I’m not totally ignorant. Once in awhile, I’ve run into a recipe calling for a couple of teaspoons of vinegar or a salad dressing that requires a half a cup or so. However, I was under the impression vinegar was vinegar and that it all basically tasted the same. Wrong again (although that's nothing new--third time today).
Yesterday, my sister and I drove out into the country about four miles from Long Prairie and found the Leatherwood Vinegary (think of “winery” but they make vinegar instead). Vinegar, I found out during our tour, is fruit juice, like grape or apple, or wine to which a vinegar starter culture has been added. Then the vinegar maker needs a dark, warm place and lots of patience while the vinegar does its thing. (Obviously, this is the simple visitor’s impression of all the skill and chemical reactions taking place in the process.)
At the Leatherwood Vinegary, the vintners (not sure what to call them since vintners make wine—but the “vin” at the beginning seemed to fit vinegar makers, too) gave us a tasting session. While I don’t remember all the flavors, we started our tasting with some of the fruit-flavored ones: raspberry, chokecherry, apple, papaya. The herb-infused vinegars were also interesting: basil, tarragon, garlic, catnip (yes, catnip!), oregano—all the way off the pack-a-wallop charts to horseradish and jalapeno pepper. We were given little “medicine dropper” samples so we could find our favorites.
Leatherwood Vinegary is actually the home of the vintners, Nancy and Ron, so appointments and tour reservations are necessary. I guess they don’t want you showing up when they’re in the shower. If you twist an arm, they might even let you walk the path down to the Long Prairie River which runs past their property (watch for the woodticks and poison ivy, but well worth the walk). But for sure they’ll let you see the free-range chickens that lay the green eggs (no ham), the herb gardens, and the dozens of fruit plants and trees. And if you’re lucky, you might even get a glass of homemade red currant wine served with homemade bread and hummus, sitting in the gazebo next to the koi pond.
I’ll never look at vinegar the same way again.