|PLUS: PAULA WOLFERT’S RED WINE VINEGAR|
| There is a common misconception that vinegar is just soured wine – wine that has been allowed to stand, opened, for too long. While wine like that may TASTE something like vinegar (it has oxidized) vinegar is, in fact, the result if a reaction that occurs between a vinegar culture, called a “mother” of vinegar, and wine.
It is possible to purchase mothers from beer and winemaking supply stores, local wineries, and other commercial sources, it is also possible to find yourself in possession of a “mother” free of charge. The mother (which contains the essential bacteria needed to turn wine into vinegar) will appear in unpasteurized vinegars that may be right there in your pantry. It looks like a spongy, gelatinous disk (follows the shape of the bottle) near the bottom of the vinegar – and may cause you to think that the vinegar has spoiled – but the vinegar is still good, and when the mother is exposed to air in an unsealed container (one that allows air to reach the liquid) the reaction (growth) will begin that will turn wine, added to that mother, into vinegar.
• Strain your mother of vinegar from the bottle in which it formed (or was purchased). Some mothers purchased will be a clear liquid in a jar with no “gelatinous disk” apparent. There are good directions on the jar - the mother will eventually form a thin veil on the surface of the vinegar, and will work just like the “disk” kind.
• Place the mother in a wide-mouth glass container (a half-gallon or larger size, to allow for making a good-size batch of vinegar)
• Cover the mother with wine that has been uncorked and allowed to breathe for at least two days
• Use one mother for white wine (or Champagne) vinegar – and another for red wine vinegar
• If a milder white wine vinegar is desired, the wine you add may be diluted by adding one part water to two parts white wine
• The better the wine, the better the vinegar! [Don’t use jug wine.]
• You can mix more than one kind of wine in your crock, from different varieties and winemakers – just be sure to use only white or only red for each vinegar (don’t mix reds and whites)
• Place a double thickness if cheesecloth over the opening of the container, securing it well with string or rubber band (to keep dust and bacteria from falling into the mixture – while allowing air to circulate)
• Allow to stand for about 4 weeks (tasting occasionally) until the mixture smells and tastes like vinegar
• As you use the vinegar, replenish with more wine, making sure that the mother is always covered with wine [This is a great use for leftover wine – just be sure to allow it to “breathe” (stand uncorked) for at least 2 days before adding]
• Allow the vinegar to step for at least 1 week after each addition before using (taste and smell as above to be sure it’s ready)
• If more than 2/3 of the vinegar is removed and replaced with wine, allow the new mixture to steep for at least 4 weeks
• If the mother gives off “baby mothers” (little pieces of the gelatinous substance) just cover them with wine or vinegar and store them in tightly-sealed jars (like canning jars) for future use. Always leave one “baby” with the mother
• When the original mother turns gray (it is whitish at the start), discard it, and replace with one or more of the babies to keep the crock going
• To bottle some of the vinegar: strain it through a fine sieve and pasteurize it by heating it in a non-reactive (not iron or untreated aluminum) saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes – just until it gives off steam [Note: do not allow vinegar to boil!]
• To infuse vinegar with fruit, pour the warmed vinegar over fruit, allow to steep for 3-5 days, then strain [1/2-1 tablespoon of sugar may be added to each pint if fruit vinegar if desired, for added sweetness]
• Pour the pasteurized result into tight-sealing jars or bottles – use new corks if corked bottles, or wine bottles are used
• The new, bottled vinegar will last at least one year at room temperature, tightly sealed – Do not store in direct sunlight
• Sediment in the vinegar is harmless, but may be strained out (use a damp coffee filter in a strainer) if desired for cosmetic reasons
• See below (in Paula Wolfert’s tips) for instructions for pasteurizing vinegar, if desired for longer storage.
Sources include” Home Made in the Kitchen by Barry Bluestein & Kevin Morrissey (Penguin Studio)
PAULA WOLFERT’S TIPS
Food and Wine Magazine published an article by renowned food writer Paula Wolfert, in which she extolled the many virtues of making simple red wine vinegar at home. She says that commercial manufacturers make this vinegar too quickly, and cheaply, and the result is an unpleasantly acidic and “one-note” taste. She says that making this kind of vinegar at home is not difficult (she has a half-dozen crocks in various stages of development at any given time) and the homemade vinegar is more subtle, better balanced and provides a real flavor enhancement to foods - in addition to making superior salad dressings. Again, please note that vinegar crocks and mothers can be purchased from most wine and beer-making supply retailers, or on line (for example: Beer-Wine.com has kits). These are her tips:
1. Buy a 1-gallon earthenware crock with a top-quality wood or plastic spigot. Add water to the crock to check for leaks: drain the crock.
2. Buy an 8-ounce bottle of commercial mother from a wine- and beer- making supply shop (or get it from a friend.
3. Add 2 cups of good red wine and 1 cup of filtered water to the crock, then add the mother. Cover the crock with a double layer of cheesecloth and fasten with a rubber band.
4. Set the crock in a warm (70 to 90 degrees), dark spot and let stand for 1 1/2 weeks.
5. Add red wine to the crock in three 2 1/2-cup installments over the next 1 1/2 weeks; the crock should then be two-thirds full. Once a thin veil has formed on the surface, add the wine through the tube of a bulb baster tucked under the edge of the veil. Let the crock stand for a total of 10 weeks. Check periodically: If your vinegar ever begins to smell like furniture polish, discard it, wash the crock and start over.
6. Bottle the vinegar when it smells sharp and crisp: Strain it into sterile bottles through a plastic funnel lined with a paper coffee filter. (If you plan to start the process over, leave 2 cups of vinegar in the crock and just add wine and water.) The vinegar will mellow in the bottle and improve with age, but if you plan to keep it for more than 4 months, pasteurize it: Heat the vinegar to 155 degrees in a stainless steel saucepan and hold it there for 30 minutes. Store the vinegar in sterilized, well-sealed bottle in a cool, dry place. Use homemade vinegar for dressings and sauces and as a seasoning; never use it for pickling.