Beyond Pickles: Fermented Food Gets Festival of Its Own

July 11, 2017 – There’s nothing trendier right here, right now than fermented foods and expert preservationists, home brewers and fermenters are headed for Scotts Valley this weekend to take part in the first Fermentation Festival, happening at Skypark on Sunday, July 16. It is sure to be a great opportunity to sample a wide variety of fermented foods and beverages in one place, and to learn more about the benefits of consuming edibles that are alive.

Even if you don’t count yourself as one of the many folks jumping into our current fermented food renaissance, you would be surprised at how much of the stuff appears in your everyday diet: Cheese, beer, bread, yogurt, even chocolate. And while it may seem like this is a new trend (all of the sudden the Perfect Pickler is on everyone’s countertop), it is an age old method of food preservation.

In a nutshell, the process of fermentation is when bacteria or yeast breaks down the sugars in certain foods. These microorganisms create compounds like lactic acid or alcohol, which act as natural food preservatives. This process also creates “friendly” bacteria and enzymes. The latest news is that our gut is the largest component of our immune system, and so by introducing friendly bacteria into it (through fermented foods) potential illness will stay away. Evidence suggests that gut health is linked to autoimmune disorders, inflammation and allergies.

Sebastian Manjon Cubero of Vida Juice

One vendor who will be sampling his products at the festival, very much believes in the nutritional benefits of fermentation. Sebastian Manjon Cubero of Vida Juice got into fermenting drinks as many people do, through home brewing. But his culinary background pushed him further to understand the diverse flavor profiles and chemistry behind what is now his line of “fermented functional beverages using herbs, spices, teas, and superfoods.” He says, “I prefer low alcoholic fermentations, using the low alcohol as a carrying agent for healthy minerals and vitamins to absorb quickly into your bloodstream.”

Currently, he is working on two different types of probiotic beverages. One is a line of “Jun-Tonics”, similar to kombucha, “but we ferment with organic green tea & organic raw honey, instead of cane sugar and black tea, which is what Kombucha ferments with,” he explains. Some of these tonic flavors include a blue spirulina infused with lavender, elderberry, ginger & lemon, a blood orange turmeric with marigold petals and orange peels and a dragon fruit infused with rose hips, hibiscus, and grapefruit. Also, he just launched a new line of Water Kefir Elixirs, only available at local Santa Cruz Farmers’ Markets. Cubero hints, “I will keep the flavors a secret, but let’s just say you’ll be seeing ingredients in our booth at the Fermentation Festival that no one else will be using.”

Amanda Pargh and Chase Atkins

Some local darlings of our robust fermented food community here in Santa Cruz are Amanda Pargh and Chase Atkins of Burn Hot Sauce. Their organic sauces, which feature a whole line of single-origin, locally grown pepper varieties in vibrant hues and varying heat, have converted many Tapatio fans. (see article in EMB winter issue here). They also make things from their by-product, using the leftover fermenting liquid from the sauce in a line of pickles, and dehydrated spice mixes as well.

If you hang out for any amount of time at the Burn stand in the farmers’ market, you will quickly realize that these two are dedicated to the art of fermentation. Pargh says, “We make this fermented hot sauce, not only for people to enjoy, but also to inspire them to make it at home.” In fact, they are planning to begin teaching classes on how to do just that, opting for an open source philosophy on their products, and sharing the knowledge for folks to take into their own kitchens.

The couple will be sampling three sauces at the festival, a habanero bell, Thai bird jalapeno, and cayenne. They had eight varieties this year, but sold out of the rest and are waiting for pepper season to hit. In the meantime, as their stock disappears, they have filled their time and market table by offering a killer breakfast at the Saturday Westside farmers’ market. Pargh brings a legit culinary background to her weekend menu, which will expand to the Sunday Live Oak market very soon.

Christopher and Kirsten Shockey

Another element to this multifaceted festival will be in-person education, with live demonstrations and a book release of Fiery Ferments, co-authored by expert educators at Ferment Works, Kirsten and Christopher Shockley (who also wrote best-selling Fermented Vegetables). The couple will also be at Mountain Feed & Farm in Ben Lomond on Tuesday, July 18th, for a book signing event.

And speaking of Mountain Feed & Farm, sponsors of this festival, long-time “fermentista” and Mountain Feed team member Jessica Tunis will be on hand leading a demo on making lime sauerkraut. “The lime adds a little bit of extra acid to kick the ferment off on the right foot in the hot months of summer…and it’s great on tacos!” says Tunis. She writes the popular monthly Mountain Feed journal, and is a treasure trove of knowledge. If you haven’t attended a Mountain Feed class before, this is reason alone to come to the festival.

And this is just the food part! Guests will have plenty of alternate fun in store, like lawn games, kids activities (including a SCOBY petting zoo), more food by local vendors and lots of live music, headlined by Coffee Zombie Collective.

Another part of Sunday’s festivities is the 3rd Annual Beer Masters Cup Homebrew Contest. While new this year is the fermentation angle, which invites homebrew hobbyists of all things to share their brews, including mead, wine, cider, kombucha and soda, only beer submissions will be judged in the contest.

James Lindsey and Steve Wertheimer are “ kind of a brew club with two members” explains Lindsey. They started brewing when they were dorm-mates at UCSC together, hence the name of their club, Slugtrail Aleworks. “We both had been brewing before we were assigned to the same dorm and almost started brewing immediately and have not stopped since,” he says. Their little club has had some big success, grabbing first place for an IPA in last year’s National Organic Home Brewing Competition.

For the Fermentation Festival they are entering an experimental beer. Lindsay says, “We actually made a large batch and split it into two fermentors and mixed a ratio of each into the keg. In one of the fermentors we treated it like an IPA, where in the other we treated it like a sour with fresh apricots. So I guess it is like a sour IPA. We call it the Pucker Slug.”

We can try the Pucker Slug, along with many other interesting brews, during the first four hours of the festival. This timeframe will be our opportunity to sample, critique, and vote for our favorites, resulting in one People’s Choice award. A panel of professional, beer industry judges will also be in attendance to vote on one submission from each homebrew team, leading to a Judges’ Choice award. Both Beer Masters Cup awards will be announced at the end of the festival, which will surely be an enthusiastic, buzz-worthy finale to a ferment-filled day at the park.

Admission is $5, or $20 to taste home-brews, and proceeds benefit the Community Housing Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. Buy tickets here: http://fermentfest.org

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