Making Apple Cider Vinegar

This fall is the year of the apple -we may have had a drought, but the small juicy apples made the best cider and we picked around 20 boxes of apples (oh my). Here’s what we do with most of the apples:

To make Apple Cider Vinegar (often referred to as ACV) in bulk:

  • If using bulk orchard apples, you will be best off using a press of some kind, for bulk cider production. We have generous friends with a large press that can help us do 8-12 of our boxes of apples in about an hour.
  • You can also purchase freshly pressed cider for around $6-8 (which, compared to purchasing raw ACV in the store, is still a pretty good deal).
  • My dad uses a Champion juicer to process his apples, which is a slower but effective process. (The apples do not grind very quickly)

Before processing, the apples get a rinse. The process for the apples is:

  • light bleach rinse (use gloves!),
  • then warm water rinse,
  • then crush/grind,
  • then press ~

Once pressed, the juice is lightly filtered (with a large colander) to remove the biggest chunks of apple. You want to remove large pieces, but keep the sediment.

The liquid of pressed apples that is unstrained is “cider

whereas fully strained, clear liquid is “juice.

We pour fresh cider into very clean gallon and half gallon jars. You want the jars super clean to avoid contaminants. We learned that sanitation is important and had better luck with the cider not molding by using a light bleach soak of the jars, then rinse and dry.

Place cheesecloth and a rubber band or a loose lid halfway slanted on top of the jar. If fruit flies are a problem, you can place cheesecloth or wax paper over the top, then loosely tighten the lid just enough that gas can escape but the flies can’t get in.

Vinegar on the left is pear (really dark). On the right is newly started cider with mother, fizzing. In the middle is partially finished vinegar.

Once jarred, let the cider set out at either room temperature (fast-acting, takes weeks) or in a fridge (slow-acting, takes several months). If kept in the fridge, the cider takes about 2 weeks to start to “turn” to alcohol. Full fermentation to vinegar can take months. The benefit to this slow process is that the bacteria work slowly, so problems can be caught early, which is handy for a beginner. I now always keep my cider at room temperature, but I know what I am looking for/at and how to do corrective actions for potential issues.

Often the top will foam up with crud in the first week or two and sometimes a little mold forms on top.  That’s ok, just carefully scoop off the foam without dipping down into the liquid very far, and try not to let any mold touch the liquid. I have a little pickle fork that works perfect for grasping the gunk without anything falling down into the liquid. A cream ladle or a spoon works as well. (Note: Apple cider seems to be very foamy, whereas other fruits such as pear and cherry do not seem to have much if any foam.)DSC05547

The only time it’s not ok to have mold is if the mold is interspersed throughout the liquid – I had that once, yuk! Dump it and start over!

I like to keep scooping off the foam (maybe up to 2-3 times over the course of the months) until the top is clear and forms a transparent film (your new “mother”). It may stay on top, sink to the bottom, or float around.

Here is a trick I learned that makes your vinegar much more likely to be a success:

I add a bit of last year’s mother and vinegar to each jar.

  • You can buy it at stores if this is your first year: buy a “raw unfiltered” variety.
  • Around 1/4 cup should be plenty for half a gallon of cider.
  • Store bought jars may not visibly have “mother” or “cultures” floating around inside, but you should be good to go if the jar specifies raw and unfiltered.
  • Once you have your own vinegar, you will notice that the jar will sometimes seem to collect more and more “mothers” – layers of gel-like discs the diameter of where the top of the liquid is on the jar. These discs will remain somewhat separate.
    • When I have a new batch of vinegar to make, after the foam is scooped off and the cider is starting to turn to alcohol or vinegar, I grab a piece of “mother” and rip it to the size of the top of the jar and lay it across the top. Usually the gel floats on top, and provides a nice protective layer and good enzymes to get the vinegar active and protect from any further potential mold.
Note, this red is a berry cider. Apple cider is brown.


Then I watch them over the next few months. The liquid will bubble and turn to alcohol then turn to vinegar. Very entertaining!DSC05553

I know the vinegar’s done when the liquid is clear and solids have settled to the bottom. I then decant into new jars, pouring off the clear top and leaving the sediment. I like to pour into old glass milk bottles for this, because I have a ton and they pour well and look cute. :)

Can you use other types of fruit to make vinegar?

Sure! Old wine sometimes becomes vinegar. I’ve done pear, which is a flat but tasty vinegar. We are brewing Cherry and Mixed Berry this year. I have a friend that lives in a tropical region that says pineapple vinegar is the best, would love to try that!

Can you use pasteurized apple juice?

Yes and No ~

  • NO: You cannot use pasteurized juice on its own (as we say, pasteurized rots, whereas raw ferments)
  • YES: If you add raw mother/culture from active vinegar, you can try to use pasteurized cider. The resulting vinegar will likely be weaker because most store bought cider is watered down.

What do I do with 10 gallons of ACV each year?

ACV is our primary acid cleaner for our milking equipment. You can read specifics about that process by clicking on the following link:

A warning for using ACV as a cleaner, maybe you already know this – if you have a productive ACV it will continue to make mother. I will strain out the mother, but it doesn’t all strain out, and it’ll grow more thick mucousy film. I tried to put the ACV in a spray bottle, but it kept clogging, so now I just pour it onto a sponge and wipe the sponge across all the surfaces I’m cleaning.

Printable recipe card:


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