I didn’t know how to tell you, so I’ve put off this post for some time. I killed my vinegar mother—the gelatinous substance that turns wine into vinegar. Over a year ago I acquired a mother from Jackie Dill, the self-sufficient, wise wildcrafter of Coyle, OK. And since I was so grateful that Jackie shared her mother with me, I’ve felt guilty about wasting it.
My basic understanding of the vinegar-making process is this: a mother is the name for the bacteria that develops on fermented liquid. She eats up the alcohol and creates acid. This could happen just by ignoring an open container of wine for weeks or months, until the right wild bacteria finds the wine—same concept as sourdough yeasts and the open fermentation of beer. Maybe this bacteria is more prevalent in certain geographic areas? I’m not sure. Regardless, you can speed up the process by buying or acquiring a vinegar mother like I did. The mother is put in a glass or ceramic container or an oak barrel and is fed a diet of red or white wine. You need to pick which wine you’re going with and stick with only that type. You can keep her alive indefinitely by feeding her alcohol.
There seems to be two main approaches to feeding the mother: 1) add a glug of wine to your mother every day or so or 2) add a bottle at once and let the mother do its thing. I chose the latter and ignored the mother to a fault. I have to admit—I was intimidated by this whole process, which is, I think, why I neglected/forgot about the hungry, vinegar-making blob at the back of my pantry. I basically starved her to death since she eventually ate all the alcohol and I didn’t give her any more. Although I killed the mother, I was still able to get some delicious red wine vinegar out of the experiment.
My first try at vinegar making has been an education I hope to build on once I get another mother.
The vinegar mother that I got from Jackie Dill. It came in pear wine vinegar.
I strained and reserved the pear wine vinegar so I could use the mother to start my red wine vinegar. I covered the container opening with cheesecloth and slid it to the back of the pantry. Instead of fearing and ignoring the vinegar for 9 months, I should have tasted the liquid every couple of weeks to check its progress.
Out of sight, out of mind. Nine months later I finally strained the mother out and pasteurized the vinegar. In retrospect, it was hasty to assume the mother was dead. I should have tried to keep her going by adding more wine.
My vinegar-loving friend Nicole and I had a taste test between my store-bought and homemade red wine vinegar. As you can see, the homemade vinegar is much deeper in color and body. Its taste is rich and mellow compared to the store-bought vinegar, which makes my eyes water and my mouth pucker.
If you’re interested in learning more, these websites are helpful: