Last weekend, I attended a Fermentation workshop with Sandor Ellix Katz. Sandor is an expert on ‘Wild Fermentation’ and has researched food cultures (in both senses of the word) around the world. He describes fermentation as ‘the transformative action of micro-organisms’. In many industrialised processes we have isolated an individual micro-organism, such as a particular strand of yeast, to produce a standard product such as beers and wines we buy in the supermarket. However, in the natural world, fermentation is the result of a ‘community of organisms’ and the flavours produced by wild fermentation are as diverse as their locations.
Sandor describes ancient rituals that humans have been practicing for millenia to preserve and enhance the flavour of foods, and shows us simple and practical ways to ferment foods at home. We are introduced to ‘Kefir’ grains, which are used to make a fermented milk drink. We have a go at making Saurkraut, a process that uses naturally occuring micro-organisms on the vegetables to start the fermentation process. And we sample mead that has been made simply by leaving honey and water to ferment.
I am struck by the simplicity of these processes and the unusual flavours fermented foods have to offer. Sandor’s passion for living cultures is infectious.