Holy Mother of Vinegar

Perhaps nothing walks so fine a line through the world of culinary appreciation as

Balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegar

Balsamic vinegar, red and white wine vinegar 

vinegar. The bane of the winery, it’s also the prince of the kitchen, and few salads would be worth eating without it. Science and art merge In the making of vinegar and like its alter ego, wine, vinegar is a subject for the scrutiny of gastronomist. Good vinegar is not just rancid vino — it’s an art form that can take years to refine.

As you explore vinegar making, you may discover the fulfilling aspect of the hobby: it is a a self-sustaining, living process, almost like gardening or wine making. A portion of vinegar “Mother” (MOV – Mother of Vinegar) can be left in the production vessel after each harvest, and if you continually add more wine to this thriving liquid, the process can go on indefinitely, providing you with homemade vinegar for years to come. All your mother asks for is a little wine.

My Oil and Vinegar Collection

My Oil and Vinegar Collection

We’ll start with the simple science then 2 techniques to make your own. By deliberately infecting your wine — or beer or cider, for that matter — with Acetobacter aceti, a genus of bacteria , aka “vinegar mother,” you touch off a transformation. These bacteria eat the alcohol and churn out acetic acid, which supplies the tanginess common to all vinegars.

You might not want to read this, but here is the low down on vinegar:

All  vinegar — even the stuff you buy — got its start from the dirty feet of Drosophila melanogaster (common fruit fly) and it gets worse.  Vinegar is the sewage of bacteria eating alcohol (first fermentation). Alcohol is the sewage of yeast eating sugar (second fermentation). Of course, we can clean up the nouns and verbs, skip the manure part and say vinegar is made from alcohol and alcohol from sugar. Much more appealing…It is also has many serious health benefits. Read this “Wise Geek Article” to learn more.

Drosophila melanogaster

You can scale down my wine (recipe) ,mead or hard cider to start with true homemade vinegar. You can also make malt vinegar from malt beer. 

You could also just buy a bottle of Heinz all-natural apple cider vinegar with “mother”

The easy way to make malt vinegar: Buy a six pack of beer with no preservatives follow the directions below  then dump the mother into the warm, flat beer, place it in a warm dark place, and soon you will have more vinegar and mother than you will ever need. You could also home brew your own malt beer to start from.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS (Technique #1) – Winter time

  • Your old wine, 16oz or so for the Mother, and more when you make your vinegar
  • Vinegar, just a splash
  • Storage vessel, such as a cookie jar
  • Sterilized containers, for bottling your vinegar
  • Cheesecloth & rubber band (or panty hose)
  • Ripe fruit, or more wine to feed your Mother
  • Optional: fine sieve, funnel, fruit juice

Making Your Mother

To make an MOV, take your corked or leftover wine (red is most common, but you can use white), and add a jigger of red wine or apple cider vinegar. Re-cork the bottle and put it somewhere dark and warm to encourage the bacteria to attack residual sugar in the wine and start the fermentation process. Temperature is not crucial, but a good rule of thumb is: if you are comfortable, the MOV will be too. You also want to keep light away from your MOV, as this will slow fermentation. The whole process takes about 2 months. Be sure to not to stir or agitate the bottle, Acetobacter aceti needs oxygen (unlike yeast) to convert the alcohol into vinegar but should be left alone, in the dark. I prefer to use a Ball (or similar) canning jar with the 2 piece lid. Grab a coffee filter and lay it over the top of the jay mouth and screw the ring onto the jar without the inner disk.

Mother of vinegar, from apple vinegar

Mother of vinegar, from apple vinegar 

Sweeter wines with less than 15% alcohol work best, don’t worry, most wines fall into this requirement which is why they work so well in vinegar making.. Super dry wines can be helped with a little bit of sugar.

Note: If for some reason it doesn’t work, or if you just don’t want to wait 2 months for maturity, you can buy MOV online or at many local wine supply stores.

Slowly pour the contents of the bottle into a bowl. Mother, when she is ready, is not very pretty. It should have bacteria strands in it, and be a bit phlegm like. There will also be some vinegar here that you can filter out with a fine sieve or coffee filter into another bowl to transfer to a storage bottle. But don’t throw the sludge away, this is your starter, the actual Mother. While not particularly appetizing, it is not harmful; just a bacteria chain hungry for your leftovers.

Make More Vinegar

Now that you have your MOV, you’ll want to feed it to make regular vinegar. Transfer your culture to a storable container with a wide mouth. The ideal vessel to use is a beverage container with a spigot made of glass. Stainless steel is also safe to use, but tin and aluminum are not; plastics are not encouraged. In the container, combine with your MOV some fruits that might be on the way out — berries, apples, pears and pit fruits are all good choices, even tomatoes. Whatever you add will contribute to the overall flavor, so remember that while a banana can make the entire batch, it won’t taste like vinegar that you are familiar with, an overripe mango might be better suited. Add enough liquid (an inexpensive bottle of wine, or the dregs of the half finished glasses of wine you’ve been saving in your refrigerator- yeah right, who does that?) to cover the fruit you’ve given to your Mother. You can also use fresh fruit juices in addition to the wine. Store bought bottle juice may not work if it has preservatives that inhibit fermentation like potassium sorbate. Many frozen juices at your local grocery do not contain preservatives and will work fine (at room temperature) so read the label if you want to go this route.

Be sure the container is covered but can breathe (one idea is to securely replace the lid with cheesecloth), and put the mix in a warm dark place once again, checking on it every week. Continue to add liquid as needed. A bit of scum will form on top as the process continues. Just scrape it off before you add more to the mix. Again, this is not harmful, it’s just the bacteria creating it’s own perfect environment.

Note: When you add liquid, your vinegar will be diluted until the bacteria can catch back up, so if you’re in the mood for the sharp stuff, you’ll have to give the mix some time. I recommend tasting at 6 weeks and going from there.

New Vinegar

Once the vinegar is to your liking, pour from the spigot and bottle it in small, sterilized, airtight vessels. You can also rack it like wine with a siphon hose. If your container doesn’t have a spigot, just ladle and strain, then bottle. To remove the sediment, filter again with a fine sieve or coffee filter.

Pasteurization (not necessary)

If you wish to pasteurize the vinegar (render the acetobacter inactive), you can heat it at 150˚F for a half hour in a clean pot — then you don’t have to worry about an airtight container. You can also add fresh herbs to the bottles if you like. This will not only make your vinegar look pretty, but infuse it with the yummy herb flavor. You can also add Potassium Sorbate like I do when I make my homemade wine.

Your Mother will continue to work and grow as you add to it. At some point you’ll have more mother than room for vinegar. Here’s the rub: you can share! Scrape some into a container and give some to your friends. This provides you the room needed to begin another batch and helps your friends with their own mother of vinegar.

Celophane vs cheesecloth

Celophane vs cheesecloth

MATERIALS AND TOOLS (Technique #2) Spring \ Summertime

  • 2 liter Soda Bottle
  • Cheesecloth
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Cups water
  • Banana Peal or lime slices etc.
  • Jigger of Vinegar

Once the weather is warm  the bugs show up and are active — get a one or two quart plastic soda bottle. Two quart is easier to work with later on. Into it pour a cup or two of sugar, and two cups of water.

Also drop in one banana peel, all of it, when you’re done eating the banana of course. Add a splash of vinegar for aroma, a teaspoon will do. Leave the top off the bottle. You can stretched a small piece of cheese cloth with an elastic over the opening if you like but it is not necessary. This will reduce the number of bug corpses but you want big enough holes for the vinegar (fruit fly) fly to get through. 

Hang the bottle in the shade.  (If you put it on the ground the ants and animals find it too soon.) Between two and six weeks after you hang it up you should see some phlem-like cloudiness in the liquid. That is the acid bactar forming a mother. Sometimes it can happen in as little as two weeks. Also, if you live where it rains a lot, you also should hang it somewhere in the shade where it won’t fill up with rain water. (What happens is the wild yeast on the banana peel turns some of the sugar into alcohol which is food for the bacteria on fly feet.)

Vinegar is commonly infused with spices or her...

Vinegar is commonly infused with spices or herbs—as here, with oregano 

strain the liquid though a paper filter or the like and use the juice to start the mother. It already has the bacteria in it. Either way in the new medium the bacteria will form a hard mother in a few weeks that will float on the top of the liquid while turning the liquid it is floating into vinegar.

If you are a corona drinker, you probably smush limes into your bottles. You may have experienced, after a couple of days those pesky little vinegar flies buzzing around the trash. It is here where you can pour some sugar water into the bottle with the flies without cheese cloth to get a quick start on a Mother of vinegar as well.

The difficult part is finding untreated wine or beer to make into vinegar. Neither can have any preservatives or be treated to get rid of bacteria. It is not so much a problem with beer in that many beers have no preservatives. Wine is a different issue. You either have to make your own without any sulfides or find a preservative free bottle.

Try my recipes using your DIY vinegar

Try my recipes using your DIY vinegar

Much like wine, the process isn’t complicated , it’s more idle waiting time than anything else. Now that you have your vinegar mother ready and your first batch of awesomeness, you can try some of my recipes that are even better with home made vinegar.