Looking back on 2012: I am a “fermentos”

At the start of each year, I write down a few things I’d like to accomplish or focus on for the year. Usually, it’s a behavior I’d like to see improve or do more of. Often, I find that when I write something down, it seems to happen somehow. And the expectation is also that the behavior will continue in subsequent years.

In 2012, I decided that I wanted to ferment more – brew more beer, try fermenting new things, make more yogurt. And I did.

Looking back, I am pleased with the fermentation that I did do.

Beer
True, I made a few batches of beer, mostly from malt extract with some grain. I would like to make the jump to all-grain, but am content with the kits I buy.

Yet, one wee adventure in beer-making was to take Florastor, a probiotic supplement based on a yeast, S boulardii, isolated in Vietnam by a Frenchman in the 20s. I read that the yeast made a fruity beer, much like a wheat beer, so made a batch of wheat beer pitched with Florstor. I called it “Tummy Beer”. It was delicious and is now all gone.

Yogurt
I made more yogurt in 2012 than ever before. That’s not much. But, much like the Florastor, I took a commercial lactic acid bacteria product and tried to make yogurt out of it. VSL #3 is considered the premier probiotic supplement, containing 8 different strains of lactic acid bacteria. I did make some yogurt from VSL #3, but it wasn’t too tasty. For sure it needed other bugs as part of the consortia.

What I was exploring with Florastor and VSL #3 is other ways of providing clinically-tested probiotics in foods we already readily consume. What clinically-tested bugs could we deliver in malt- or milk-derived matrices we are so comfortable with? Perhaps gut repopulation to stop C diff or IBD or Chron’s? I do not think these concoctions are far off.

[Added 27jan: I just remembered that I also made a few batches of yogurt with goat milk. Came out runnier than with cow milk, but was quite tasty.]

Sauerkraut
Being of German decent, I grew up eating white and red kraut. I stumbled upon Sandor Katz’ website, Wild Fermentation while looking for a recipe for sauerkraut (more on Sandor below).

With his amazingly simple suggestions I made two batches of sauerkraut. And, while the idea is that you are to eat the sauerkraut straight, to take advantage of the fermented bacteria, I cooked it up. I was accustomed to eating kraut cooked with meat – and the smells of the first time I did this transported me back to my childhood.

What was interesting was that my mom, who knows how fermentation-happy I was, only then mentioned that my grandfather would make his own kraut. Ah, I wish I were able to learn how he did it. My mom did learn how to cook kraut from my grandfather (her father-in-law) and gave me tips on flavourings. Perhaps she’ll remember how he made the kraut and provide that link back to my heritage.

Pickles
I also love pickles and picked up a suggested recipe from Sandor, again. As part of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this past summer, I got a batch of pickling cukes. It was only natural to pickle them. Meh. They were tasty and tangy, but came out too watery – I need to compress them better next time.

Kefir
I always read what bugs are in fermented foods. I am a firm believer that there are some digestive and even health benefits to these bacteria and fungi. For example, I’m partial to Stony Field Yogurt over others because it has six bug versus the usual five found in yogurt.

But I was curious about kefir, which has up to 10 microorganisms, including yeast and some bacteria that are known to be residing in our guts (unlike the lactic acid bacteria in yogurt).

I started buying different brands and trying them, loving them all. The catch, though, is that you can’t just take store-bought kefir and use it as a starter to make more, like you can with yogurt. Kefir has these strange “grains” that are clumps of the bugs needed to make kefir. Also, kefir is made daily, not amenable to once a week batches like yogurt.

While I didn’t make kefir in 2012, I found grains on Amazon and ordered some a few weeks back and made a few batches. My impetus to make kefir is related to all the fermenting I did in 2012. So, more notes on kefir-making coming at a later date!

More on Sandor Katz
And what’s more, in 2013, I know that I’ll take fermenting to new heights for me. When I tweeted that I was making kefir, foodie friend Chris Heathcote (@antimega) suggested I read “The Art of Fermentation”, written by, no less than, Sandor Katz. I bought it immediately and am now thoroughly enjoying it.

I can’t really express how amazing Sandor’s book is for the fermentos in me (“fermentos” being the term I learned from the book – people who ferment). But even though he’s been doing this for 20+ years, it’s still an exploration for him. And rather than proscribing recipes, he provides suggestions on how to do things, encouraging exploration and wonder from his readers. He’s not a fermentation purist, but almost a ludic fermentos or hedonistic fermentos – it’s really about fun, flavor, connecting to nature, and connecting to culture (of many sorts).

I don’t know what I’ll ferment based on his book; perhaps meat or cheese or manioc. Yes, manioc: being also part Brazilian, I regularly eat foods based on manioc flour, which I didn’t know was fermented. Isn’t that weird?

Yes, by setting myself to ferment more in 2012 has put me on an even more enlightened fermenting path in 2013. And [thank you, Chris] I think Sandor’s book will have me fermenting even more, and perhaps dong some crazy experimenting, too. I know I’ll want to connect more with the fermented foods in my Brazilian-German heritage, too.

Let’s see.

I’ve also been less bashful about professing my mania for fermenting. And I am glad I have: my two closest colleagues at work have spouses that ferment regularly, from yogurt to kefir to sauerkraut. And they do it for cultural and for health reasons. And a sales rep I work closely with is part of a craft brewing company with a really interesting business model. That blew my mind: to have fellow fermentos so immediately close to the people I work closest with.

How have you fermented lately? Do you know folks who ferment? Am I crazy to get so excited about meeting fellow fermentos? :-)

2 thoughts on “Looking back on 2012: I am a “fermentos”

  1. Interesting comments. I just bought the Art of Fermenting myself. Your comments give me some hope I can find others nearby interested in fermenting. Thanks.

  2. I’ve only just managed to get round to reading this but the plan for me this year is (more) pickling and cheese making. I know it’s not fermenting but there is the potential to add some bugs to make the cheeses blue. Small steps first though I think; mozzarella and soft cheeses, then some harder aged cheeses and perhaps, finally, something bug-ridden :)

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