Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette is a Benedictine monk who co-founded the Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in Lagrangeville nearly 40 years ago. Not long after, while poring over old monastic documents, he came across a vinegar recipe dating to the Middle Ages. Brother Victor already knew the vinegar-making process from his childhood growing up in the French Pyrenees, where they commonly turned their old wine or cider into vinegar; but something about this recipe lit a spark within. He experimented with its ingredients, finding contemporary substitutes to replace the archaic components, and began making vinegars that are now highly sought-after for their intensity of flavor and their purity, made with locally produced organic wine without sulfites or chemicals.
The vinegars can sometimes be found at local farmers’ markets or gourmet shops, but for the most part, one has to go to the Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in person to purchase the tasty fermentations. The monastery doesn’t run an online store, and there is no mail-order business. There isn’t even a telephone number to call. The Atelier Saint Joseph shop on the site opens every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. to offer the vinegars and other handcrafted consumables for purchase; but other than that, one has to attend either the Christmas Craft Fair held after Thanksgiving every year or the annual Monastery Vinegar Festival in summertime.
This year’s festival will be held this Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The monastery is located at 246 Barmore Road in Lagrangeville, approximately five miles south of Millbrook. Admission is free. The event is a pleasingly low-key affair, suitable for a monastery, offering the unique opportunity not only to visit such a place, but also to sample and purchase the only organic artisanal vinegars produced in the Hudson Valley using an ancient monastic recipe dating to the Middle Ages.
The festival will also feature other food products from the monastery farm, gardens and kitchen, including tapenades, pestos, chutneys, apple butters and applesauce, relishes, dried herbs and tonics. Other available items include plants, books, food, crafts and artwork from the monastery, local artisans and farmers. Cash and checks only are accepted.
Living off the bounty of the land is true to the spirit of the monastic life of work and prayer. “We don’t beg for our living; we work,” Brother Victor says in a video made last year about The Monk Who Makes New York’s Best Vinegar. And since vinegar is made out of leftover products, he adds, it also answers to the monastic principle of life that “We don’t waste anything, we utilize everything.”
A group of dedicated volunteers helps to keep up with demand for the vinegar. It takes time and patience to conduct natural fermentation; as Brother Victor says, “We do the preparation, and the vinegar makes itself.” Being a naturally fermented product, the vinegar contains healthful probiotics that help digestion and is more intensely flavored than commercial distilled vinegars. Corporations have offered to buy out Brother Victor’s vinegar operation, but he has always declined, preferring to remain small and keep the high quality of small-batch production.
Vinegar varieties that will be available at the festival include red, white and rosé wine vinegars as well as apricot, raspberry, apple cider, cider honey and a rare sherry vinegar available in limited quantity. New to this year’s festival will be two new varieties: a beer vinegar and cherry wine vinegar.
The process of making the vinegar begins at a slow boil, literally. The base is infused with blends of fruit, herbs and spices; the liquid stands for 24 hours before being transferred into glass jars containing one or more “mothers” needed for fermentation. The “mother” is a viscous blob of cellulose, microorganisms and other sediment filtered out of a previous batch that converts the alcohol into acetic acid, turning wine into vinegar. As it repopulates itself, the “mother” can be reused indefinitely. (The monastery also sells the “mothers” for those who wish to try the process for themselves.) The vinegar is then placed in a dark cellar at room temperature and allowed to brew naturally for eight months to a year at minimum to develop its full flavor.
Brother Victor began his monastic calling in Italy and Spain before taking a temporary life detour in 1966 to study Psychology at Columbia University in New York. He earned a Master’s degree there, but then resumed the life of a monk in Cold Spring. He co-founded the Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in 1977 in Lagrangeville and has lived there since. He is also a prolific cookbook author who has sold millions of copies of books featuring simple recipes from the monastic life, including The Pure Joy of Monastery Cooking: Essential Meatless Recipes for the Home Cook and Twelve Months of Monastery Salads.
Monastery Vinegar Festival, Saturday/Sunday, July 16-17, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free, Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery, 246 Barmore Road, Lagrangeville; https://ourladyoftheresurrectionmonastery.webs.com.