Vinegar translates from the French as “sour wine” and in fact, if you leave a decent bottle of red wine open for a couple of days, it does start to turn to vinegar. Don’t throw it out! All you need to do to make red wine vinegar is to literally let the wine sit around – preferably in a larger, more open container than the wine bottle, but given enough time, it will turn to vinegar in the bottle as well. Homemade vinegar tastes much better than most that you can buy in the store, and is certainly less expensive; I generally just toss the odds & ends of a bottle that has been sitting too long into the crock, give it a swirl a couple of times a week, and voila! You’re halfway to an excellent salad dressing.
Below I’ve included a basic recipe for red wine vinegar but you can follow the same procedure using white wine, champagne, sherry, or even beer. It’s best to use organic wine if possible, as the sulfites that they put into wine to preserve it will prevent vinegar from forming. I’ve included some links to lots of vinegar-making information, as well as a way to test your homemade vinegar for acidity, should you want to use it for home canning.
Fruit juices and apple cider can also be made into vinegar, but the process is slightly more compex, as the fruit sugar must first be fermented into alcohol, then the second fermentation will produce vinegar. The basic procedure outlined below will likely work (if you include the mother), but I will put together another post, with tips specific to cider vinegar, soon. If this is your first foray into home-vinegar making, I suggest starting with red wine, as it seems to be the easiest, and branch out from there.
INGREDIENTS & EQUIPMENT
- a 1 – 2 gallon crock or jar with spigot
- 1 – 2 bottles of organic red wine
- “mother” (optional)
- Clean jar or crock well in hot, soapy water.
- Pour wine into crock. Do not fill the jar or crock more than 2/3rd full at any time, as the wine needs air circulation in order to turn into vinegar. Make sure you use a wine that you like; garbage-in-garbage-out, as they say. Rot-gut wine will make rot-gut vinegar.
- Give the wine a swirl or two in the jar. Cover the top with a layer of cheesecloth or two, held on with an elastic.
- Let sit in a warm spot – on top of the kitchen cabinets works well.
- Swirl every couple of days or so, to aerate (or when you think of it, which is about once every two weeks for me!)
- After anywhere from 2 – 8 weeks, you should see the mother form; a viscous, gelatinous disk that slowly
settles to the bottom of the jar and contains the aerobacter that turns wine into vinegar. At this point your ‘wine’ should smell strongly of vinegar.
- Taste the vinegar; when it tastes good to you, you can pull or pour some off and bottle it. I use cleaned wine bottles or store-bought vinegar bottles. If you want to bottle your homemade vinegar and give as a gift, you can find nice botttles on-line or at local antique shops. (If you leave the vinegar in the jar indefinitely, without adding more wine, the mother will eventually consume all of the vinegar. Ask me how I know this.) Alternatively, you can test your vinegar using a kit and these instructions; in order to safely can food with your homemade vinegar, it must contain a minimum of 5% acetic acid.
- If you are having trouble forming a “mother” in your vinegar, or the process is moving very slowly, you can jump start the process by adding a mother to your batch. “Mother” can often be bought at wine-supply stores or home-brewing stores, but you can also try adding a bottle of unfiltered vinegar. I’ve used Braggs unfiltered apple cider vinegar, “with the mother,” in order to jump start cider vinegar production. If you have a friend or relative that makes vinegar, ask them if you can have some of their mother; then simply toss it in the crock with your wine.
- A stone or ceramic crock works well, and is more decorative in the kitchen, but a glass jar with a spigot is more convenient for pulling off finished vinegar. You decide.. or have a couple. I use one for apple cider vinegar and one for red wine.
Store finished vinegar in glass bottles with a cork or plastic top (vinegar will dissolve metal) in a cool, dark place. Vinegar will last indefinitely.