Mother of vinegar, that is. I wanted to try making vinegar out of some of our hard apple cider. I've been reading up on it. Susy, over at Chiot's Run, sent me a link to a great tutorial from the Sunset magazine website. Since cider vinegar is made from apple juice that has first been fermented into alcohol, half my work was already done.
Supposedly, vinegar flies carry the right type of bacteria needed to convert alcohol into vinegar - so you want to get the flies to your cider (or wine) while at the same time keeping all the other airborne wild bacterias out. Mother of vinegar is then produced by the right kind of bacteria. Once you have some mother, you can keep it going just like a sourdough starter. Maybe we don't have vinegar flies in high desert; maybe they die off in the cold; maybe local bad bacterias kill off the good stuff - I don't know. I've tried making vinegar a couple of times before, but I never ended up with anything even remotely edible. I needed some other way of finding my vinegar mother.
When my (actual) mom was visiting, her flight home was out of the San Francisco airport. So after spending time with me in Nevada, the plan was: we'd meet up with my California sister in one of the Sierra foothill towns, halfway between our houses, and then Mom would go home with Sis. We decided to spend the day at Apple Hill, near Placerville, for our meeting place.
So we met for lunch, and then spent the afternoon checking out my favorite Apple Hill vendors. One of them, Denver Dan's, sells lots of flavored cider vinegars. Light bulb moment! I asked to talk to the owner, asking if he would sell me a little bit of vinegar mother. He ended up up just giving me a little jar with about a tablespoon scraped out of the bottom of one of his barrels. That was enough.
Following the directions from the tutorial, I poured three bottles of my hard cider into a glass gallon jar, added half again as much water (since my cider was made with added sugar, I'm sure it has a pretty high alcohol content), stirred in the mother (a rubbery, white goo), topped it off with some cheesecloth (mother needs air), and set it inside a top cupboard, where it would be warm and dark. And it's working! I haven't tasted it yet, but it smells really good. The mother multiplied in the bottom of the jar, and a fresh layer is now starting to form on the top, just like it should, converting the alcohol into vinegar. I'm so excited! I still have lots of apples, so I'm thinking I'll press out some more juice and let it ferment without adding sugar, just so I can keep my vinegar jar going. Maybe I'll start a second jar with leftover red wine too.