BY NATHAN PAYNE
TRAVERSE CITY — You’re not going to find it in your mom’s copy of the “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” And you won’t likely stumble across a bottle sitting on the shelf of your local grocery store standing between the apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar.
But verjus is horning its way into cooking across the country and locally.
The tart juice of unripened grapes is a popular substitute for vinegars and other acids in recipes.
”It’s not something that you find in your average cook’s pantry or refrigerator,” said Coryn Briggs, director of marketing for Black Star Farms. “It’s a wonderful substitute for vinegar.”
But there’s really no reason home cooks shouldn’t give it a try.
Black Star Farms is among a few wine producers in Michigan that use some of their unripened grapes early in the season to produce the tart liquid that’s sometimes called “green juice.” It’s important to note that it’s not really green when you go staring at a store shelf looking for a bottle.
The version produced by Black Star Farms looks pretty similar to the color of a white wine and smells like grape juice. Depending on the grapes used to produce the stuff, its color can vary widely from deep red to light yellow.
Kristin Celeste Shroeger, author of the food blog “The Intentional Minimalist” has been inserting verjus into many of her recipes for a couple of years.
“It’s very smooth and it leaves a sweet aftertaste,” Shroeger said. “Almost all of my recipes online use verjus.”
Shroeger has gotten a handful of emails from home cooks asking what it is and how to get it. She typically refers them to an article written by Bon Appetit that dissects and defines verjus.
Verjus can be swapped into just about any recipe that uses an acid like vinegar or lemon juice.
“Another way to think of it is as a vinegar or lemon juice substitute in dishes where a little brightness to flavor is needed,” Briggs said. “One of the advantages to using it in cooking is that it imparts a bright and mildly acidic flavor without being harsh or overpowering. Verjus is also an ingredient that helps complement flavors when dishes are paired with wines, unlike vinegar that is hard to pair with wine.”
As Briggs explained, Black Star Farms has produced verjus for several years by pressing some of its grapes trimmed during an early season process called “dropping fruit.” That process reduces the number of grapes on the vines before they ripen.
The juice is not fermented and does not contain alcohol, so it can be used in salad dressings.
The tart, unripened grapes taken during those cuttings are then used for a handful of things, including making verjus, she said.
“It’s a way to utilize fruit,” she said. “We will do that and oftentimes we will use that fruit in other capacities
Shroeger uses verjus in many of her marinades and salad dressings. But she’s reluctant to swap verjus into many cream-based dishes because of its tendency to cause curdling.
The verjus enthusiast also suggests that home cooks use small amounts of verjus until they get an idea what it does in recipes. It’s a lesson she learned early on in her experimentation.
”Less is more from what I’ve found,” she said. “I use it mainly with raw recipes.”
If you’d like to buy local verjus, Black Star Farms sells it by the 375 milliliter bottle at all three of its locations.
Here’s a recipe that uses verjus from The Inn at Black Star Farms.
<\Bz14f”sans-serif”>Grilled butternut squash and apple spring green salad with chive blossom verjus vinaigrette and gorgonzola
Chive blossom verjus vinaigrette
2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. verjus
1 clove garlic
18 chive blossoms
2 T. honey
salt and pepper to taste
Place verjus, 15 chive blossoms, garlic and honey in a mixer and puree for 30 seconds. Slowly pour in your oil and season to taste. This vinaigrette can be made in advance and will keep if properly refrigerated for up to a week. Reserve extra blossoms for garnish.
1 butternut squash
1 c. crumbled gorgonzola
1 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. butter
Peel the squash and using the top or skinny end of it slice ½ inch semi circle wedges. Core the apple, cut in half, and also slice to the same width. Try to use only similar sized pieces of apple and squash for easier stacking of the salad. Melt the butter and combine with the sugar and thyme in a bowl. Toss this glaze with the squash and apples and grill. The squash will take longer and can be finished in the oven if need be.
Put your dressing on the plate first followed by the greens. Build the stack of apples and squash and garnish with the chive blossoms and crumbled gorgonzola. The apple and squash should be warm when served.
This recipe is inspired by a harvest dinner that was served in the late fall last year. That particular dinner that featured apples and squash. It was the salad course for a five-course menu and the dinner guests raved over the presentation and the terrific combination of flavors. The glaze on the squash and apple really caramelizes and helps bring out the tastes of the apple and butternut in an exciting way. The gorgonzola helps balance the salad so it’s not too sweet. The verjus-based dressing is a nice addition also for balancing the flavors and it features a Black Star Farms own verjus product.