I checked in on my everywine vinegar tonight, and gave it its weekly libation of wine. I have begun to think of it as a monster to whom I must make sacrifices, a beast I must ply with wine in order to keep it drowsy and slightly less likely to kill.
I feed it from open bottles around the house every week or so, trying to pour the wine down the side so as not to sink the layer of mother of vinegar at the top. Sometimes this works partway, and half the mother sinks, and is overgrown in a few days, as in the photo above. Sometimes it fails completely, and I fish out the sunken mother to use for making new vinegars, or to give away. This week I sunk it with half a bottle of cabernet that had already begun to turn without my help.
Ideas in Food is one of my favorite food blogs to read for sheer inspiration. They rarely post recipes, but their ideas are incredible. (Still, I must confess, when I tried out their recipe for hot ice cream, it was a complete failure, and I have no idea what to do with all the leftover methocel food gum. (Anyone want to trade something random and fun for it?))
So, when they posted about making their own vinegar, I just had to try it myself. I am an acetic acid fanatic. I still remember first discovering the way vinegar can be used in savory sauces, in desserts, in so much more than just salad dressing. And now that I have a ton of homemade vinegar, I’ll be exploring that even further.
Vinegar is made by allowing a culture of acetobacter aceti to grow in your alcohol. These bacteria consume the alcohol and produce acetic acid, which is the essence of vinegar. It helps to have some mother of vinegar to start with, which is nothing more than a slab of acetobacter aceti. (I’d also be delighted to swap slabs of mother for random fun stuff.) If you can’t get some, go to your local gourmet market and pick up Braggs organic apple cider vinegar. (It hasn’t been pasteurized, and should still have some floating strands of live mother of vinegar in it.)
Mix equal parts wine and mother (or Braggs) in a large, wide-mouthed glass jar. Cover the mouth of the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band around the rim. Leave it in a warm, dark place – sunlight and cold are both deadly to the necessary bacteria. As more of the alcohol is converted into vinegar, you can feed it more wine to keep the process going. This won’t work with hard liquor unless it is watered down with something else, as too high a concentration of alcohol will kill the bacteria.
Mother of vinegar forms a layer at the top of the vinegar in order to get air and to protect the vinegar underneath. If you wet it when feeding your vinegar, it is likely to sink. This is fine, because a new layer of mother will start growing across the top soon enough. Once your mother sinks, the best thing to do is to salvage it and mix it in with more wine or juice to start a new vinegar going, or pass it on to someone else who wants to do the same.
When I feed my colony, I pour the wine along a flat wooden stirrer in an attempt to have it hit only one side of the mother. Sometimes this works, and I end up with only a partially sunk mother. Sometimes it fails.
Every so often, I siphon off some of my vinegar into bottles to let it age further. I use a funnel lined with two coffee filters to filter out most of the mother. I don’t pasteurize my vinegars, so more mother sometimes begins to grow in them, particularly when my seal is faulty. This is not a problem – it is safe to eat mother, and skimming it off before using the vinegar isn’t much of a hassle.
I have a jar of maple vinegar going at the moment as well. Again, just trying out something mentioned in Ideas in Food, I mixed together maple syrup, rum, sauvignon blanc, and a few slabs of mother of vinegar that I’d grown in my everywine vinegar. It’s coming along nicely, and I taste it every so often to see how acidic it has become. It has a sweet sharpness to it already, and I’ll be bottling it soon. I can’t wait to experiment with it.