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Vinegar recommendations for salad dressings?

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I've been trying to make some homemade salad dressings lately, and have been failing miserably. My balsamic vinaigrettes turn out well, but everything else has been pretty bad, and I think it's because I use good quality balsamic but use whatever white wine/red wine/apple cider vinegar I have on hand.

Can anyone recommend good brands of these types of vinegar? Thanks so much!

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  1. Tarragon vinegar is good, as are most of the Italian imported red wine vinegars I've tried. One tip for a good basic vinaigrette: be sure to add a spoonful or two of dijon mustard. It not only adds tang, it acts as an emulsifer to keep the oil & vinegar from separating.

    2 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      I agree with Bob- dijon mustard does make a really nice base for dressings- and keeps them together longer.

      I also enjoy champagne vinegar in salad dressings- the other night I made a simple one of just champagne vinegar with peruvian lime olive oil- whisked together and then served immediately- it was refreshing and delicious.

      1. re: fmcoxe6188

        i never make salad dressing without dijon. oil, acid, and dijon. the rest are accessories after the fact. (c:
        my favorite vinegar, i would have to say is rice wine. it has a very mellow, gentle taste. i make this with grapeseed oil, rice wine vinegar, garlic, s&p, and dijon.
        i also love to mash some grapes and put in there occasionally.

    2. I also like champagne vinegar. I love to use an egg yolk as an emulsifier in a dressing.

      1. Here's a thread I started awhile back about vinegars.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/600263

        It got me turned on to sherry vinegar to which I'm now addicted :) I will never willingly be without it again. I encourage you to try it.

        4 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          I'd love to try all these types of vinegar -- sherry, champagne, tarragon and others. But I'm hoping to avoid spending a fortune at Whole Foods experimenting with things that turn out to be duds, so if anyone has specific recommendations of brands, I'd really appreciate hearing what you've enjoyed. Thanks!

          1. re: grayum

            This might narrow it down for you.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/629848

            1. re: c oliver

              This is great -- thanks, c oliver!

            2. re: grayum

              l posted in c oliver's post as above, and recommended popuret white vinegar from Orleans, still made as wine and not very expensive. There are three banyuls vinegars imported into US now, they are all great, get the least expensive you can find.

          2. I like apple cider vinegar with dijon mustard, shallots, olive oil, and a bit of honey. You can add herbs as well.

            1. How do you feel your dressing failed? too sharp?

              5 Replies
              1. re: wekick

                It was too sharp, but also, I think the vinegar just wasn't very good, because I tried cutting it down significantly and it still didn't taste very good. The fact that the balsamic vinaigrettes turned out fine makes me conclude that it was most likely the vinegar itself that was the problem.

                1. re: grayum

                  The reason I asked is that along with having the right vinegar it also helps to have the right fat/acid ratio. I usually use 3 parts oil to 1 part of the more subtle vinegars but some stronger ones need 1:4. Sometimes I use lemon or another citrus for part of the acid. Sometimes just a teaspoon of sugar can make a difference.

                  1. re: grayum

                    a little honey can round out a dressing very well.

                    I have so many vinegars in the pantry. They all work well to make dressings. I haven't bought a bottled dressing in years. My usual routine goes something like this. In a small jar mix acid, mustard (here again many to choose from including dry mustard), herbs and other aromatics, salt and pepper, sometimes a touch of something sweet, oil usually one to one with the acid. Shake well and taste. Adjust if needed.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      agree about store-bought dressing. home-made takes seconds and is far cheaper, with no hfcs.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        I also love adding a few drops of honey, especially where the dijon mustard is involved...adds just a *tweak* of sweetness and offers nicer "mouth-feel" for me anyway. I don't always add honey but sometimes I just WANT it! Hats off to homemade dressings...something as pure and simple as a good quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon can do it for me, most days.

                2. Rice vinegar. Less sharpness from the vinegar component which allows for other flavors to come forward. If you don't see it on the shelf with other vinegars, this is also found on the shelf where Asian ingredients are sold.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    i prefer rice vinegar too. brown rice vinegar is also nice.

                    op: balsamic vinegars contain sugar. most others do not, so you can try adding a pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey to punch up your dressing.

                    add your salt/pepper to the vinegar (& sugar if using), stir to dissolve. then add the oil and mustard and any other flavorings.

                    as for plain white vinegars, i only use it for cleaning, lol. the flavor is just too sharp.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      I like the idea of the honey.

                  2. I like Cento red wine vinegar over other grocery store brands. I've not tried more expensive or wine-specific red wine vinegars because Cento seems less acidic and I like it. sometimes I use a combination of red wine vinegar and lemon juice, the lemon seems to cut the vinegar's acidity.

                    As to white wine vinegar, try a pinot grigo, champagne or sherry vinegar. Just buy one bottle and don't worry about the brand. Don't buy pompeiin, heinz, or the like.

                    I also really like the Alessi brand of vinegars, especially the fig infused and the white balsamic vinegars.

                    But for white wine I turn to sherry vinegar - no favorite brand as I find it hard to get where I live and I also use what ever other white wine vinegar I can get here.

                    As for apple cider vinegar, Heinz is just fine, but I find that vinegar too sharp for use in dressings. At least on it's own; can be tempered with a bit of honey or sugar, mustard, etc.

                    you don't need to spend a fortune at Whole Foods on their specialty vinegars, just try to go beyond the typical stuff at your local regular market and you'll find some that you like there.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: janniecooks

                      Thanks for the tips, janniecooks! I'll try experimenting at my grocery store before going to Whole Foods.

                      1. re: janniecooks

                        I second the vote for Alessi fig vinegar. My house dressing is fig vinegar, Trader Joe's california olive oil (has a banana-ish taste), raspberry mustard, sometimes a little shallot if i have it, s & p. Really good, especially on arugula w/gorgonzola & toasted pecans & dried cranberries.

                        1. re: sparkareno

                          I use the Alessi infused vinegars, too.

                          My "default" vinegar is Sherry vinegar. I find it to be so versatile, but I enjoy using the Alessis, too.

                          I also use a lot of malt vinegar and Crosse & Blackwell is the brand I can find most easily around here (other than Heinz, which I don't like as much).

                      2. Have you tried Pastene red wine vinegar? I live in the Northeast and am not sure if Pastene products are available in other areas of the country. It's a mild and sweetish
                        vinegar, I usually mix it 1 tbsp to 3 of olive oil and add a little dijon mustard and fresh garlic.

                        It's not expensive at all.... I was at an Italian restaurant in Boston about 20 years ago with my Mom, who made the greatest salad dressings ever, and she begged the waiter to tell her how they made theirs. He brought out the Pastene to show her and it was on her Christmas wish list for years after.

                        The Pastene canned tuna in oil is also very good.

                        1. Pastene indeed makes a great line of products.

                          I also second the recommendation of the Cento brand -- I've just recently discovered their products and love what I've tried.

                          It seems to me (as it did to some other posters) that the OP is, perhaps, using too much of the non-Balsamic vinegars. Balsamic is always more mellow than other vinegars.

                          I love making great new vinaigrettes for salads, slaws and other uses. I find as the years go by, I use less and less vinegar/citrus and concentrate more on the other ingredients, particularly the quality of the olive oil/other oil I use.

                          1. I've never had problems with using basic vinegar brands, but I usually use red wine vinegar for salad dressings. Cider or malt vinegar would give very different results.

                            I use red wine vinegar, a bit of fresh lemon juice, dijon mustard, whatever herbs I feel like, if any, and salt and pepper to taste. I smash a garlic clove with the side of a knife and toss it in, but remove it before dressing.

                            1. The best vinegars in my pantry are Forum Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar, which is just divine, and sherry vinegar (can't remember the brand).

                              1. This has been very helpful -- thanks, everyone. I'm going to try these suggestions, particularly the addition of the sugar/honey. My recipes generally haven't included it, and maybe that's why the non-balsmic dressings have seemed so sharp/bitter.

                                1. Hey, I see you're new to CH. Welcome. I have learned an amazing amount here. Had never heard of sherry vinegar and now I own two bottles :) Also I now know the proper way to scramble eggs. You probably think you do too - you probably don't --- LOL. I learn something new ALL THE TIME. Good luck.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Thanks for the welcome! This is my first real involvement on a message board and I'm amazed at all the great information I've been missing out on. TIme to go get some sherry vinegar and read up on scrambled eggs . . .

                                    1. re: grayum

                                      Re scrambled eggs:

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/579972

                                      1. re: grayum

                                        Did you find sherry vinegar yet grayum? I get mine at Cost Plus - a big bottle (25.4 oz) of Don Bruno brand imported from Spain. It makes great dressing:-)

                                        1. re: vday

                                          Thanks vday -- I'll give this a try!