Growing up in France, chef Sebastien Archambault remembers his grandmothers descending to their caves for homemade vinegars made from leftover wine. Inspired by the memory, the Blue Duck Tavern toque bought some barrels and a live bacterial starter—called a “mother”—to help transform wine from the restaurant into distinctive vinegars he can use in salads and other cooking. Making his own vinegars appealed to him because it offered a chance to bring the restaurant’s from-scratch, DIY identity to a basic and versatile ingredient. “And we have a lot of leftover wine,” he adds.
To make the vinegar, Archambault first dilutes the wine. For a bottle with 12-13 percent alcohol, he adds the same amount of water to bring the mixture down to six percent, and then pours it into a barrel—for his first round, Archambault used new white oak containers—with the starter. He keeps the barrel open on top and covered with cheesecloth so that it can breath as it changes into ascetic acid. It takes about six weeks in the barrel before the vinegars are usable, and from that point on Archambault adds leftover wine directly to the vinegar—always making sure the barrel is less than three-quarters full. The mother will continue to grow—if it gets too bloated it can block the barrel spout—so the chef stirs the mixture up now and then to break it up.
Currently the chef has a red wine vinegar, a white made with Chardonnay, and a sherry vinegar. You can try them in a selection of salads on BDT’s new lunch menu. These salads showcase vegetables sourced from Pennsylvania farms and list recommended proteins like hanger steak, scallops, shrimp, and duck confit. They correspond to a request from customers for lighter options, says the chef. By carefully composing the dishes and matching up proteins, Archambault hopes to offer lighter eaters a way to still experience the signature flavors of the restaurant. Look for more to come: The chef hopes to offer a raspberry vinegar and a balsamic one aged in an old Barolo barrel.