Scott Waldrop’s adventures in balsamic-vinegar production started with a dare. A friend bet him that he couldn’t discover the secrets of true balsamic vinegar — a tangy, syrupy delicacy that’s been closely guarded by Italian artisans for centuries.
Waldrop found very few publications that detailed the intricacies of balsamic-vinegar production, so he decided to experiment himself. He conducted countless hours of research to uncover a method that worked for him.
The project consumed him for nearly a decade.
“I’m the type of person that, when I start doing something, I can be pretty intense about things,” he admits. “I’ll develop an interest and spend hours reading on it and working on it.”
In 2011, Waldrop founded Highland Gourmet, a Fletcher-based business that specializes in balsamic vinegar. Producing his signature balsamic is a multi-year process that is often a mystery to many consumers.
Educating the public about what makes real balsamic stand out next to shelves of inferior, watery vinegars is a challenge that invigorates him.
“A lot of what is sold as balsamic really isn’t,” he explains. “When balsamic doesn’t have that really rich, kind of velvety texture, and it doesn’t have those really sweet flavors, you’re not dealing with real balsamic.”
Interest in Highland Gourmet grew as Waldrop worked to scale up production. He was encouraged by the public’s response to his gourmet products.
“People think more about food and the nature of the food they consume around here,” he notes.
He believes that a specialty business like Highland Gourmet would have a tougher time reaching customers in a larger market or a place where local food isn’t as paramount in people’s minds.
Initially, stopping by Waldrop’s booth at farmers’ markets was the only way to find his balsamic vinegars. They are now available at a few retail shops in Brevard and Saluda, and, most recently, at Divine Wine & Beer in Asheville. But Waldrop says his best connections are still made at tailgate markets.
Meeting customers in person, answering their questions face-to-face, helps him hone his products. People are often curious about his flavored balsamics, which include fig and chili infusions.
“To be in contact with customers and have a personal relationship and be able to get direct feedback, especially for a small, fledgling business, is just invaluable,” he says.
Call Highland Gourmet Food & Grocery at 828-443-0952 for the latest information on where to find their balsamic vinegars.