Prepare to Wait: Making Vinegar at Home by Elliott N. Papineau

Editor’s Note:  Enjoy this interesting guest blog post from Elliott Papineau, long time Marcel’s customer.  Elliott lives in Glen Ellyn with his wife Kristen and children Landon (2 years) and Elise (4 months).  He works in asset management as a Quantitative Research Analyst.  Thanks to Elliott for sending this so we could share with everyone!

You will wait. The process of making vinegar at home is long. Long in the sense that we are accustomed to instant gratification. Gather our ingredients, turn on the fire, chop some vegetables, sear a piece of meat, add some seasoning: done.  Vinegar is a different ingredient.  Making it at home will produce an elixir that is rewarding and, above all, yours. (See below for information on the science of vinegar.)

Good vinegar comes from good ingredients.  The first step in the process is to buy a good bottle of wine.  I find my favorite bottle, and then buy two to make a double batch.  This process takes time, and when you are finished and only have a few cups of vinegar you will want more.  Probably a lot more.  While you are out shopping the local market, pick up a bottle of unfiltered and unpasteurized apple vinegar.  The most readily available is Bragg’s.  This will increase your success rate.
Back in your lab (aka home),  divide one bottle of wine between two quart-size mason jars.  This will yield 375mL of wine in each.  Add 75mL (20% of the wine volume) of the unpasteurized apple vinegar to each jar.  Cut a piece of cheese cloth to fit over the mouth of the jar, and secure it with the jar’s ring.  Store the jars away from light in a cool place.
IMG_7106469671956Now wait.  You will wait a day, then a week, then up to a month.  Your vinegar will change over this time.  The first week or two, nothing will happen.  Then a translucent film will appear on the top of the mixture.  This film will turn into a cellulose mat.  Say hello to your vinegar mother.  Over the next few weeks, the mother will transform the alcoholic liquid in the jar to some of the best vinegar you have ever tasted.  
After a month or so, taste your young vinegar.  It should taste like wine, but with an acidic tang.
Decant 80% of the vinegar, by volume, to a clean bottle and seal with a cap.  The other 20%, with the mother, is now the base of your next vinegar (replacing the need for the apple vinegar).  As you continue to produce vinegar at home, more of your old stock (the remaining 20% of each batch) will taste more of itself and less of the original apple vinegar stock.
Your new bottle of vinegar can be used now, but aging mellows the tang and increases the deliciousness.  I wait about 3 months before using.  If you get started right now, your vinegar will be ready by the fall.  You can also experiment with other alcoholic liquids such as beer.  Stay away from varieties with bitter hop notes.  This will produce off flavors as the oils in the hops degrade over time.
IMG_7098031185767Making vinegar is a long process, but minimal work is required to achieve success. In the meantime, buy some naturally produced vinegar.  I like Tavern Vinegar Co. from Ohio.  Taste your vinegar along side of another to compare its complexities and acidic bite.  Use it as you would any other vinegar, or in place of lemon juice,  and then marvel at your new creation.
Below are some of my favorite seasonal ideas for using your homemade vinegar.  

Spring:  Slice asparagus into half in pieces. Add to small sauce pan with butter and salt. Cook slowly until bright green and finish with rosé vinegar. Serve with freshly poached eggs.
Summer:  Sauté summer squash with young garlic and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with red wine vinegar and fresh herbs.
Fall:  Slice fall harvested radishes into batons. Toss with white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Top with thinly sliced shallots and chopped hazelnuts.
Winter:  Roast quartered potatoes with salt and olive oil @ 400 degrees. Remove from oven and toss with beer vinegar.

Vinegar basics: acetic acid + water. Alcohol (ethanol) is produced via anaerobic fermentation. Acetic acid is the secondary process to alcoholic fermentation.  Acetic acid bacteria converts the alcohol into acetic acid via aerobic fermentation. The best place to find ethanol combined with other good flavors is wine. 

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