During the quarantine, without friends coming over to help me out, I found myself with a refrigerator shelf full of partially drunk bottles of wine. There is only so much wine one can use in cooking, and I had been using a fair amount of vinegar, so I began reading about making it myself. I carefully calculated the dilution of the various red wines for a 9% alcohol content, poured in 250 milliliters of apple cider vinegar with a living mother, and put it all in a jar with a paper towel fastened over the top with a rubber band. After a month or so, I was rewarded with a lovely red wine vinegar that was better tasting than any I’ve ever bought.
Since that initial experiment, I’ve learned that the bacteria responsible for converting the alcohol to acetic acid work within a pretty large range of alcohol percentages, and, unless you bought a really high-alcohol wine, you really don’t have to water anything down. Once the fermentation begins, the alcohol content will be used up by the microbes and you can just unceremoniously open your vinegar container and pour in the remnants of that verdejo that didn’t get finished. In a couple of weeks, the vinegar can be used. The bacteria know what to do, and all I have to do is feed them without putting in so much alcohol that it kills them. If the vinegar smells off, which one batch did, it goes into the compost and I start a fresh fermentation in a clean jar.
The fermentation jars live in the basement where temperatures are a little cooler and more stable than in the rest of the house, and the lights are usually out. I’ve graduated from paper towels to legit fermentation lids, and I bought some large canning jars to hold everything. The condensation means my culture is still living. Those are the Seminole pumpkins from last year’s vine on the metro shelf behind the vinegar.
This week I’m using some of the white wine vinegar to preserve some of the herbs from the garden. I make a lot of salads, green and otherwise, and I haven’t bought salad dressing in a couple of decades. A vinaigrette is so easy to whisk up in the bottom of a mixing bowl, and you can tinker with it to suit the type of salad you are making. A nice herbed vinegar always pulls things together with a vinaigrette, adding an extra depth of flavor that raises the entire dish a notch or two.
I always have two types of infused vinegars on hand. One is flavored with shiso leaves, and the other, which I’m making today, includes tarragon, lemon verbena, and a couple of garlic chives. This is the first time I’m using homemade vinegar instead of a rice vinegar I bought from the store, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with it in a few weeks. All I did was pass it through a coffee filter and bottle it with the washed herbs in a clean jar.