making red wine vinegar

my grandmother was special to me. she was magic as far as i was concerned. she made clothes for the family. she made bread and jam, spaghetti sauce and a mean lamb leg. she had a huge outdoor garden with vegetables, fruits, and herbs along with two greenhouses filled with humid air and blossoming plants.

another thing she made was herby vinegars. she would harvest the herbs she grew in the garden and stuff them by the handful into bottles of vinegar, letting them sit on a shelf in the sun to capture the light and release their flavors into the acidic bath. i don’t remember specifically tasting any of them, but i’m sure she used them in salad dressings that we enjoyed at family dinners.

recently, i had my friend andrew over for dinner and he bought a bottle of red wine. i’m not much of a wine drinker but i often have a glass when someone is thoughtful enough to bring some over. we each had a glass that night and he left the rest of the bottle with me. i knew i wasn’t going to drink it, and i wasn’t planning on cooking anything that might benefit from some red wine, so i thought for a minute about what i could make and the image of those vinegar bottles stuffed with herbs came to my mind. i knew i had to make vinegar.

making vinegar is relatively easy. the process relies on yeast to turn the alcohol into acetic acid. all you need is alcohol, some way to introduce the yeast, and time. you can buy a “mother” which is basically a yeast cake that you add to your wine to make it wine vinegar. another option – the one i chose – is to use raw, unpastuerized apple cider vinegar. it still contains the active yeast and can act as your vinegar starter.

i researched the proper ratio of wine to apple cider vinegar and found some variability, so i took the “fuck it” approach and poured the wine (about 2/3 a bottle) and some apple cider vinegar (poured by eye, probably about 1/4 cup) into a large mason jar. i think there’s probably a critical mass you need – a certain amount of yeast to get things going – but probably after you reach that minimum level, more will just make the process go faster. at any rate, the amount i was using seemed to be somewhere in the middle of the ratios i had read about.

it’ll take about 3 months to turn into vinegar. right now it’s on a dark shelf in my pantry, covered with cheesecloth, and hopefully those yeast are having a field day! i’ll update sometime in june (i’m presuming) on how the vinegar turned out. in the meantime, i have about 3 months to think of ways to use the vinegar. what would you do with it?

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