The holiday season brings impromptu get-togethers, potlucks and dinner parties. While it’s all fun and games, there’s one very important rule to remember: never show up empty handed. Good host gift ideas come from the heart and show your true appreciation for their hospitality. No need to splurge on monogrammed cheese boards. Infused vinegar is the perfect present for just about anyone.
You can use herbs, berries, spices, citrus and edible flowers to add wonderful flavors to store-bought vinegars – no cooking experience necessary! You do, however, need to get ahead of the festivities. Though simple to make, it takes two to three weeks for the flavors to fully develop. At that point, you’ll pour the mixture into a decorative bottle or glass jar, add a label and tie on a pretty ribbon. In the end, you have a hand-crafted, gourmet gift.
Follow these steps to create your own custom infused vinegar:
1. Gather the supplies: Pick 1 quart- to 1 gallon-sized glass jars for the initial infusion. Wide-mouthed jars for canning or other large recycled jars work especially well. You will need to have a securely fitting lid to cover the jars, preferably plastic or a lid that is not metal, as the vinegar may corrode the surface.
Pick a stainless steel, enameled or glass saucepan to heat the vinegar. You will also need a funnel, ladle and a wooden spoon or chopstick. Find decorative, 1-2 cup bottles for the final bottling.
2. Sanitize bottles: Wash and sanitize bottles and lids in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher, and air dry.
3. Choose and clean infusion ingredients: A wide assortment of ingredients can be combined for infused vinegar. Pomegranate seeds or fresh cranberries, cherries and berries add a fruity flavor and lovely color to the vinegar. Blackberries or sweet raspberries with vanilla bean are an exotic combination. Add in pretty swirls of lemon or orange peel for a citrus note. However, don’t use the bitter white layer underneath the peel; it will wreck your flavor. Whole spices such as peppercorns, cloves and star anise can also be added. Pick some seasonal herbs, either a single variety or a combination of herbs. Try tarragon and chive blossoms or parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Add in crushed garlic cloves, smashed ginger or minced shallots.
Clean herbs well to kill any bacteria that may be growing on herbs. Mix 1 teaspoon of bleach with 2 quarts of water and swish herbs in solution. Rinse well with clean water and pat dry with a clean paper towel to remove excess moisture.
Fill jars 1/3 – 1/2 full with infusion ingredients.
4. Choose your vinegar: Apple cider vinegar pairs well with berries. Add a little sweetener to balance out the flavor. Most clear-colored vinegars work best, such as Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar. Avoid cheap white vinegar, which has an overpowering acidic taste.
5. Heat vinegar: Heat your chosen vinegar to 190 degrees F to extract the best flavor. Pour vinegar over ingredients in jar. Leave 1 inch of head space at top of each jar. Clean the top and rim of jar, and make sure infusion ingredients are immersed in the vinegar. A wooden chopstick or long-handled wooden spoon works well. Place lid securely on top. If you don’t have a non-metal lid, let infusion cool to room temperature and cover top with a piece of plastic wrap first, and then add the lid.
6. Infuse: Place infusion on your kitchen counter, out of direct sunlight. Shake jars every few days to stir contents. Most vinegar will be ready within two to three weeks. Taste before straining.
7. Strain and bottle: Pour infused vinegar through clean cheesecloth or coffee filter, and discard infusion ingredients. Add a few fresh herbs or berries into clean decorative bottles. (Don’t forget to properly clean your garnishes!) Using a funnel, pour the strained vinegar into the bottles. Cap bottles, add a label and include a simple recipe or suggestions for use.
In short, here’s a list of the tools you need to make infused vinegar:
- Herbs, spices and/or edible flowers
- Wide-mouthed glass jars
- Clear-colored vinegar of choice
- Wooden spoon or chopsticks
- Cheesecloth or coffee filter
- Decorative glass bottle with lid
- Craft label
- Hemp rope or ribbon
Here are a few combinations for flavored vinegars to get your started:
Cranberry Orange Vinegar
- 1 qt. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. sugar or honey
- 6 oz. fresh cranberries, crushed
- 2 pieces orange zest
Herb & Garlic Vinegar
- 1 qt. white wine, Champagne or white balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 large 3-4” sprigs of rosemary
- 1 small sprig of sage
- Small bunch of fresh thyme
- Small handful of fresh parsley
Directions: Refrigerate infused vinegar and use within 3-4 months for best flavor.
Ways to use infused vinegar:
- Add to homemade salad dressings and vinaigarettes.
- Splash some fruity vinegar on cooked greens.
- Use in homemade mayonnaise, dip or salsa.
- Reduce a fruit-based infused vinegar until it’s thick and syrupy; drizzle over ice cream or cake.
- Add herb and garlic vinegar to bean and lentil dishes.