If you're a balsamic vinegar fan like me, it's time to make room in your cupboard for a new fan favorite. Move over balsamic! This recipe for Melon Gazpacho features Extra Aged Sherry Vinegar that brings this Catalonian style chilled soup to life.
The Difference Between Balsamic and Sherry Vinegar
Both balsamic and sherry vinegars have a protected designation (like Champagne). When looking at aged vinegars, these two have flavors that are deep and complex and are completely unique to their area of origin. However, there are clear differences between balsamic and sherry vinegar.
Authentic sherry vinegar comes from the Southwestern region of Spain, called the "Jerez Triangle" of Cádiz. Sherry wine is made with the Solera process. This is where each barrel is topped with the mother culture from an older batch, that helps the alcohol is further turn into vinegar and adds complexity to the flavor. After that, it's aged and fermented in oak barrels. The longer it ages, the more it picks up tones of almond and sea salt and oak. The vinegar gets darker and thicker as it ages because of the evaporation that escapes through the barrels.
Balsamic Vinegar, by contrast, calls Modena Italy it's home. Made from grape must instead of wine, it is fired over a flame and then left to ferment in barrels with a similar process as the Solera process in sherry vinegar. While both vinegars are fantastic, balsamic often steals the limelight from the equally magical aged sherry vinegar.
Shopping for The Best Aged Sherry Vinegar
There are 3 types of grapes that get made into Sherry and Sherry Vinegar:
- Pedro Ximenez
Simply speaking, the darker the vinegar, the sweeter it will be. If the vinegar is labeled either "vinagre de Jarez" or "sherry vinegar", it will be made with Palomino grapes and have a lighter, dryer flavor. Pedro Ximenez grapes are left to sun-dry before being made into wine and give a deep raisin-fig overtone (my personal favorite!!). Moscatel grapes are the sweetest, with honey and floral overtones.
A few recommendations for Sherry Vinegar:
Cooking with Aged Sherry Vinegar
Sherry Vinegar can be used, as any vinegar, in a variety of ways. I love to use the lighter Palomino vinegars for dressings and marinades. However, the Pedro Ximenez drizzled over things like this Tomato and Feta Tart recipe, take your food to another level.
Melon Gazpacho with Aged Sherry Vinegar
I learned to make this Basque style melon soup from a mentor of mine, David Kinch. Working as the Sous Chef many moons ago at David's Restaurant Sent Sovi in the Santa Cruz mountains, I learned the simplicity of the Catalonian Kitchen. In this soup, I love the unlikely combination of onions, slow cooked in butter until the natural sweetness comes out, mixed with ripe melon and then the finish of Pedro Ximenez vinegar.
Melon Gazpacho with Aged Sherry Vinegar
- Start by washing your melon, then trim the ends off to create 2 flat surfaces.
- Stand the melon on its flat surface so that it doesn't roll. Starting at the top and cutting down, trim off a strip of the peel from the melon. Continue to turn your melon and do this until all of the peel is removed (see video below for visual)
- Cut the melon in half and use a spoon to remove the seeds (you can wash and dry these seeds for planting, or simply discard with the peel).
- Cut the melon in large chunks, approximately 2" big. Set aside.
- Peel the onion and then slice into thin slices.
- In a saucepot over medium-low heat, add the butter and the sliced onion at the same time. Stir. Let the onions cook in the butter, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely translucent. This may take about 5 minutes- be patient. What you are doing is cooking out the natural sugars in the onion and mellowing the flavor.
- Once the onions are cooked, add the melon chunks, salt, sugar, and water. Stir and cover.
- Lower heat to low and let simmer for 25 minutes.
- Once done, remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender (or a blender) until smooth.
- Place in the refrigerator to cool.
- When ready to serve, ladel the melon gazpacho into serving bowls, drizzle with the Pedro Ximenez Sherry, and garnish with torn basil