By Franz Scheurer
Whilst in Vienna we strolled through the Naschmarkt (Snack Market), which separates the Rechte Wienzelle from the Linke Wienzelle. This fabulous food and produce open-air market operates 24 hours a day and you can follow your nose and salivate from one stall to the next. You can buy anything from Aubergines to Zucchini, from Asafoetida to Za’atar and the heavy aromas change from section to section a you wander from Asian stalls via the noisy Turkish vendors to foods from Zanzibar. The place is particularly attractive at night when the myriad of lights dance with the shadows on the ground. One shop that stopped me in my tracks was the “Sour Delicatessen”, an outlet for the Wiener Essig Brauerei, specialising in vinegars and pickles. Literally hundreds of little barrels line the shop from floor to ceiling, matched only by the amount of pickle jars on the opposite wall. The selection is incredible and the quality is superb.
Ignaz Gegenbauer acquired an industrial enterprise in the 1920s that specialised in pickled gherkins and sauerkraut. He expanded the operation to include pickled vegetables. During the post war years vinegar became so scarce that he had no option but to start producing it himself. About 20 years ago the Gegenbauer family decided to expand the production of vinegars from a mere hobby and need for self-sufficiency to a specialty, spurred on by their love of wines. Vinegar has traditionally been viewed as an inexpensive detergent or as a souring agent for salads. The Gegenbauers decided to take their ancestor’s recipes to new heights of aromatic diversity. Believing that their pure and natural product also had considerably health benefits gave them extra motivation to strive to produce the best and purest in the world. They source all their wines from renowned estates and their fruit and vegetables from reputable organic growers. As a result a connection of tradition and “Zeitgeist” was clearly established.
In ancient times it was impossible to preserve wine and beer, so they naturally turned into vinegars. People enjoyed the “sour wine” straight or mixed with water and it was used for medicinal purposes. The preserving quality of vinegar was also already known in Roman times. For the Gegenbauers this was a case of building on tradition with passion and modern equipment without any shortcuts. They believe that only a good wine will produce good vinegar and only good fruit will give great fruit aroma. They don’t produce fruit vinegars by simply infusing vinegars with fruit, but pulp the fruit, ferment it (alcoholic) to wine then add vinegar mother to ferment it (acidic) to fruit vinegar, thus keeping the unadulterated characteristics of the fruit. Each jar or bottle is labelled with the origin of the raw material and the name of the grower and is individually numbered. Chemical additives, (eg. Aromas) anti-oxidants and emulsifiers are never used. They use high-grade fructose to enhance the natural aromas and they aim their products at critical consumers, nutrition-conscious people and gourmets, who have had enough of industrially made anonymous products with dubious ingredients only identified by acronyms and numbers.
Here’s a short description of some of their products:
Golden delicious apples from the Hames Estate in Stipfing (about 20km Northeast of Vienna) are harvested at peak ripeness, carefully pressed and the juice boiled down for days, at a controlled temperature to concentrate the aromas and fruit sugars. The concentrate is fermented in barrels until the desired degrees of alcohol are achieved, then aired and injected with a culture of pure vinegar. After the end of the second fermentation, the young vinegar is aged in barrels outdoors, so that the vinegar can work with the seasons. As the winter brings on a kind of hibernation, the summer makes up for it with increased activity and evaporation through the wood, reducing the volume, year after year and consequently improving and concentrating flavours. The end result is an elegant vinegar with mild acidity, lots of fruit sugar and a strong aroma.
This vinegar is made from a certified “Beerenauslese” wine, made from Bouvier grapes, in Apelton in the Burgenland district. From this wine a vinegar bacteria has been cultured, which is re-injected into the wine to ferment it. The young vinegar is stores in oak barrels and filtered several times to remove unwanted sediments. As there is a high amount of sweetness in the wine, the vinegar retains a fabulous balance between acetic acid and natural fructose.
BLACK CURRENT VINEGAR
The black currents from a grower north of Vienna are fermented with yeast then injected with vinegar mother and fermented further under controlled temperature and oxygen supply conditions to ensure optimum bacteria growing conditions. Black current juice in its natural form is very acidic and companies making drinking juice will always water it down whereas the natural acid is very welcome in the production of vinegars.
NOBLE-SOUR P.X. 1996 (EDELSAUER)
This vinegar is made from Pedro Ximenez grapes grown in Spain in 1996. This grape variety, usually fermented into a Sherry, produces a very concentrated wine eminently suitable to produce a very special vinegar. During the fermentation to vinegar this particular product needs the attention of the brewer literally around the clock to ensure stability. Once the fermentation is finished the young vinegar is matured in oak barrels. As this product contains less than 6% acidity it is not considered vinegar by law. This is the reason they call it the “Noble Sour P.X.”
This vinegar is so good you can drink it like a wine, which is quite common in Austria, served chilled in a shot glass. It is a fabulous product to deglaze a pan or use like a verjuice.
The Wiener Essig Brauerei manufactures a huge range of products with its superb vinegars, like Apricots in Apricot vinegar, Prunes in Plum vinegar, pickled gherkins, mild and hot chillies in white wine vinegar, wild onions in red wine vinegar, apple peppers in cider vinegar, beetroot in beetroot vinegar… etc. etc.
For more information:
Wiener Essig Brauerei
Mr. Erwin M. Gegenbauer
Tel.: +43 1 604 1088
Fax: +43 1 604 1088 22