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Vinaigre – Sweet Taste of Success!

It isn’t often I can say that there is a new food product that is truly interesting and inspiring. There you go: the first sentence and I have already lied to you – these are not new but hundreds or even thousands of years old, and there’s not one of them but three.

Its Alan Coxon’s range of historic Vinegars. They cover centuries of culinary development and knowledge. Ancient Greek Vinaigre, Roman period Vinaigre and Mediaeval English Ale-Gar. (There are spice rubs from the same periods soon to follow.)

Let’s start with the packaging. It’s impressive to look at. Greek style glass amphora or flasks which not only have immense shelf appeal (“Look Mum, that’s pretty!”) but also have a “feel” that gives the prospective purchaser the expectation of a quality item, and they won’t be disappointed.bottles of vinaigre

I asked Alan who was responsible for the design of the bottles. “I myself designed the bottles as I wanted something that looked old but yet modern, a contradiction in terms. When I looked around for readymade bottles with a hint of historical relevance I felt they were all too archetypal, and I didn't want something that looked too Asterix or Disney. I therefore drew a picture of what I wanted, obtained a glass blower to reproduce the "Look” and re-mortgaged the house!”

“I had my bottle made into a mould at a cost of £22000 and then had to order a million bottles to once again keep the cost down for the shopper. The original cost of the bottle to me was £21.00 (before distribution costs, stores mark up etc, etc.). Needless to say, I have managed to fight against the odds and now sell the product direct from my website for £5.99 + p&p.”

How did you start to compile the recipes? Did it just take a lot of reading to discover threads and themes, or are there still ancient recipes out there?

“I started getting into food history about 15 years ago and whilst I was doing some research for a TV show, something just came over me. There is not one definitive book that gives you the answers, if there was it may have made life so much easier; having said that I would still have sought out a challenge somewhere along the line. The beauty about research is that you learn so many more things as you go. There are no definitive recipes, and many of the recipes you do find are in story form so it’s like putting a jigsaw together or solving a crime that took place centuries ago.”

Alan Coxon is selling his Ancient Greek Vinaigre to Athenians! Now that’s success and appreciation from people who would know what to look for. There’s lots of interest in Japan and some of the most celebrated chefs in Europe have praised this range as being not only unique but deserving of a place in any modern kitchen.

James Martin, TV celebrity chef of Ready Steady Cook fame, says: "Absolutely fantastic product, I'd like to sell the boxed set at my Winchester Deli.” Gennaro Contaldo - La Passione Restaurant - is equally enthusiastic: "I think that Alan Coxon's historic range tastes sublime. The quality and flavour of the Ale-Gar is outstanding, I use it in my Guinea Fowl dish instead of Balsamic now. The Roman is great in my salads as a dressing, and the Greek I use in Marinades. Alan is truly a great chef, now he has some great products that I will continue to use."

I had expected three bottles of balsamic-ish / wine-ish / malt-ish sorts of vinegars but these are very different. Each one is surprisingly distinctive. They are not much like the articles that you would have already tried. There’s a host of flavoured vinegars out there but none with such complex characteristics or depth.

Ale-Gar

Alan Coxon’s "Ale-Gar" is produced from an original recipe once brewed in Mediaeval England. It’s hop-based rather than wine-based, with tones of warming spices. It’s memories of smoky firesides in winter, and rich foods.

Ale-Gar is the colour of a favourite Irish stout and is, of the three, the one which most readily replaces ordinary balsamic. It does have a very particular flavour that enhances red meat so well. We tasted this straight from the bottle on both bread and a grilled steak. It’s an instant and very up-market change from any Worcestershire sauce-based condiment.

Alan suggests that this would be great added to beef dishes such as a bolognaise sauce, beef and venison casseroles; drizzled over oysters; reduced and drizzled over strawberries, ice cream or with parmesan cheese. It is also great when used in marinades or simply used as a dipping sauce for crusty bread instead of a Balsamic.

Roman Vinaigre

Cinnamon is the predominant spice, but with hints of chamomile that gives a good balance of flavour. It has the most wonderful rich scent and a slight sweetness of honey. This would be a terrific glaze for roast pork or used to dress chopped red onion as a relish with an Indian meal. Outstanding!

The Roman Vinaigre is recommended as an addition to salad dressings; as a dip for crusty bread with a dash of olive oil; added to hot butter or egg-based sauces or as a marinade for pork or poultry.

Ancient Greek Vinaigre

This was the biggest surprise of the three. It’s light and floral with a clean acidity but also a sweet aftertaste. It’s exotic and very different. This spoke to me of rosewater-laced salads from Morocco. I mixed a little of this with crème fraiche to make a dressing for beetroot to go with other North African mezze and it was amazing, being both sweet and sour.

Alan says, “This Vinaigre lends itself well to replace rice wine vinegar in oriental stir-fries and soups, marinades, sweet and sour dishes, salad dressings and hot and cold sauces. It’s fruity, fresh and fragrant – naturally befitting any Greek Goddess.” Well, nice of you to say so, Alan! I’m not Greek but I did find this one particularly delicious.

Alan has said “I like to think of myself as an Indiana Jones of the food world, dressed in a leather hat (of which I have two!) and an Indiana Jones-style whip, or in my case a whisk!” ....It quite sets the female heart beating! But all joking aside, these vinegars revisit long-gone culinary traditions and allow us to replicate for ourselves the delicious flavours that truly add “a taste of the past for the kitchens of the future.”

All three vinegars in Alan Coxon's Historic range should be available at all quality food outlets. Ask the store manager if you can't find them. They will also be available at www.alancoxon.com from 1st May.




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