Fermented foods: gosh, they’re cool
I have pickles on the brain these days. I know, it’s the time of year of farmers markets and fresh foods galore. And, trust me, I think about those enough, too. (Even on this rainy past Saturday, my family had to lure me away from my long stay at the market with a brunch of fried-chicken-n-waffles. OK, that might have been my idea.)
But sometimes these themes emerge in the stories I’m writing, and I find myself mesmerized by a concept or food group. The past couple of weeks, the theme has been fermentation. Some of the people helming the latest food trends are So. Dang. Smart. And I’m thrilled that they’re applying their endless energies these days to perfecting ancient food preservation methods. And to making them taste good.
It seems all our food is going back-to-the-future. Old is new, which means fermentation — the age-old method for making food safe to eat — is finding a prime spot on our tables today. There’s kimchi and kombucha, sauerkraut and pickles, all these new-again ways of getting the healthful bacteria and food safety perks that several other cultures never stopped savoring.
Take Yi Wah Roberts, for example, co-owner with his sister Caitlin of Number 1 Sons Pickles,which sells fermented pickles and kimchi… and could soon be offering a tap of kombucha at area markets. He says people tend to crinkle their nose at the word “fermented.”
But when he tells them that 70 percent of the world’s food economy is fermentation-based (think coffee, chocolate, cheese, country ham), they get a little more comfortable with the idea. They’re a little more willing to buy his flavor-packed pickles. Some people are then likely to inhale them. (He tells of a pregnant woman who returned to his stand 15 minutes after purchasing a quart of pickles with an empty jar and the juice running down her chin.)
“We crave them because they’re delicious, but a lot of things are delicious because we crave them for other reasons,” he said.
In case you were wondering, I took this as carte blanche to appease my pickle-sauerkraut-kombucha cravings as often as I get them. This category of foods is one of my favorite for staving off the other-foods cravings, especially in that dangerous hour or two before dinner. I reach for my sauerkraut jar at snack time (except when my in-laws are visiting; today, I had a cupcake at Baked & Wired).
And then there’s cheese. Who doesn’t love a really good, fermented cheese? Who even notices which ones are or aren’t fermented? I had the pleasure of spending a half-day at a sheep’s cheese operation in Rapidan, Va. last week. The only cheeses they pasteurize are mozzarella and ricotta. Everything else is fermented in an aging cave for at least 60 days, per state law. What’s really incredible is to try the two-month-old version of a manchego cheese — creamy and nutty — and to then try the year-old version, which develops not only depth but also these crunchy flavor crystals that literally burst in your mouth.
It’s just cool what food can become. It makes me think differently about the science experiments that sometimes occur in my fridge. Some are just plain gross. But some could be the next fermentation break-through. OK, probably not. For now, I will enjoy the fermentation exploits of others and continue to research their health properties and risks. And write about them when possible.
Is anyone else fascinated by this stuff? What are your favorite fermented foods?