Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Artisan vinegar from Italy shows its stuff at the Deli
One of the best vinegars on our shelves for over twenty years now, it recently arrived back at the Deli after being absent for most of the year. I quickly bought a bottle to bring home, and, as I have been again and again over the years, was blown away by just how darned delicious it is. The amber-colored wine vinegar’s flavor is marvelous, maybe close to miraculous; mouthwatering, only very subtly sweet, and succulent.
The Pofi vinegar is the product of a pair of very modest, hard-working brothers, who were already elderly when I met them twenty years ago. They had been making this stuff, basically in secret, for decades. In fact, the vinegar really doesn’t even have a formal name—we call it the vinegar from the Pofi brothers, and the brothers themselves just call it “vinegar.” Even folks a few miles away from the Pofi’s farm have never even heard of it. Their vinegar making is done in the area of Zagarolo, in Lazio, a half an hour or so to the north of Rome. Wine is their main activity, and their vineyard is small, but beautifully manicured, with straight rows of grape vines and trellises all the way down the hill and back up the other side. The vinegar is made from a pair of particularly interesting grapes—Malvasia and Greco—that the Pofis use for wine as well. Malvasia dates back about two thousand years and is thought to have come originally from Turkey and Greece. The Greco grape, as the name implies, is of Greek origin, likely brought to Italy in the 8th century. It too contributes to some special sweet wines that are known for being rich, complex, and nutty.
During the winemaking in the fall, the brothers skim off the scum—what’s called the “cappello” or “cap”—that forms naturally at the top of the wine vats. They then mix that with some old vinegar from the previous year and leave it all to undergo a slow, natural conversion. Within two or three months they have a new batch of vinegar that they then put into chestnut wood casks, where it’s aged for over a year. They only make a couple of big barrels a year. Never filtered, it has a nice cloudy, almost apple cider-like appearance. The vinegar has a nutty, caramelly flavor with maybe a bit of apricot or peach, a slightly sherry-like aroma, with a lovely fine finish. The vinegar is great on salads—there’s some good escarole and endive out there at the markets still—with a nice olive oil. Add a bit to bean dishes to brighten them. It’s actually so good, I almost want to sip it as is.