You Have Vinegar Questions - We Have Vinegar Answers
HOW ARE VIM & VINEGAR’S PRODUCTS BETTER THAN MASS-PRODUCED VINEGAR I CAN BUY AT THE SUPERMARKET?
Modern vinegar-making is fast -- very fast. Large commercial vinegar plants can convert thousands of gallons of wine to vinegar in a matter of hours. They do this by accelerating natural processes using high-pressure aerators, foam inhibitors, and auto-regulated heat and cooling systems. While automation and economies of scale allow vinegar to be made anywhere in the world and delivered to our local grocery store at relatively low cost, what is missing is the depth of flavor, aroma, and taste that hand-crafted, small batch processes like the Orleans Method imbue into our artisanal vinegars.
SO WHAT IS THE ORLEANS METHOD?
Originating in France in the 15th Century, the Orleans Method uses a slow process of acidification to turn wine into vinegar. This method promotes the natural fermentation of wine into vinegar, which results in a vinegar that retains the flavor profile and aroma of the original wine.
CAN I USE RUFOUS RED WINE VINEGAR AS A STARTER FOR MY OWN VINEGAR?
Yes. Rufous has not been pasteurized, which means that the vinegar culture is still very much alive and you can use it to start your own batch of red wine vinegar!
Lower quality wine doesn’t make good vinegar, so choose your wine carefully. Common varietals used in making red wine vinegar are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petit Verdot
But don’t let this list get in the way of your own vinegar making creativity.
Low-sulfite wine: Sulfites (S02) are a chemical compound that occur naturally in wine, but they are also added by winemakers as an antimicrobial and antioxidant. The active culture of the acetic acid organism may be weakened or killed in wines that are high in sulfites. Some wineries make low-sulfite wines, but if you don't have a kit to test the levels (and most of us don’t), then it's difficult to know whether a wine is low or high in sulfites. And because there is no uniform way that sulfites are used by wineries, choosing the wines that go into your vinegar can mean a little trial and error.
Low-alcohol wine: The active culture in wines is most active when alcohol levels are below 10% but above 6%. Above 10%, the alcohol in there can kill the live culture. Below 6%, the culture will not have enough alcohol to convert to an acceptable level of acidity. Most red wine is between 13.5% and 14.5% alcohol by volume, so you’ll need to dilute it before starting the vinegar making process. The best way to do this is to add (filtered) water at the outset.
Around 95% of water treatment facilities in the United States use some form of chlorine to clean municipal drinking water. This means that your tap water will usually contain chlorine, which may weaken or kill the acetic acid bacteria in your Rufous Red Wine Vinegar starter. So it's best to use filtered water when you begin a batch of your own vinegar.
ACTIVE VINEGAR CULTURE
Many of the DIY recipes you’ll find online for making vinegar call for mother-of-vinegar, the gelatinous film that usually forms on the top of wine during the conversion process. However, you do not need mother-of-vinegar to convert wine to vinegar. What you do need is live acetic acid bacteria. Rufous is unpasteurized, which means that these beneficial bacteria are alive and well (rather than cooked. And dead). This friendly bacteria culture is ready, willing, and able to convert the alcohol in your wine to acetic acid, the is what gives vinegar its punch.
The best options are glass or other non-reactive materials, such as ceramic. These clean well and are ideal for small batches.
The right kind of lid for your container is also crucial, because the culture needs oxygen during the conversion process. A solid lid may keep dust and insects out of there, but it will also mean that there is no airflow across the culture’s surface. Some good options include large coffee filters or a square of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Leaving the container open invites fruit flies, airborne mold, and other particulates, so a secure but porous closure is important.
This style of vinegar making doesn't just happen. In fact, it's a slow process -- and that's OK. Vinegar made this way retains the qualities of the original red wine, since that profile is not cooked off during pasteurization. It may take at least seven weeks before vinegar begins to be ready for use. (At this point in the process, Vim & Vinegar ages its vinegar another six months in oak barrels to imbue the vinegar with the wood's subtle notes and to smooth out some of the acetic acid’s "edge.") Good things come to those who wait.
HERE'S WHAT TO DO
- Clean and sanitize your container and all tools that will come in contact with the ingredients. This is a simple step, but one of the most important.
- Add two parts wine to one part filtered water to two parts Rufous Red Wine Vinegar -- (2-1-2) -- to the container then secure your porous closure.
- Secure your porous closure over the opening of the container.
- Find an out-of-the-way place in our home where your container and its contents can be kept warm (68-84 degrees F).
- [Optional] When the conversion process has taken off and seems to be progressing well, you can add more wine to the mix to increase the total amount of finished vinegar. Here, less is more. Too much wine raises the vinegar’s overall pH and may open the door to mold or other undesirable microorganisms. If you do add more wine, you won’t need any more water, because the newly converted vinegar in your container will dilute the total alcohol concentration on its own. Add one part new wine to five parts of the ingredients already in your solution. You can repeat this step every 10 days or so. When adding new wine, try to minimize disturbance within the container as much as possible.
Hold on, you say! If I continue adding new wine throughout the process, how do I know when the vinegar is “done?” When alcohol converts to acetic acid, it sinks. Finished vinegar will accumulate at the bottom of the container. This falling motion pushes unconverted alcohol to the top. If you use this “continuous” vinegar making process, you’ll either need to add a tap made of non-reactive material in order to drain the finished vinegar from the bottom of the container, or you’ll need to stop adding liquid at some point and let the entire batch convert to delicious vinegar.
- Once your vinegar is at peak acidity, transfer it to a closed container with just a small amount of space at the top (at the beginning of the process, oxygen is absolutely necessary to the overall process, but once it’s done, too much oxygen can degrade the vinegar’s flavor profile and dilute the concentration of the acetic acid). How can you tell when your vinegar hits its peak? Professional vinegar makers use a lab to test for acidity and residual alcohol levels - a process too equipment intensive for most casual vinegar fans. The best way to determine “done-ness” is to taste-test throughout the process. Over time, you’ll have a good idea when your vinegar is at its best. Live culture converts to vinegar at a rate of about 1% acetic acid per week. Between 5 and 6% is ideal, but at home, you may have less than optimal conditions and it may take a little longer than 5 to 6 weeks.
Your live vinegar culture will result in better vinegar if it is not moved, stirred, or bumped.
Keep your container out of direct light. If you’re using a glass container, then a pantry is a good location. An opaque crock will do just fine in a well-lit room.
The friendly bacteria will be most active when there is some airflow in the location you choose for your container.
The Orleans Method relies on an acetic acid bacteria from the genus Acetobacter. When this friendly microbial culture begins to convert the alcohol in the wine to acetic acid, the surface of the liquid turns into a thin, flat layer that looks and feels like a gelatinous fruit roll. A healthy mother-of-vinegar is a sign that the active culture is doing its job in both the mother-of-vinegar and the culture-infused vinegar solution. This means that you do not need a mother-of-vinegar to start the conversion process. Also, keep in mind that sometimes a mother-of-vinegar never forms, even though the active culture has completely converted your wine into delicious vinegar.
I’VE HEARD THAT VINEGAR IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH. IS IT? OR IS IT ALL HYPE?
There have been a lot of studies about the health benefits of vinegar. But the science is still not conclusive. We recommend you enjoy Rufous Red Wine Vinegar simply because it tastes better than any mass-produced vinegar you’ll find at the supermarket.