The “Mother” of all vinegar is a cloudy gummy substance composed of cellulose and bacteria that can oxidize sugars to produce acetic acid during fermentation. To nurture a healthy Mother capable of creating a vital batch of vinegar you’ll first need to enlist the help of a starter dose of a particularly active bacteria known as mycoderma aceti, often available for purchase a brewers outlets or wine merchants. Another way is to make friends with someone already providing shelter to a fertile but idle Mother of their own.
Once you have acquired a starter dose of the bacteria, simply pour it into a large crock with two bottles of drinkable but inexpensive wine and set the crock in a warm spot in your kitchen or pantry. Thereafter, once a week or so, just offer the crock a glass or two of wine that you have managed not to consume during dinner. Obviously, this requires the discipline to serve excessive wine with dinner at least once a week for a few months. But artistic success even in the fermented arts, must come at a price.
After just a few weeks of patient crock-toasting, your Mother will make her first appearance as a hazy grayish veil that forms on the surface of the wine. At this point it is important to provide her fresh air and breathing room. A linen napkin, cheesecloth, or any porous material can be tied over the mouth of the crock in order to provide access to sufficient oxygen while preventing the annoying intrusion of unwanted insects.
Now, just keep offering your Mother a glass or two of leftover wine each week, but don’t go overboard. Too much wine at once will weaken her mothering skills. And, most importantly, never give her any sweet or fortified wines such as port, sherry, etc., as this will forfend or even prevent altogether the miraculous occasion of the birth of vinegar.
Over the coming weeks your mother will swell with life, thickening protectively to defend her brood of bacteria from the elements. A good Mother must be quite thick-skinned, and a healthy one will thicken with surprising rapidity. Someone with way too much free time on their hands once calculated that a typical Motherwill thicken at a rate of roughly 1.25 inches per year.
After a couple of months of thickening in the crock the Mother becomes exhausted. She sinks to the bottom of the crock and a new “skin” begins to form at the surface. Once your Mother has has hit “crock-bottom” in this manner, she can be removed to a new crock with some fresh leftover wine in order to begin a new batch of vinegar, or be discarded altogether. The newly-weaned vinegar left in the crock can now be strained through a folded piece of cheesecloth and stored in a clean glass bottle to fully mature.