I thought there was no room in my pantry for another fancy vinegar, but then I discovered Locust Lane Vineyard’s verjus (vair-ZHOO). This juice of unripened grapes has been prized by chefs since the Middle Ages. It’s used to deepen flavors and add tartness to sauces, condiments, stews and meats, a staple in any French kitchen.
Unlike vinegar, verjus is not fermented, so anything made with it — vinaigrettes, salad dressings, conserves — pairs nicely with wine.
Chad Stoltenberg planted nearly 3,000 cold-hardy grapevines on his family’s farm near Pipestone, Minn., in 2005, and by 2012 was pressing juice for verjus. He and his wife and business partner, Sheri Stone, had thought about making wine.
“But after spending time in Paris, where we experienced verjus, we decided to take the culinary route instead,” he said. “Verjus is perfect for the cold-hardy grapes that grow well here. They’re naturally acidic, the quality that is perfect for verjus but is a challenge for winemaking. We thought, ‘Instead of fighting the acid, let’s embrace it.’ ”
Along with verjus, Stoltenberg makes a balsamic style vinegar, “Baby Balsamic,” aged in ash barrels from the farm’s wood, and cured with oak, cherry, mulberry and juniper. Using the verjus, he has also created three jellies — raspberry, cherry almond and spiced apple — and four spiced nuts.
Given our orchards and fruit farms, Stoltenberg sees terrific opportunity for the state’s artisan verjus and vinegar industry. Like wine, verjus may be made from the juice of any unripe fruit. Though green grapes are most often used, red are sometimes added for a heartier taste. In France, verjus is often pressed from apples, crabapples and plums.
Verjus may be substituted for lemons in just about any recipe. The advantage is that its tartness is subtle with a faint, underlying note of vegetal sweetness. Verjus is more adept than lemon juice at complementing rather than masking the complex or nuanced flavors in a dish.
Find Locust Lane Verjus Blanc and Verjus Rouge in Twin Cities co-ops and several grocery stores; $11 to $15 per 12-ounce bottle. The balsamic vinegar and nuts are in limited release, but always available at the Eagan and Farmington farmers markets, and online at locustlanevineyard.com.