Fermented foods are alive and well in southern Oregon
Jamie Lusch/Mail TribuneLisa Brown prepares kombucha in the kitchen at Fry Family Farm.
Applegate resident Kirsten Shockey has five books on fermentation to her name and runs The Fermentation School, founded in the spring of 2020. [Courtesy photo]
Kirsten Shockey started selling krauts, pickles and other farm-raised starters at local farmers’ markets over a decade ago. [Courtesy photo]
Strawberry-lavender, citrus-juniper, and elderberry-grapefruit kombuchas are the signature flavors that Phoenix resident Lisa Brown sells at local farmers’ markets as Moxie Brew. [Photo courtesy of Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market]
Lisa Brown, left, and Alyssa Brown make a giant tea bag for a batch of kombucha. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Deflated from working as a nurse throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Lisa Brown felt her enthusiasm bubbling over while brewing kombucha.
The longtime Phoenix resident who loves to garden naturally turned to fermenting ‘the flavor of the day’ – vegetables from the garden, house-made wine and cheese handmade from goat’s milk she bought .
Brown’s small batches of kombucha rose to prominence with the encouragement of her adult daughter.
“It’s fabricated; it’s creative,” says Brown, 54. “There is an endless amount of flavor choices.
“Strawberry-lavender, citrus-juniper, and elderberry-grapefruit kombuchas are the signature flavors Brown sells at local farmers markets. She and her daughter, who works for a kombucha company in Northern California, named their business Moxie Brew and began distributing their elixir from kegs.
“We sell in the summer,” says Brown. “They love it; they come back every week; they bring their growlers.
One of dozens of local fermented food businesses, Moxie Brew caters to an ever-widening circle of customers. A traditional form of preservation, fermentation has gained more and more followers over the past decade as awareness has grown around its role in supporting human health. Modern studies credit consuming “probiotic” foods and supplements with lowering cholesterol, improving immunity, and aiding in weight loss, among other benefits.
“The fermentation conversation is all over the map now,” says Kirsten Shockey.
The Applegate resident with five fermenting books to her name also operates The School of Fermentation, founded in the spring of 2020. Shockey’s authority has grown over the past decade since she began selling krauts, pickles and other starters at local farmers markets.
“When we were at the market…10, 11 years ago…we were really teaching people,” Shockey says.
As “probiotic” has become a household term in health and wellness, so has the demand for fermented foods. Long contained in cultured dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, and kefir, probiotics also reside in sauerkraut and some soy foods, including miso and tempeh. The latest surveys, Shockey says, show that fermented foods are outpacing the growth of the broader natural foods category to become a nearly $11 billion industry nationwide.
The price of high-quality fermented foods is just one factor encouraging consumers to start experimenting with their own recipes, Shockey says. More time for DIY during the pandemic, along with the dual ethos of self-sufficiency and sustainability, are driving interest in fermentation. She cites fermented vegetables – kraut – and fermented tea – kombucha – as the two main routes by which people enter the field.
“It’s extremely safe,” says Shockey. “You don’t even have to know how to cook to ferment something.”
Natural bacteria turn fresh produce into highly nutritious preserved foods. All it takes is salt, a container that keeps the food submerged in its own secreted fluid, and a little time.
The process tends to appeal to people who value a “one-and-done” project, Shockey says. Once a fermented vegetable has reached its peak at room temperature, it can be transferred to the refrigerator, where it will keep for months.
Outside of home cooking, more catering professionals are practicing fermentation, Shockey says, adding that pickles, miso and hot sauces feature on the menus of local restaurants and their counterparts across the country. . Farms, including the Fry Family Farm in Medford and the Whistling Duck Farm in Applegate, have built fermentation kitchens to maximize profits and divert food waste, Shockey says. State agricultural regulators, she adds, are “friendly” to fermentation. “
More and more small farms and businesses are adding fermented products,” she says. “You can take a good cabbage and all of a sudden add a lot more nutrients to it.
“Unlike the bacteria that colonize sauerkraut, the microorganisms that produce kombucha are a ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’ – SCOBY – that must be kept alive between batches. Cultures can be purchased from suppliers of fermentation, but are often bestowed by kombucha brewers with excess on hand.
Feeding on sugar dissolved in brewed tea, the culture converts the carbohydrates in the solution into alcohol and carbon dioxide, resulting in the tart kombucha flavor and fizzy mouthfeel. The longer the kombucha ferments, the more acidic and alcoholic it becomes.
“Kombucha was barely known,” Shockey says, “and now it’s really taken over the soda market.”
Anecdotally, his friends, co-workers and clients consider kombucha a healthy alternative to sodas and fruit juices, Brown says. While Moxie Brew’s non-alcoholic recipes are sold at a local brewery, restaurant, and grocery store, Brown envisions his own tasting room for pouring alcoholic kombucha.
First, Brown plans to reach more customers by committing to hosting private events locally once her daughter, Alyssa, joins the company full-time this spring. In addition to bottling, the mother-daughter team will add vinegars and SCOBY sales to their product line. If the response to Moxie Brew continues to exceed Brown’s expectations, her job as a nurse could fizzle out.
“It really changed my outlook on things.”
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