The other day I was in London and met up with Jonathan Brown in Kings Cross to taste vinegar. Even though we never met in real life, it was like meeting an old friend. We met through twitter via our shared interest in Nordic cuisine and mushroom picking several years ago. In 2012 I had the pleasure of drawing mushrooms for Jonathan and his wife Sarah’s wedding. Each mushroom was made into a cute place card to organize the guests during their wedding feast. Jonathan and I also share an interest in sourdough, pickling, and other fermenting things. So when earlier this year I discovered that Jonathan had gone into business to make vinegar I felt it necessary to meet up in person when passing by London.
And o’boy his Cult vinegar rocks!
During a wonderful lunch (mushroom toast with some deep fried squid) Jonathan let me taste about 10 different kinds of his Cult Vinegar collection (several of which you can purchase online). For example; red wine vinegar (perfect in a dressing over sun ripe tomatoes), white wine vinegar (think mustard sauce and Hollandaise), moscatel vinegar (sweet and sharp like a white balsamic vinegar), ruby port vinegar (deliciously sweet and perfect in red meat sauces, waldorf salad dressing or together with blue cheese), sherry vinegar, German Riesling vinegar (perfect in a Fresh Pickled Cucumbers, recipe below), sake (should work beautifully in a dumpling dipping sauce), apple cider vinegar, and champagne vinegar (curiously citrusy and sharp which I liked on the fried squid).
In 2011 Jonathan and Sarah traveled to Burgundy, France to hunt for their wedding wine. In a country side kitchen just outside Beaune they got introduced to a vinaigrier container; a very traditional ceramic vessel that lets natural bacteria in the kitchen turn leftover wine into vinegar. The initial incubation takes about 6 to 8 weeks – once alive it will last forever if topped up with the occasional half glass of wine.
Jonathan quickly got addicted to the living smell of vinegar, so back home in London he started to make his own while playing with the idea of creating a modern version of a traditional French vinaigrier. A few years later after visiting a local ceramic school he connected with ceramicist Billy Lloyd and together they took on the challenge to design a new version. The result is the Cult Ceramics Vinegar Vase which is both beautiful and clever. With it’s hexagon shape and three different colors on the lids (red, white, and yellow) you can easily group several vases together and have different types of vinegar in the making at the same time. The vase comes with a handy “How-to- Guide” booklet and a bottle of a vinegar culture (the “mother”) so you can start your own vinegar production as soon as you have unpacked the vessel.
Back in Brooklyn I have now started my first batch of white wine vinegar. Every time I walk by the vessel I can’t stop myself from lifting the lid to have sniff. I think I’m addictive already!
Here is a classic recipe for pressgurka, Swedish fresh pickled cucumbers. Normally these pickles are made with distilled white vinegar but some German Riesling Cult vinegar will make it extra special. If you don’t have a Riesling vinegar on hand, substitute with Champagne vinegar or a good quality white wine vinegar. Try the pickles with meatballs, gravlax, or on a smörgås (Swedish open-faced sandwich) with cheese.
Swedish Fresh Pickled Cucumbers
(adapted from my recipe in Smörgåsbord)
serves 4 to 6 as a side
1 medium (about 12 ounces, 340 grams) English cucumber
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) German Riesling Cult vinegar + more if needed
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) water + more if needed
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill or parsley
freshly ground white pepper, for seasoning
Rinse the cucumber in cold water. Slice it with a mandoline, cheese slicer, or potato peeler as thin as you can.
Arrange the slices in a wide colander and sprinkle them with the salt. Toss gently to distribute the salt evenly. Press the cucumbers down with a plate that fits within the colander and place something heavy on top. Let sit for about 30 minutes, at room temperature. (The salt and the heavy weight will help drain the water from the sliced cucumber.)
In the meantime, prepare the pickling liquid. In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar water, sugar, and dill. Mix until the sugar is completely dissolved. Adjust the acidity with more vinegar or water to your liking.
Remove the weight and the plate and squeeze gently with your hands to remove any excess liquid. Place the cucumbers in a bowl or in a clean glass jar and pour the pickling liquid over them. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour before serving.
These pickles are best eaten fresh so consume them within a few days. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
read more about Jonathan and his story here
fungathlon – half marathon with mushroom foraging,
invented and practiced by Jonathan Brown
Cult Ceramics & Cult Vinegar on Instagram
more work by Billy Lloyd
Classic Hollandaise Sauce by Ruhlman
How to make French Vinaigrette by David Lebovitz
Apple Cider Vinegar – kokblog recipe