Here’s what goes into making the unique hand-crafted vinegars and shrubs at San Diego’s own Kismet Refining Company
As Kismet Refining Company says, life is bitter and sweet, and finding the perfect balance of both complex flavors in small-batch vinegar is exactly what owner Chelsea Jordan-Enright does best. Here we catch up with her to talk about inspiration and what sets this homemade vinegar apart from the rest.
In 2016, we traveled to Modena, Italy, and experienced authentic balsamic vinegar making. It was eye-opening to learn about the extensive regulations and their 25+ year solera barrel-aging process, with some barrels used dating back to the 1800s. We were shocked to learn that pretty much all balsamic vinegar from Modena we get here is just a cheap reproduction of the real thing. We came back to California and looked around at all the wonderful grape-growing regions we have and wondered why traditional balsamic vinegar production never took off in the US. The biggest hindrance we could discern was time and patience.
As we looked around the artisanal vinegar market, we saw many small companies infusing the cheap balsamic from Modena or apple cider vinegar to create flavor variations. Contrary to that, we wanted to replicate the authentic production style while incorporating some innovative methods to shorten the aging process and make our balsamic vinegar of Southern California.
Another question we asked ourselves was why only apples and only grapes? Why infuse strawberries into apple cider vinegar when you can make strawberry vinegar with 100% strawberries? Vinegar is all about capturing in-season produce for out-of-season use. It's been our delight to translate our love for food into something unique we can share with others.
Well, we just began producing products at scale in mid-2019. We built up enough inventory to feel confident sharing it with local chefs to get feedback and start building relationships as we birthed our brand towards the beginning of 2020. The pandemic curbed our effectiveness with growing connections as the restaurant world struggled to get its footing initially. But, we benefited from the ingenuity of others coping with the unprecedented times as Market Box created an online San Diego farmer's market platform and was our first retail distribution. Being furloughed from a real job freed up time for more experimentation, and we were able to increase our production while studying additional techniques and methods.
The name shrub is derived from an old-style cocktail where a flavored vinegar was the base. Many of the shrub cocktail mixes you see available are vinegar infusions, not actually produce that’s been juiced and fermented into its own vinegar like we are doing. Our process of making shrub vinegar uses techniques to control how much of the residual sugar content is fermented away and allows us to make a final product that has the drinkability of this classic style cocktail mixer naturally.
We use the term balsamic in the same way used to describe grape-based vinegar made in Modena, Italy—highly evaporative, concentrated, flavorful vinegar. Modena's pinnacle of balsamic vinegar has undergone a lengthy evaporative aging process to reduce the water content, leaving behind a delicious concentration of acetic acid and sugar. All of our balsamic vinegars go through a controlled mechanical evaporative aging process, the beginnings of a solera barrel-aging program, or a combination of both. Our balsamic vinegars are only bottled once we've removed a minimum of 40–50% of the water content, which is equivalent to about 5 years of natural evaporative barrel aging.
We are neither natives of California nor have any background in the culinary world, and especially as niche foodie small business owners, we're trying to grow our community too! We're excited to join forces as a garden partner in a small way with Edible SD as they bridge the gap between producers and consumers.
We get to share our products to further others in their culinary enjoyment and endeavors. We look forward to sourcing more of our produce locally and getting to know the growers, the restaurant owners, and individual consumers we work with and for!
We had a bun in the oven so by the time most people read this, we should be holding our daughter. We also recently got a smoker and can't wait to create marinade recipes using our vinegar to see what deliciousness we can make at home.
Find Kismet Refining Company products at their storefront in Escondido with the option to order online for local delivery.