Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making Vinegar, including honey vinegar and more

The last two links are the juiciest, offering recipes for many kinds of vinegar, including honey and liquor based, as well as a home acidity test.

Less of a group event, making vinegar involves setting up cider or wine (or other sweet bacteria food) to sit and ferment for months. The vinegar crock becomes a near-permanent addition to the kitchen and then storage vessels begin to multiply as time goes on. A good working setup is a barrel or crock for aging vinegar and a separate barrel or crock for generating vinegar. Aged vinegar and a constantly maturing flavor in the crock become the fruits of this new course of regular, light labor. Wine vinegar is merely feeding a growing colony small amounts of wine regularly and occasionally drawing off vinegar. Other kinds of vinegar, such as the honey vinegar referred to in the Countryside Magazine, are better as stand-alone batches that turn and are then bottled. White wine vinegar is more challenging but will be worth the effort. Apple cider vinegar seems to be the best choice for the pickling we do.
Vinegar is the oxidation of alcohol as carried out by a growing colony of airborne bacteria; acetic acid is the result.Vinegar will make itself if you leave wine or hard cider open to oxygen but, more expeditiously, use existing vinegar or "mother" to turn wine or hard cider at close to a one to one ratio. Mother is the visible bacteria colony, appearing slimy and filmy. It forms initially on the surface, looking spongy and grey and signaling the start of its growth process. The oxidation process is fostered by surface area, so a good vinegar-making vessel is wide-mouthed and covered with something porous like a cloth. Ceramic such as CPB's crock is excellent, avoid plastic and iron. Light ain't good for growing vinegar, so use an opaque vessel. Like our other cultures, vinegar needs a warm temp, 70-80 degrees f. As the bacteria colony consumes the sugar or alcohol and grows, mother will form inside the fluid. It will sink to the bottom once all the sugar or alcohol has been converted. The mother is then strained and the vinegar can be put aside for aging. Left unstrained and unrefrigerated, vinegar will continue to grow until it spoils after a few months. Five percent acidity is required to culture vegetables like we do, lower strength is courting nasty problems.

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