like to serve it as a nibble before an oriental meal. If you have problems tracking down Japanese ingredients, try www.clearspring.co.uk
Fruit, cheese and the sweet-sour dressing of honey and vinegar makes this an absolutely unbeatable first course that couldn't be easier to put together.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
A treat for vegetarians, you can use whatever cheese you like for this - and you must try the Sweet Pepper Marmalade which is a revelation with cheese or even cold meats.
This savoury cheesecake includes a clever blend of cheese flavours, as the smooth fromage frais and curd cheese gently complement the sharpness of the Roquefort.