A friend of mine has just returned from a holiday in France. For some of the time she stayed in Aix en Provence and caught up with her old pen friend who makes her own vinegar. I think I would like this woman.
I too used to make wine vinegar years ago – it is really quite easy and I did not buy a special culture.
The best vinegar I ever made was when a friend who had been to a wine tasting of good quality French wines brought all these partly filled bottles to my house. We drank and I used as much as I could in cooking and with the rest of it (there was far too much of it) I made vinegar. I used a clean crock-pot (the old fashion type used by many to store flour) and in it I emptied all of the left over red wine – there may have been the equivalent of four wine bottles. To this I added about a cup of good wine vinegar and a piece of good bread – the sourdough variety (provides the yeast). I covered it with the lid and basically left it in a cool place. It then formed ‘the mother’- a thick gelatinous mass of jelly-like consistency that completely covered the top. I once did some reading on ‘the mother’ and I think that it is called that because it gives birth to the vinegar.
I left it for a couple of months undisturbed and then removed the vinegar very carefully (I used a ladle) by pushing the mother to one side. I removed about one wine bottle worth per time. I always made sure that I left about 3 cups of vinegar in the crock – pot and then added left over wine and the mother did the rest.
It is not just people in the South of Italy that make vinegar. My aunt in Trieste always made vinegar by leaving an open, filled bottle of wine (about ¾ full) by the side of her stove. I cannot remember what her vinegar tasted like but when I tried to make vinegar this way I had to deal with the vinegar flies and the smell.
My Sicilian friend says that her brother makes vinegar, he inherited his father’s old wooden wine vat and he pours the dregs of left-over wine into it. That’s the only technique he uses and has never added anything else to it since his dad’s death.
I am going to try to make some more. It is time to resurrect that old crockpot where I now store onions. I will wash it with very hot water before I tackle the vinegar.