Farmer's Kitchen - Vermont Vinegar

By: Meghan J. Humphrey

Shelburne Orchards is located along the shores of Lake Champlain. The orchard has been in Nick Cowles’s family since the 1950s and he took it over in the 1970s. Since then, Nick has expanded the number of apple varieties, has begun to grow peaches, and now produces pasteurized and unpasteurized apple cider, ginger cider, Ginger Jack (a nonalcoholic concentration of apple and ginger), cider doughnuts, apple brandy, and apple cider vinegar.

So far, the orchard has produced some 100 gallons of unpasteurized cider vinegar. The vinegar’s now been aged for two years in oak barrels and is ready to be consumed, although sold only at the orchard. “Cider that’s gone by, and apples at the end of the brandy distillation process, can be utilized in the vinegar,” Nick says. Terry Hotaling, Nick’s right-hand man for 35 years or so, built a separate “Vinegar House” right at the orchard to prevent smells and spores from affecting the production of the orchard’s cider, brandy, and other food products.

An ongoing public discussion continues about the value of pasteurized versus unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Pasteurization exposes a food product to a higher temperature, which destroys certain microorganisms that can cause disease, unwanted fermentation, or spoiling. Unfiltered and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar contains the intact enzymes formed through the fermentation process. These living enzymes are largely responsible for the healing and restorative properties of vinegar. Although filtered vinegar is more appealing to the eye, the highest quality is left unfiltered and unpasteurized. Nutritionally more potent than the pasteurized varieties, it is also typically more expensive.

There have been claims that vinegar helps to maintain a healthy pH balance in our body. It’s also been said that it can be used as a hair conditioner, flea repellent, aftershave, sunburn relief, tooth whitener, and household cleaner. There are people who swear that it helps with allergies because it can reduce mucus and sinus congestion. Some folks use vinegar to fade age spots. And you can rub vinegar on your hands to get rid of the smell after chopping onions.

Besides drinking some of his own unpasteurized vinegar every day, Nick’s been perfecting his vinegar reduction sauces. After some pondering, he claims that his sauces taste “spicy, somewhat sweet and tangy, but not vinegary.”

Here are some useful ways to use vinegar in cooking:

  • Make a vinaigrette dressing with vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, and a splash of maple syrup.

  • Use vinegar when slow-cooking inexpensive cuts of meat.

  • Poached eggs will hold up better if you add a little white distilled vinegar to the water when cooking them.

  • To add a zestier flavor to fresh fruits such as pears, cantaloupe, or honeydew, add a splash of rice or balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately to prevent the fruit from becoming mushy.

  • Revive wilted vegetables by soaking them in cold water with a spoonful or two of white distilled vinegar.

  • British folks like cider vinegar instead of ketchup with French fries. It’s also great on fried fish!

  • When making potato salad, pour some vinegar over the cooked potatoes and let it sit before adding the mayonnaise.

  • Add a tablespoon or two of white distilled vinegar to water to avoid eggs from cracking while they’re boiling.

—Megan J. Humphrey

Megan J. Humphrey has worked seasonally at Shelburne Orchards for the past 10 years. She is responsible for special events and marketing. Megan also has her own line of greeting cards (Sweet Basil Cards) and directs HANDS, a nonprofit working to connect food with older Vermonters.