Another Barrel-Aged Thing To Try: Vinegars at Blue Duck Tavern

Chef Sebastien Archambault takes a characteristically DIY approach to salad dressings.

The vinegar barrels at Blue Duck Tavern. Photograph courtesy of Sebastien Archambault.

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
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