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On my last trip to Japan to attend FoodEx in Tokyo, I found a really superb producer of vinegar made in Gifu Prefecture in the mountains in the middle of Japan. This producer is UCHIBORI, who has been making vinegars since 1877. One normally doesn’t think much about vinegar, it is just there. Such was the state of things until the arrival of Traditional Aceto Balsamico, which radically changed consumers’ view of vinegar.
I hope that UCHIBORI will do the same for somewhat more traditional vinegars.

In order to make fine vinegar, which is not a by-product or lesser product, but a product which needs a finely made base in order to make fine vinegar. Uchibori does just that. While producing vinegars from rice mainly, Uchibori make the substrate which they convert to vinegar. In most vinegar production, a substrate is purchased from various and different producers and converted to vinegar. Uchibori makes its sake substrate and then converts this same sake to vinegar. The case in point is its DAIGINJO VINEGAR. At Daiginjo level, rice is milled to 50% or less of its original size. It then is produced mainly in the winter during cold weather.

A sake lover knows the word DAIGINJO in sake as meaning the highest quality level of sake produced. Uchibori makes its own daiginjo sake just to convert it to vinegar. All Japanese vinegar is made from some part of koji fermented rice, produced as sake and then converted to vinegar. Uchibori DAIGINJO vinegar is the only one of its type that I know of, where the highest quality sake is produced just to make vinegar.

Tasting it at the Uchibori stand at FoodEx in Tokyo, I was amazed at its clean, fragrant and then tasty character, putting it very much out of the normal realm of Japanese white vinegar. It was an astonishing flavor and delicious. Mellow, soft, with rich rice sweetness, but not “sweet” tasting, Daiginjo vinegar is splendid white vinegar for use with wine. Normally wine and vinegar are not served in tandem

Another tasting led me to the Uchibori Black vinegar, RINGOYAMA KUROSU. (It really is not “black”, more like a very dark chocolate brown color), with again, an astonishingly delicious flavor profile. Do not let the name bother you. The vinegar takes its name from Mt. Rinko in Gifu prefecture. It is not particularly thick, but very flavorful, with a terrific umami background flavor that is both mellow and balanced. Production of this vinegar uses twice as much brown rice than required by the official definition of Black Vinegar. Currently, I am really enjoying as an aperitif a small amount of this vinegar in a glass, topped up with San Pellegrino water. (The recipe: one part vinegar and four parts water.) Simply astonishingly good! I have also started using Uchibori Black vinegar in braises and sautées to point up flavors. It works
wonderfully and recently has been promoted by several starred French chefs specifically to point up flavor in dishes. There is nothing similar in Western cooking.

Both the Uchibori Daiginjo and Uchibori Black Vinegar merit your attention. They probably will change your mind about vinegar. For what they are, they are perfect. Spring and summer are coming. Salads need vinegar!

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