Michael-Vinegar-Tasting-Event

Destination Vinegar

By: Wajma Basharyar

Photographer, Author and Podcast-host, Michael Harlan Turkell had his first acid trip at the age of 19 when famed Bostonian Chef Barbara Lynch gave him a cap full of something.  He shot it back and recalls having “one of the most profound sensory experiences” of his life up until that point. That spiritual explosion of flavor – sweet, sour, sapid – became his gateway to the world of acidity.

Erwin Gegenbauer, Gegenbauer Vinegar Brewery
Erwin Gegenbauer, Gegenbauer Vinegar Brewery

Fast forward 15 years, he found himself in Vienna, Austria on the doorsteps of Erwin Gegenbauer, the maker of that first shot and quite possibly the best vinegar-craftsman in the world.  While interacting with Gegenbauer, Michael learned the importance of capturing the purity of an ingredient and why it’s crucial in creating a great tasting vinegar.

“The majority of vinegar that I had tasted (up until that first Gegenbauer shot) was the kind that hits you in your chest, makes you cough; you can feel it on your tongue, but you don’t actually taste it,” says Michael.

Acid Trip book cover

 

 

 

While many people may associate it with bad grapes, during that trip, he realized that vinegar is actually made with the best grapes available.  His yearning to learn more about how ingredients impact the quality of the product led him on a global journey to study vinegar-making practices from the people and places that have evolved the craft.  He chronicled the expedition in a newly-released book, ACID TRIP: Travels in the World of Vinegar (Abrams, $29.99)

Through his lens, we’re transported to France, Italy, Austria, Japan and throughout North America to learn about the art and science of vinegar.  The photography brings to life the richness of the recipes, the insights from world-renowned chefs including Daniel Boulud, Massimo Bottura and April Bloomfield. The book captures the essence of why good vinegar is necessary for culinary arts while the how-to tutorials give the reader front-row access to making their own vinegar at home with bases, such as honey, apple cider vinegar, rice and wine.

plated dish
Sandre in Beurre Blanc

In France, Michael investigated the role of vinegar in relation to food techniques and the application thereof.  What he concluded was that it all comes down to the basic balance of acid and fat; both elements prevalent in French food and more specifically, French sauces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Italy, Michelin-star Chef Massimo Bottura, who runs the number one restaurant in the world, showed Michael an example of a balsamic vinegar that was unlike any balsamic he had tasted before.

 

Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana

Iio Jozo, shari, temakiAs a self-proclaimed Japanophile, Michael was elated to make the trip to Japan and find a producer who could explain the full cycle of rice vinegar from start to end. “Given how much rice is produced in Asia, it’s unsurprising that a remarkable range of rice vinegars can be found there, too. I am partial to the premium rice vinegars of Japan, which are exceptionally fresh and clean-tasting.”

 

 

 

 

 

Iio Jozo, shari, temaki

Earlier this month, the ICC’s California campus was honored to have author/photographer/ podcast-host, Michael Harlan Turkell, visit the campus. He spent the afternoon educating students, alumni and staff all about the vinegar-making process. He shared stories of his travel experiences meeting the world’s best vinegar makers and he brought with him a range of artisanal varieties for us to taste.

  • Acetaia Leonardi Balsamic Vinegar – a very special blend of balsamic vinegar aged for up to 25 years with the finest grapes
  • Acetum Mellis Mead Vinegar – a honey vinegar with a golden, translucent color that has a delicate and fresh taste with a spark of acidity
  • Pojer e Sandri Dolomiti Italian varieties in Cherry, Quince and Black Current – each has a distinct flavor and taste to represent its base ingredient Sparrow Lane, California Citrus Vinegar – a light, fresh and flavorful melody of orange, lime and lemon incorporated in fine barrel-aged chardonnay

At first glance, Michael Harlan Turkell may appear to be just another Brooklynite with a barrel of beer in his backyard.  We came to learn, however, that he started working in kitchens as a young kid at the age of 15 in his hometown of Westchester, New York, and dreamed of becoming a full-fledged chef.  Interestingly, when he later moved to Boston for college, he ended up dropping out of school to again work in restaurants. It wasn’t until he entered the high-end food scene in Boston that his palette was awakened to something new.  Today, he is an expert in at-home vinegar making.  He was proud to tell us that he even spent two years reverse-engineering one process and figured out the secret to making a great beer vinegar in his Brooklyn backyard!

Vinegar from the tasting at ICC
Vinegar Varieties

According to Michael, generally, two kinds of vinegar have found their way to our dinner tables today; either the balsamic poured on salad or the apple-cider vinegar (ACV), touted for its health benefits.  He explained that he aims to change that paradigm by broadening our acidic horizons and expanding our palettes to offer a more varied selection of vinegar that brings a harmonious balance of flavor to our everyday meals.

For a perfect summer treat, try a fresh take on the Negroni.

BALSAMIC NEGRONI, FROM DAMON BOELTE, GRAND ARMY, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

MAKES A 48-OUNCE (1.4-L) PITCHER, SERVES 4 TO 8

16 ounces (180 ml) of CAMPARI

16 ounces (180 ml) COCCHI VERMOUTH DI TORINO

16 ounces (180 ml) GIN, BEAFEATER preferred

½ pint (165 g) STRAWBERRIES, sliced

½ ENGLISH CUCUMBER, sliced

ICE

½ cup (120 ml) BALSAMIC VINEGAR, DOP

In the pitcher, mix together Campari, vermouth and gin.  Add the sliced strawberries and cucumber, let sit for 30 minutes for all the flavors to mingle, then top with ice.

To serve, put a few ice cubes in a rocks glass, pour in 6 ounces (120 to 180 ml) of the Negroni, and float 1 tablespo0n of the balsamic vinegar on top.

The Exploration of Tea with Rishi Tea

Written by: Vanessa Da Silva
ICC Wine Studies Coordinator
Certified Sommelier

Justin, a self-described crazy person (when it comes to tea) has spent the last 2 decades not only sourcing some of the finest teas in the world but also, painstakingly retracing the historic roots & practices which have shaped the tea trade over the last 1,200 years! Justin, along with Keiko Nicolini & an entourage (truly) of trained tea enthusiasts, walked us through the cultivars & techniques of these rare & artisanal teas at a recent demo in ICC’s New York campus.

There are so many things we overlook when considering tea. Here are 5 teas that will make you thirsty:

Woojun Green Tea, South Korea – This tea is crafted in South Korea by Mr. Lee Chang Yung & his family. This is the first young leaves that are picked for the season, and Mr. Yung hand fires the tea leaves in a wok in small batches to bring out all of their beautiful fresh aromas. This tea, picked just in mid-April, was bursting with fresh spring flavors of grass & just bloomed fresh white flowers.

White Peony King Organic White Tea, Fujian province, China – Rishi was Organic, long before the USDA Organic seal came into play in 2002. They have built their career on sourcing from environmentally responsible tea farms across Asia. This White Peony King was described as the “Grand Cru of tea” and it well delivered. The tea was smooth & delicate with aromas of magnolia, hints of honey, and a savory saline quality full of umami.  It’s a generally overlooked fact that white tea is the ‘freshest’ of teas. With very minimal processing, most white teas are just allowed to dry out to fully express their pure & delicate flavors.

Four Seasons Spring Oolong Tea– As the name suggests, this tea produces leaves at least 4 times yearly always offering a fresh ‘spring’ taste.  Within this category, we tasted two teas of the same cultivar (variety), made in the same way, but one grown in Taiwan & the other in Thailand. Now, we wine-enthusiasts are very familiar with tasting notes in wine & the idea of ‘terroir’; however, I had no idea that Tea could show similar variations based on where they are grown. These two blew me away. The Taiwan-grown tea (where this variety originated) was incredibly fresh reminding me of hydrangeas, fresh lychee fruit, and white raspberries.  In contrast, its Thai counterpart, showed a distinct nuttiness of toasted almond skin, along with bright sweet basil & sage. The comparison was a big eye opener & finding two Oolongs to compare could be a lot of fun!

Vintage Ancient Pu-erh Palace Organic Pu-erh Tea, Yunnan province, China – This tea was another eye-opener as the concept of vintage tea is completely new to me. Pu-erh teas are among the few that benefit from long-term aging, a minimum of 2-years is required before they are suitable for drinking as the teas are fermented and need to mellow out. These teas were from the Menghai Broad Leaf cultivar and we tasted the 2012 and 2009 vintage. The 2012 (just 5 years old) was strong and tannic with notes of bittersweet chocolate; whereas, the 2009 (now over 8 years old) was smooth and luxurious with notes of dark roasted coffee, cocoa, and black cherry.

Flowery Jin Xuan, Organic Oolong Tea, Doi Mae Salong, Thailand – There were so many dynamic Tea throughout the day, it was difficult to narrow down to just 5, but this was a personal favorite. This ball-rolled Oolong is oxidized to give a greenish-golden hue. It has a beautifully silky mouth-feel that made it seem almost milky (which is why this cultivar is often referred to as ‘Milk Oolong’. The tea was pleasant & smooth and smelled exactly of fresh blooming lilacs, which brought me right back to my childhood in rural Maine.

In addition to all of this, we learned that it takes around 35,000 tea leaves (each plucked by hand) to make just 1 kilo of dried tea!

The passion & expertise from the team at Rishi was infectious around the room, I heard question after question from our graduates being met with enthusiasm. It is clear that this is merely scratching the surface in what is becoming an area of interest in more & more restaurants.