I'm finally in the process of making vinegar. One of my Christmas presents was a vinegar cask, a large, pear shaped container with a spigot on the bottom. It is used to ferment the vinegar, with the final product being heavier and sinking to the bottom. The spigot lets you remove some without disturbing the "mother." The mother is a whitish, jelly-like substance that floats on the top of the liquid and converts the alcohol in wine, hard cider, beer or any other alcoholic beverage into an acid, which make vinegar. It functions much like yeast does in home beer or wine making- it's best to buy a good starter so you can be confident your end product is going to be what it is supposed to be. It was also a treasured possession years ago, much like a good starter for sourdough bread.
The first step was deciding what kind of vinegar I wanted to make. The season is past for buying good, local, unpasteurized apple cider, plus I would need to ferment it into alcohol before starting the vinegar making process, so I figured that could wait until next fall. I don't use a whole lot of red wine vinegar in my cooking, so I though a nice white wine vinegar would be a good choice. However, Dan and I have really developed a taste for a champagne-dill mustard lately, and I just can't seem to re-create it here at home. I'm thinking that I need champagne vinegar, and I simply can't buy it locally. So, it just seemed logical to try and make some of my own!
The next step was to buy the champagne. Since I live in Pennsylvania, the only place to buy it is at the state-controlled liquor store. When I walked in, I was the only customer in the store, so the gentleman working there came over to try and help me find what I was looking for. I was just comparing prices, because I'm not going to buy really expensive champagne to turn into vinegar, a moderate priced one seemed like a much better idea. When I explained what I was doing, the man got a very puzzled look, and suggested which brands were drier and might be more like vinegar. I tried to explain that it was a process of refermenting the alcohol, which seemed to totally lose him. I'm sure I'm the only person who has walked into the Tionesta liquor store lately for vinegar making supplies!
After I made my purchase, I brought it home and poured the champagne into the cask, added some water, and dumped in the mother of vinegar culture I had purchased through the LocalHarvest online store. I covered the opening loosely with cheesecloth to keep out dust and kitty hair, and put it under the sewing machine in the living room. It needs to be near the wood stove, as the mother works best when the temperature is near 80 degrees. In a few months, I'll be sampling my own vinegar!