“We’re off to the farm,” Joy Garcia Valenton wrote on her Facebook page a few years ago, and added a picture of herself driving away in her SUV, with Ripple, her faithful Labrador, on the passenger seat beside her. Valenton has been off to her farm many times since, a two-and-a-half hectare property called Kabise Farms in Nueva Ecija.
It’s no ordinary farm. Here trees and vegetables are grown organically. The arugula and lettuce, the calamansi, bananas, mangoes, rambutan and pink guavas all thrive on natural fertilizers such as fermented plant juice made from kamote tops.
It takes a lot of time to produce these vinegars. We do it with a lot of special care. And we don’t want to do mass production.
The farm was named after Valenton’s father, the late Mario S. Garcia, whom the folks in Cabanatuan fondly called Kabise. A lawyer and mayor of Cabanatuan for many years, he was a farmer at heart who cared for the environment, says Valenton. Like his father before him, Mayor Garcia planted several trees in the family’s backyard and farms.
It is from these same trees that Valenton now produces the artisanal cider vinegars that friends and customers have been raving about. Made from santol, sampaloc, cacao and bignay, these cider vinegars make a tangy, mouth-puckering dip for tapa, tocino, chicharon, and grilled fish. It can also be used to make salad dressings.
“It takes a lot of time to produce these vinegars,” Valenton says. Not only are they fermented for four months; they’re also made the old fashioned way —without preservatives or additives. And since only the fruits that are harvested from Valenton’s own farm and backyard are used, they’re guaranteed not to contain pesticide and chemical fertilizer.
“We do it with a lot of special care,” she adds. “And we don’t want to do mass production.”
A lot of research has gone into formulating these vinegars. Valenton had the first batch of sampaloc vinegars tested in a laboratory, for instance. Based on the soil and acidity, the laboratory labeled it “cider vinegar.” Some say it tastes even better than the apple cider variety.
But it’s not only its taste that appeals to customers; there are the health benefits, too. Bignay, a native fruit, is said to have antioxidant properties and can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Likewise, cacao contains antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Sampaloc improves digestion and has anti-inflammatory properties, while santol has a fair amount of vitamin B.
Although relatively new in the market, Kabise cider vinegars have already gained recognition. At the DTI Trade Fair in Nueva Ecija, it received the Most Promising Product and the Most Innovative Product awards.
The vinegars have even reached countries far and wide, brought there by returning Filipinos who give them as gifts to friends. Indeed, the way Valenton packages them — tied with rustic abaca strings and branded with colorful labels — they do make unique gifts.
Because they’re formulated to be used as dips, the vinegars are rather spicy. But Valenton says the sour edge and spiciness mellow with age. “They taste sweeter as they age,” she says.
Here, Valenton shares her recipe for an eggplant relish flavored with cacao cider vinegar. Reminiscent of the Middle Eastern baba ganoush, it’s great eaten with crackers and chips and as a side dish to grilled fish and meat.
Kabise Eggplant Relish
4-5 medium-size eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 - 1 cup diced shiitake mushrooms (stems removed)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (if from a bottle, include some of its oil)
1 red bell pepper, grilled, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon coarse salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
2 tablespoons Kabise Farms Cacao Cider Vinegar
Grill the eggplants over a medium fire then peel them. Chop enough eggplants to make two cups. In a large pan, heat the olive oil then add the garlic and onion. Sauté until tender. Stir in the mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes with its oil, and bell pepper then simmer for a few minutes. Add the chopped grilled eggplant and season with paprika, salt, chili, and the Kabise cacao cider vinegar. If desired, you may add other seasonings such as nutmeg and cumin to taste. Let simmer until cooked, stirring to mix everything well. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with additional olive oil. Serve with crackers, chips, chicharon or as a side dish.
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