For snappy homemade vinegar, get a good starter
DIY vinegar-making isn't rocket science, and there's no reason to get all obsessive-compulsive about it. All it takes is a good mother.
MY MOTHER is hiding in the corner — and she's got a real buzz on. But she's making me feel a whole lot better about the leftover wine that used to languish on my counter.
My "mother of vinegar" — science geeks know her as acetobactor aceti — is turning red wine excess into red wine vinegar, thanks to a big red cookbook: "The Canal House Cooks Every Day."
After years of wondering how long wine would have to sit, opened, before it turned into vinegar (short answer: too long), authors Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, familiar names from Saveur magazine and Bon Appétit, inspired me to get busy. They insist that DIY vinegar-making isn't rocket science and there's no reason to get all obsessive-compulsive about it.
All it takes is a good mother.
I bought mine from The Cellar Homebrew store, just south of the Shoreline border, where owner and brewmeister Brian Knobf traces her lineage — a strain that goes back at least 20 years — to that enological mecca UC Davis.
The job of that healthy bacteria is to hasten the conversion of alcohol to acetic acid. My job is to try not to murder my mom: keep her comfortable (70 to 80 degrees is optimal), give her plenty of room to breathe and make sure she stays tipsy.
Mother came suspended in a pint jar murky with jug wine. She looked not unlike a slice of canned cranberry jelly two months past its turkey date. Knobf told me (his pint-jar-label instructions and my research on the subject notwithstanding) that it's not necessary to use unsulfited wine to feed your mother. Within two weeks or so, the bacteria-killing sulfites will dissipate to a negligible amount, he says.
That mother wasn't cheap, by the way. She set me back $15. Online via www.cellar-homebrew.com she'll cost you $17.99. But what price bragging rights? ("Why, yes, I make my own wine vinegar, whose flavor is umpteen times better than the store-bought brand. And if you're nice, I'll swap a slab of my homegrown mother for a hit of your sourdough starter so you can make some, too.")
At home, I fished her out and, coached by Hamilton and Hirsheimer, introduced her to a healthy bottle of red. ("Mom, say hello to Charles & Charles, a Washington state cab-syrah blend.")
Now, before you call to say I could have produced my own magical mother from the dregs of Bragg organic apple cider vinegar, and opted for Two-Buck Chuck instead of Charles Times Two, save your breath: You're right!
Instead, I chose to go with the pros, following the Canal House cooks' advice:
I put my mother into a clean, wide-mouthed, one-gallon glass jar, added a bottle of "good red wine" plus two cups of water, placed a dual layer of cheesecloth on her head, secured it with a rubber band and hid her in a kitchen corner away from direct sunlight.
Every couple weeks, I fed the old girl with leftover red wine, pushing her gently aside as I did so. (I used a funnel.) Before too long she began to smell — and taste — deeply of vinegar, though for best effect, I'm heeding the Canal House call to feed and tend the batch for three months before straining it through a coffee filter, saving mother to make more vinegar.
Meanwhile, I'm counting on the Momster to pay me back in progeny. I'm only weeks away from filtering, bottling, and (if they're lucky) gifting my food-focused friends with a little mother of their own.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information in this article, originally published February 15, was corrected February 15. A previous version of this story misspelled Christopher Hirsheimer's name.