I’ll never forget the tasting that my sister and I worked at Vintage 1870…now V Marketplace in Yountville. It must have been in 1995. It was not the first time that I tried to sell my wares in my hometown. The previous venue was years before…I believe I was around 10 years old when I made my debut in the “gourmet” food industry…I remember being off to a good start in sales with the first tour bus rolling in early but as the day progressed, my sales were offset by the growing number of returns. Apparently I picked our cherry plum tree a tad bit early. Realizing my profits were dwindling rapidly, I did what any good business person would do…I packed up my “cherries” and rode my pony home as fast as I could. Hard to believe eh, a pony?
As hard to believe is that, in 1995, most people didn’t really know what to do with olive oil and balsamic vinegar! Fast forward to my second venue. My business was in its infancy and I knew I had to sample our product whenever possible. Vintage 1870 was having an event and invited me to sample our oil and vinegar. I was able to work past the ugly memories of the past and accepted the invitation. I decided to offer the balsamic vinegar over fresh raspberries…perfectly ripened I might add…to give people an idea of how vinegar can be used. As the day wore on, people continued to ask if we sold the raspberry vinegar. We would politely explain that it was simply our vinegar over fresh raspberries. I’m not sure at what point nor why I decided it was the right thing to do, but the fated customer asked the question, and before my sister could make a sound I blurted out “Yes we do, but we are back ordered. Please sign up on our list and we will let you know as soon as our next batch is done.” My sister looked at me in amazement with her mouth open, and I smiled…right sis…we’re back ordered?! She shook her head and began taking names. By the end of the day we had more names for the “raspberry vinegar” then we did in sales of the Balsamic of Modena! I was excited until my sister reminded me that I didn’t make that product.
I had no mode of communication then so I had to wait until I got home to call my brother Jeff…the real chef. I asked him how we could make a really high quality raspberry vinegar. He helped me play around with the ratio of ingredients and then extrapolated that to a 55 gallon tank production size and voila, in no time, we were releasing our first Berry Balsamic Vinegar. The raspberry balsamic was such a hit that we added other seasonal variations…cherries, strawberries, cranberries, figs, and blueberries. As we grew, I began to source the berries direct from the growers. Our production methods remained the same…only our number of batches grew.
My satisfaction is not only in the history of the product but also in the growers that I meet along the way. We source a lot of our berries from Mariquita Farm, a small family farm located near Watsonville, CA. They grow organic specialty vegetables, greens, strawberries and herbs for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members in Silicon Valley, the Peninsula, and San Francisco and for many restaurants in San Francisco. I get in on their berries by ordering and meeting the truck in San Francisco. It is always a fun day and well worth the trip! There is something magical about being handed berries from the hands that farmed them…knowing you will give them the same amount of reverence in your own process.
Our Organic Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar is made with Organic Balsamic from Modena and Fresh Organic Strawberries from Marquita Farms. We didn’t add the vanilla bean to this batch because the strawberries were so sweet. I love the mix of sweet/tart but you can always reduce it at home if you want the sweetness of the strawberries to dominate.