How to Make Verjus

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How to make verjus
Photo by Hank Shaw

You know the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Well, when life gives you unripe grapes, make verjus.

Sometimes I am not around in autumn to harvest the grapes in my yard. Sometimes I want a finer crop for wine, so I thin the fruit from my little vineyard of 11 plants.

Lest you think I could just gorge myself on grapes if I didn’t want to make wine, keep in mind that wine grapes are small, with lots of seeds — so they’re not the best for eating off the vine. What’s more, I hate the idea of wasting, so I make verjus.

Verjus, pronounced vehr-ZHOO, is a sort of vinegar made from the juice of unripe grapes. (It can also be spelled “verjuice”) The grapes you see in the picture are not green grapes, they are Zinfandel grapes, which will turn a lovely burgundy in a month or so. You can make verjus with any unripe grapes, even wild ones. You want to pick them the moment a few start to turn color.

Photo by Hank Shaw
Photo by Hank Shaw

As you may have surmised by the name, verjus is a French creation.

Traditionally it is made with the thinnings of a vineyard’s crop — the French thin their crop dramatically for reasons having to do with both the quality of the wine and because grapes can struggle to ripen in their comparatively cold climate. Many good California vineyards drop fruit in July to make the vines focus their energy on the remaining clusters. This makes better wine down the road.

Verjus itself is really nothing more than sour, acidic grape juice. But what it does is give a recipe acidity without the hammer of a true vinegar. A dish acidified with verjus will remain wine-friendly — if you’ve ever eaten vinegar pickles while drinking wine you will know that this is not a good combination…

So how do you make verjus? You will need unripe grapes. Lots of them. Anything you do with grapes requires many pounds for what seems like a small amount of juice. In winemaking, the ratio is typically 12 pounds of grapes to 1 gallon of wine. My verjus ratio was more like 12 pounds of grapes for about 2 to 3 quarts of verjus. So yeah, you need a bucket of grapes to make this.

Fortunately, green grapes grow near you. Most every place in America has wild grapes, usually along riversides. Go find some and fill a five-gallon bucket full. Or thin your personal vineyard…

how to make verjus
5 from 7 votes

How to Make Verjus

You will need lots of grapes, a meat grinder or food mill, a fine mesh strainer, paper towels, a ladle, some Mason jars and some patience. And, if you want your verjus to hold up for a long time in the fridge, you will need a little citric acid. If you really want it to hold up for 6 months or more, add the winemaker's friend: sodium metabisulfite, which is available at any winemaking shop. This is the "sulfites" you see on wine labels. If you are sensitive to them, skip it.
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: French
Servings: 2 quarts
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 10 pounds unripe grapes
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1/2 teaspoon sodium metabisulfite

Instructions 

  • Take most of the stems off the grapes. This will take some time, maybe an hour or so. Longer if you've never done it before. But if you don't do this part, you will have a tough time running the grapes through the food mill.
  • Grind the grapes through a coarse die on your meat grinder. Sadly, the Kitchenaid attachment isn't strong enough for this task, so you need a real grinder. I use a 7 mm die -- large enough to let the seeds get through (you don't want to crush them) and small enough to grind even small grapes. If you have the meat grinder, this process takes only a couple minutes. If you don't, you can use a food mill fitted with a coarse plate. This is a distant second and will require a little elbow grease.
  • As you get a slurry of ground-up grapes and grape juice, pour it into a bowl as you work. You will need to work quickly, as the grape juice will oxidize and turn brown. There is really no getting over this, but the faster you work the greener -- or at least more golden -- your verjus will be. Work slow and it will look like malt vinegar.
  • Now you need to run the ground grapes through a fine mesh sieve. If you have rubber gloves, put them on. Why? The acid in these grapes made my hands sting for a couple hours after I squeezed the ground-up grapes over the sieve. And yes, you need to squeeze your grapes because you really want as much liquid as you can extract.
  • You can take an optional step of straining the juice a second time through the strainer with a paper towel set inside. This will remove a lot of the extremely fine particulate matter floating in your verjus. As you pour, it will catch in the paper towel, eventually stopping the flow of the verjus. You will need to replace the paper towels a couple times.
  • Finally, you will need to pour the strained juice into a Mason jar. It's at this point that you add the citric acid and sodium metabisulfite, if you are using them. Shake the jar well to mix everything in, then put it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. There will be a very fine layer of sediment on the bottom, even if you did the paper towel trick. You will not be able to strain this off -- it is too fine.
  • So, what you need to do is gently decant it into a clean container. You will lose some verjus, but that's OK. If you don't do this step your verjus will oxidize even more. Nothing bad will happen, but it will look ugly.
  • Bottle and store in the fridge. It should last for several months in the refrigerator, and up to 9 months if you use the citric acid and sodium metabisulfite. You can also freeze it.

Notes

How to use your verjus? It is an awesome salad dressing -- I've dressed a green salad with verjus and melted wild duck fat many times -- and it is a great thing to use wherever you want a gentle acidity.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

 

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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40 Comments

  1. Dear Hank, I found this text by accident, and I must say, it’s great you describe this splendid use if unripe grapes and pomote no waste approach in this way too.

    Well, verjuis is not a French creation, but ancient Greek and then developed by ancient Romans, and still older, if we regard more ancient traditions – from Syrian and Persian culinary tradition, for all grape vines (Vitis vinifera) originate from there, plus Caucasus.

    The word itself derives from French, yes, but also originated from ancient Latin, Greek and Arabic. So I wouldnt say, it’s a French creation, but rather ancient, international, or even Near East creation. As a passionate gatherer (forager), food anthropologist and chef reenactor, I love taking care for the origin issues, so forgive me this detailed comment – no offence, just sharing my knowledge about it:) Some time ago, I made thorough research of the international literature, and studied this product, based on Arabic and Armenian records, not only Western Europe, not from Wikipedia or most common authors, which tend to stabilize the idea of ‘French concept’ – it’s simply not as it was in reality. Also, I wouldnt recommend adding soda, rather just a pinch of good local sea salt, as this will act like a good preserving agent – you can read more on masters fermentors making ‘janginisation’ – preserving with tiny amount of salt; in our area of the Central Europe it’s common, traditionally no use of nothing else; besides, verjus should be slightly lactofermented, to break the harmful unripe fruits substance. Overall, it’s the same healthy as good, homemade, low percentage and ALIVE allegar (historic name of vinegar-like acetic ferment – I describe it in one of my eCookBooks). Drinking wine with this gentle allegar seasoned food really brings amazing flavour effects! (if only it’s not typical vinegar!)

    Verjus had and still have amazing medicinal function, it was a beneficial condiment, as all food in ancient (also prehistoric) times, due to the rules of the antique dietetic theory: the food had to cure the ‘humours’. It firstly acts antimicrobial, may kill Slamonella and other harmful food bacteria, which was tested in laboratory and described in numerous academic papers.

    All the best, cheers with verjus!:)
    Greentings from Poland ???
    Anna Maria Ruminska
    “Chwastozercy Group”
    Slow Food Dolny Slask Convivium in the SlowFood International network

    1. Hi. We have a small crop of very small, slightly bitter grapes here in South Wales, U.K. Could I run these through a juicer, or would it crush the seeds too much? (Mind you, grape seeds are quite healthful). It’s the most grapes we’ve ever had off this probably 15 year old vine & it seems a shame not to do something with them. Most are purple but a few are still green. It’s nearly mid-October, should I leave them a little longer?

      1. Hi Ali,

        I grow Cabernet Franc grapes here in South Wales (Bridgend) too. I make verjus with all mine regardless of ripeness, even ripeish grapes can make great Verjus; just remember you need to prevent fermentation by making the Verjus over a maximum of 2 days (I use sodium bisulfite and Citric acid for clarification and stabilization).
        Do not use anything that breaks down the seeds as this will make the Verjus taste very woody and bitter.
        As far as picking the grapes, its down to taste. For a really tarte Verjus pick in late September / early October when most are still green but large, for a more balanced subtle Verjus leave until mid / late October. Mine will be picked this weekend.
        I have 2 vines around 6 years old which yields up to 40kgs of grapes depending on how often I thin them throughout the season.

  2. I grow a few pinot noir vines and am interested in learning how to make vers juice. I know to pick the green grapes before version occurs but when is the best time to harvest?
    Is there a winery in South East England that makes it?

    1. David: You pick when the first grapes start verasion. You want them green, but full of juice. As for England, I have no idea. I live in California.

      1. Hi Hank, I came across this recipe because verjus/verjuice is called for often in a cookbook I bought recently (“Bottom of the Pot” by Naz Deravian) and I was interested in learning more about it. Not sure if you’d be interested, but I also found a recipe for Persian verjuice that seems to be shelf stable/appropriate for canning – probably a different flavor profile since it is boiled, but thought you might be interested in seeing it:
        https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/08/recipe-ab-ghooreh-persian-verjuice/61623/

        Your blog is awesome!! Thanks for sharing so much knowledge here.

        Best,
        Michelle

  3. In winemaking, sodium metabisulphite is used to sterilise the bottles, potassium metabisulphite is used to sterilise the wine.

  4. What’s the best way to get other flavours in the verjuice? Say I wanted to do an elderflower verjuice. Would you recommend heating the juice slightly and steeping the elderflower or simply place the flower in the jar and infuse it slowly in the fridge?

  5. thank you for this post, really helped me to get what’s make verjuice the end color, I really love that reddish brown color of oxidation which take happens on verjuice, it’s even more delicious then.
    Here there are tradition methods to make verjuice, which they biol the juice for little time, and add salt to it, perhaps for long time storing.
    I failed to catch those taste and color in last year try, trying again this year, and i think let it rest in air get well oxidation.

  6. Hallo from the south west of England! I have a young outdoor vine, and got 12 lbs of grapes this year. Weather wasn’t good this summer so I picked them green & this week made Hank’s verjus recipe. All went well in the early stages, it had a lovely fresh tart taste. But after I added the citric acid and sodium metabisulphate, the colour lightened, it’s gone cloudy, and doesn’t taste so good. I swear I can taste the sodium m. Wilk this go away? Will it settle and clarify again? It’s now in the fridge. I’ll be so sad if the original flavour has been lost. Help!

  7. What would happen if I just pulsed in my blender? It would get the seeds I’m sure but what will this do to it? Never have made before but we just moved to a house with a TON of grapes and am interested in things i can do with them.

    1. Kyna: Not for this. You want to crush them when you see the first grapes start to turn color, and you want to use the green ones then.

  8. I have two big containers of green Concord grapes that I’m going to attempt to make this. I don’t have a food mill or a steam juicer so I’m going to attempt to lightly pulse them in my Vitamix. Hoping that won’t break the seeds. I made about 50 quarts of fresh, whole (yes, seeds, skins and all!) grape juice in it that I put in Ball jars and froze. At the low setting, the seeds didn’t seem to break.

    1. DD: Will not work. Verjus is made with unripe grapes. All you will make at this time of the year is grape juice. Sorry!

  9. I made verjus for the first time in 2014 using a handblender to break up the grapes. I found that straining though muslin cloth allowed me to squeeze the blended grapes really well and I got much more juice compared to using a seive. My verjus began fermenting after a couple of weeks which improved the flavour (I guess because the wild yeast from the grapes would have used up the tiny amount of sugar in the juice.) After this a larger sediment formed so I decanted and found the resulting liquid to be completely clear and almost colourless, but tasting amazing. Does anyone else find that their verjus ferments?

  10. I’m curious about what would happen if the grape seeds do get crushed- will it alter the taste? I would like to try it with my masticating juicer but I’m pretty sure it will crush the seeds.

  11. Funny you should post this. I recently got a beautiful shipment of unripe grapes (we call them ghooreh) from persianbasket.com. Persians/Armenians use them to add tartness to our sauces. Never thought to juice them. Even better!

  12. I also make verjus using a steam juicer – it yields a very fine clear concentrate. I add a pinch of citric or malic acid to taste, then process it in the canner. The heat turns the liquid rosey red, but the taste is unaltered and it keeps for years in the pantry. Refrigerate once opened.

  13. Hello, I use a steam extractor for making verjus and it works well. I leave the grapes on the stem. I ran across this excellent site while looking for recipes. I’m making verjus today, and was wondering how others are doing it.

  14. Do you think a steam juicer would work? I can apple juice this way and it stores for years with no additives. Thanks,

    Chad