Plain oil and vinegar aren't so plain anymore. Consider this salad dressing formula made with Ma Maison orange and grapefruit vinegars: Whisk one tablespoon Dijon mustard with one-fourth cup of either of the vinegars. Drizzle in one-fourth cup extra-virgin olive oil and one-half cup safflower oil, whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Partners in the vinegar project are Patrick Terrail, who founded Ma Maison restaurant, and Jon Safier. Their vinegars add natural flavors to a cider-vinegar base.
Orange vinegar with cinnamon, fresh herb-flavored vinegar and barbecue sauce with orange vinegar are in the offing. The present vinegars are on sale in gourmet shops, Gelson's, Irvine Ranch Farmers Market and Mayfair markets. The 12.7-fluid-ounce bottles range in price from $3.29 to $3.99.
Some of the strongest vinegar around comes from San Antonio Winery. It's a red wine vinegar that tallies out to 85% acetic acid as compared to the 50% that is typical for commercial vinegars. Red wine--Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel--is aged in oak, then transferred to partly filled barrels and combined with the vinegar "mother," a bacteria culture. The alcohol gradually reduces, and in nine months to a year, the wines are transformed into this intensely flavorful vinegar.
Santo Riboli, vice president of the family-owned winery, suggests sprinkling a few drops onto a mixture of greens along with a little imported extra-virgin olive, oil, salt and lemon pepper. "You use much less of this," Riboli says. "The flavor goes a long way." Available only at the winery, 737 Lamar St., downtown Los Angeles, the vinegar costs $1.75 for a 12.8-fluid-ounce bottle.
The Ribolis make their salad with a combination of home-grown greens. Riboli says he's seen a similar mixture at Hughes Market. This turned out to be the garden salad produced by Underwood Ranches of Somis, near Camarillo. Formulated to look good and combine flavors that go well together, the mix varies according to what's in season. Typical components are: frisee; radicchio; mizuna; arugula; tatsoi, a Japanese green; red oak lettuce; cocarde, which is similar to red oak; ruby red leaf; red romaine; Little Gem, which resembles a cross between romaine and butter lettuce, and lollo rossa, a lettuce with small, round leaves that are ruffled at the edge and red in color with a frosty green interior.
Hughes sells the mixture straight from the box for $4.99 a pound. You reach in with tongs and select what you want. Underwood also ships the trendy salad makings to Ralphs, Lucky, Albertsons and Bristol Farms.