by Andy Harris
What is a vinegar mother
A vinegar mother is a gelatinous disc that looks like a slice of wobbly raw liver. It’s composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria (mycoderma aceti) that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids, and turns alcohol into acetic acid with a little help from some oxygen in the air.
To create one, you need plenty of patience and a warm place (ideally between 60F-80F). In the warmer summer months, it’s much quicker to create a mother from scratch. In the colder winter months, we often, start our pots or barrels off in the airing cupboard or next to a radiator for a week before moving back into the kitchen. Keep the lids off the pots or barrel and cover with muslin or a thin tea towel at the beginning so that oxygen can speed the process up. Once the mother’s formed, you can remove the muslin or tea towel and put the lid back on.
Once created, the vinegar mother will slowly get larger as it turns the wine into vinegar. When all the wine has been turned into vinegar, you can siphon it off and store in bottles then add more wine into the pot or barrel and let the mother go to work again! Eventually, once the mother has grown larger, more mothers will form on top of the old one. These can be used to make more vinegar in pots or barrels or give to friends. The whole process can take anything from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the time of year and where you keep your pot or barrel. From time to time, taste the contents of the pot or barrel to see if it’s been turned into vinegar.
How to make a vinegar mother
Making vinegar really is a simple process once you’ve created or got hold of a vinegar mother. The simplest way is to beg, steal or borrow a mother from someone! Alternatively, we sometimes sell them so you can get your vinegar production up and running quickly! Check the Vinegar Shed shop for availability and prices.
Otherwise, here’s our easy guide to the various ways of making a mother for your pot or barrel. Note, it’s definitely better to start by making red wine vinegar as it’s easier to produce - most red wine has fewer sulfites added than white wine and thus is more easily turned into vinegar. Then, if you feel like it progress to white wine and cider vinegars.
First thing you’ll need to do once you’ve got your pot or barrel is to buy a good bottle of red wine, preferably an organic, unfiltered ‘natural’ wine without sulfites. And some really good quality red wine vinegar - we recommend using either our live, unpasteurized La Guinelle Banyuls red wine vinegar or Bosco Falconeria Nero d'Avola red wine vinegar. Make sure you don’t use the pasteurized red wine vinegar available in supermarkets.
This is our tried and tested way of making a mother from scratch.
1 litre red wine vinegar
1 bottle red wine
1. Pour the red wine vinegar into a saucepan and warm over a low heat for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before pouring into your pot or barrel.
2. Add the bottle of wine, cover pot or barrel with their lids and keep in a warm place for 2-4 weeks.
3. Now check to see if a mother has formed and taste to see if the wine has turned into vinegar. If it has, siphon some it off and use for a salad dressing or in your cooking and then replace with some more wine. To check if the mother has formed, first make sure that you remove any jewellery from your fingers (and never use any metal spoons inside the pot or barrel). Carefully strain the contents of the pot or barrel through a plastic colander or sieve into a large non-metallic bowl. If a mother has formed and is left in the colander, carefully place back in the pot or barrel and add the contents from the non-metallic bowl.
If you’ve managed to get a mother, place it the pot or barrel and simply add a bottle of wine and leave for a few weeks in a warm place before checking to see if the wine has been turned into vinegar.
There’s another method that has also been suggested by our French vinegar barrel producer – take a piece of hot charcoal straight off the barbecue, fireplace or a wood-fired oven and plunge into the barrel filled with wine. The piece of charcoal will cool in the wine and a mother will form after a week or so. To check if the mother has formed, first make sure that you remove any jewellery from your fingers (and never use any metal inside the pot or barrel). Carefully strain the contents of the barrel through a plastic colander or sieve into a large non-metallic bowl, removing the piece of charcoal that was put in the barrel. If a mother has formed and is left in the colander, carefully place back in the barrel and add the contents from the non-metallic bowl.
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