Imagine my surprise and delight to turn on the computer one cold winter's morning and open up this email!
" ... Just wanted to let you know how terrific your Verjus is and what a pleasure it is to work with it and serve it every day at Attica. You should be commended for lovingly producing such an outstanding ingredient."
Ben Shewry - Head Chef and Partner, Attica
I have always loved the way great chefs mentor and support small producers, on their menus and in the books they write. I savoured the book by Thomas Keller, from the lauded Napa Valley Restaurant The French Laundry, and loved the way he dedicated a whole page to the lady who forages for the mushrooms for his restaurant and another to the man who raises his lamb for him.
Similarly Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley (San Francisco) and closer to home Stephanie, Maggie Beer and Neil Perry credit their small suppliers on their menus and work closely with them to help them hone their skills and produce even better products.
I always thought it would be such a wonderful feeling, to be taken under the wing by a great chef and given a little word of encouragement here, a tweak there. I could see you would be re-energised and inspired to go that extra yard and make the best product you can.
I can't tell you what a wonderful feeling it was to receive this warm note of gentle encouragement. It certainly put a spring in my step that frosty morning. We whipped through the pruning and other tasks we had on in the vineyard and talked amongst ourselves as we worked about how we could do things better this coming growing season and how we can improve the quality and flavour of the wines and Verjus we make.
Verjus is simply early harvested Roussanne fruit - hand picked, crushed, filtered and bottled. We pick the fruit for Verjus from the shaded heart of the vine, at 6.00 degrees baume – a measure of sugar ripeneness. We pass through the Roussanne again a couple of weeks later and hand pick any green bunches that remain for the Sparkling Roussanne, at 10.5 degrees baume. We make our last pass through that part of the vineyard at the end of the season, sometimes up to a month after we pick the Verjus, and pick the more exposed fruit that has been kissed by the sun and has turned a lovely russet colour for the table wine, by then the fruit is around 13 baume.
We try and get the fruit in to the winery and the Verjus out again before vintage proper has begun and a rogue yeast cell could get into the tank or (God forbid) the bottle and start a spontaneous fermentation in the bottle.
I use Verjus almost every day in cooking, most often on a salad - fresh rocket and green leaves from the garden, a splash of Verjus and a splash of peppery local olive oil, (Chapman Hill Frantoia is my current favourite). My brother-in-law, a caterer and providore at Farm Foods in Torquay, uses it when he cooks Bay mussels. In a recipe like Moules Meunieres he substitutes Verjus for white wine and says it takes the dish to new heights. I often use a splash in the pan juices when I have roasted a chicken or a loin of pork. I am waiting to see how Ben Shewry uses it - I have a booking at Attica in late October.
I leave the bottle I am using out on the bench in the kitchen for a couple of weeks without fear of it spoiling. But in the end it is a perishable product and will benefit from long term storage in the refrigerator. For that reason it is bottled in 375 ml bottles so that waste is kept to a minimum. For chefs and those in Food Service, who use it in greater quantity and more regularly, I have put it in 750 ml bottles.
I can't say that you’ll cook as well as Ben Shewry if you use my Verjus , but I am sure a splash here and there will make a fresh salad just that more vibrant and will give some of those light dishes we cook over summer a little extra zing. It also makes a very reasonably priced stocking filler for the foodie in your life!
Earlier this year Attica Restaurant was voted in the Top 50 Restaurants in the World in the San Pellegrino World Restaurant Awards. More recently Attica was rated Restaurant of the Year in the 2014 Age Good Food Guide and Ben Shewry Chef of the Year.