From Team Vinegar: Mother, where art thou?

April 24, 2008 | By | Comments (3)

By Margo True, Sunset food editor

When Team Vinegar huffed its way to the Sonoma mountaintop home of renowned cookbook author Paula Wolfert in February and procured pieces of her precious, 40-year-old mother, we had every intention of being good caretakers of that weird but precious stuff. We meant to feed it with fresh red wine regularly, closely monitor the temperature, and sniff it now and then to make sure it wasn’t starting to smell like furniture polish (the death knell, according to Paula).

Reader, we are guilty of neglect.

Hey, we have busy busy lives! Shoot, we’ve only fed it — by my haphazard records — four times since it came to live with us. Correction: Me. The jars sit in my office, in two cardboard boxes. I have to keep telling visitors that the strange smell isn’t my feet, it’s the vinegar.

Vinegar is supposed to be fed, according to Paula, every 1 1/2 weeks. Yikes. We last fed it on April 1. Here are some photos from that time.


Where are the mothers?

Now, if a developing vinegar is properly fed, the mother will appear on the surface as a thickish, solid layer. She is made up of pure cellulose and acetobacter — a nifty bacteria that converts alcohol into vinegar. By the way, the mother is completely harmless, if kind of slimy. When we’re ready to use the vinegar, we’ll just strain her out.

But I digress. As you can see from our 1-gallon mason jars above, no mother is to be seen. Failure! So many things could have killed this mother–too much wine poured in at one time (thereby “swamping” it), long periods of starvation, we just don’t know.

Then we pulled out our other two jars. These are humongous 3-gallon things we found back in our dusty storeroom. They are very wide, and maybe that is why — as you can see below — the mother has formed a healthy pink presence:


A well-established mother.

At least two mothers have survived out of four, against the odds. But sometimes the dead spring back to life (at least when it comes to vinegar). We’ll see…we’ll be feeding them soon (the guilt is becoming too much to bear).


  1. pickles

    Hi all, I too , make vinegar , not very many people made my apple juice into cider , then into vinegar..I used raw cider vinegar to set it on the right path. Very nice vinegar , I pasteurised it in the bottles by putting a tea-towel on the bottom of a big pot , then the bottles of vinegar and bringing the vinegar up to 160% then turning the element off and leaving the bottles in the hot water for 30 minutes.I have 23 liters of malt vinegar brewing right now.. I could leave the recipe , but it is way long.Good brewing…

    January 27, 2010 at 6:36 am
  2. laura

    I am trying to make apple cider vinegar from home pressed apple juice. I would like to start a mother and keep it by feeding it. As of now the wine crock smells a little like vinegar and has a white bubbly film on the top, it has been working for about three weeks. When do i need to start to feed it. It does not look thick or leathery. please help. thankyou

    December 1, 2009 at 5:36 pm
  3. Christine

    Congrats on putting together a very nice *how to* on making wine vinegar at home. I think it touched on all the important points as well as some of the nuances involved with making vinegar.

    I received my vinegar mother from Kim Adams of GangofPour and when she gave me the mother, she mentioned that from her personal experience, vinegar can be made from tainted, or corked wine. In fact, she has had some batches that started to smell like nail polish remover but later smelled like vinegar. While many advise to throw it out, she found that leaving it alone (without feeding it) for a couple of months allowed the nail polish smell to completely dissipate and the vinegar tasted fine and was usable.

    In the past year, I’ve experienced the same thing and I’m pleased to report that, following Kim’s suggestion, I left my nail-polish-smelling vinegar alone for two months and it now smells and tastes like vinegar.

    July 30, 2008 at 11:25 am

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