What you need to know about fermentation

Fermentation seems to be the buzz word at the moment – sauerkraut is appearing in the kitchens of home cooks and kombucha has found its way onto the shelves of shops across the country. But what exactly are fermented foods, and why should you eat them?

“Like cooking with heat, fermenting is a fundamental and universal process in which raw ingredients are transformed,” Sandor Katz, one of the founders of the modern fermentation movement, explains; “Milk becomes yogurt or cheese; wheat or rye become bread; meat become salami; grapes become wine; and cabbage and other vegetables become sauerkraut, kimchi, or pickles. The transformations can be dramatic and magical, and the process of fermentation creates many of the world’s greatest delicacies.”

Other than the delicious flavours that can be created through fermentation, there are also significant health benefits. Our guts are alive with a vibrant flora of bacteria – an ecosystem of microorganisms – and this biome is happiest when nourished with a range of food including those packed full of beneficial microbes and beneficial bacteria. There’s an increase in research suggesting that our gut flora impacts widely on our mental and physical health, including strengthening our immune system, and as a result an increase in interest as to how best to nourish this overlooked microbiome.

As well as eating a varied diet, rich in fibre and wholegrains, the introduction of live or fermented food into meals is a great way to introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut, as well as having other benefits such as stimulating digestive juices and enzymes. “The fermented foods and beverages I think it is most important that we eat more of are the ones that are not cooked or heat processed after fermentation, because these foods contain rich and diverse communities of probiotic bacteria,” Sandor points out.

Curious to learn more? We certainly are, and we want to help you explore this exciting topic, so we’ve invited some of the leading fermentations experts and craftspeople to this year’s festival to help you expand your skills and get your taste buds tingling with some delicious produce to take home. Here’s where you can get your fermentation fix at this the 2019 festival.

Beyond Sauerkraut with Sandor Katz

If you’ve mastered the basics of home fermentation and have already perfected your sauerkraut and kimchi, this is the class for you as you delve deeper into the world of vegetable ferments. By the end of the class you’ll know your pickles from your relishes, your brines from your brews and be confident enough to start fermenting a wide range of vegetables at home.

Sour with Mark Diacono

Fermented foods often have a distinct sour tang to them, and this tasting workshop is a great opportunity to further explore this complex flavour. From sourdough to vinegar, you’ll learn how the flavour is developed and how you can harness the sourness of ferments to enhance the food you cook and eat.

Cult Vinegar

Whether you’re into fermentation or not, you’ve likely got a bottle of vinegar lurking around in your cupboard – but probably not vinegar like this… Cult Vinegar make small batch vinegars from premium wines, sherry and sake, and these live vinegars will add a flourish to any salad, steak or bowl of chips as well as nourishing your biome.

Real Kombucha

Keen to dip your toes into the world of fermentation but not sure where to start? The Real Kombucha team have refined this non-alcoholic fermented drink into a range of tipples with delicate fruity and floral flavours that make for a gentle introduction – from smoky black Chinese tea to the surprisingly fruity tastes that come with the first pickings of Darjeeling.

The Cultured Collective

Using the finest local ingredients to craft their ferments, the Cultured Collective have added their own twist to their sauerkraut and kimchi, all of which are unpasteurised and packed to the brim with beneficial bacteria.

Don’t forget that many of the everyday foods we eat are fermented, including cheese, salami, sourdough bread, cider and even chocolate! Here are just a few of the market stalls at Abergavenny this September where you can get your hands on some fermented foods for yourself:

Alex Gooch Artisan Baker bread produce delicious vegan, organic bread and pastries, responsibly made using traditional methods of long fermentation. Skyborry Cider use no ingredients other than apples (or indeed pears!) which are picked, stored, milled, pressed, fermented, matured and bottled by them in their cider shed.  Caws Cenarth cheese is a family business that draws from six generations of making quality soft blue and Caerffili cheese with milk supplied by local farmers. Beer brewers-cum-Bee Keepers Wye Valley Meadery produce innovative and delicious sparkling lower alchohol mead. Trealy Farm Charcuterie based in Monmouthshire combine the best traditional practices with cutting-edge food science research to produce their award-winning range of cooked and cured meats, and, Tomos and Lilford beer a new wave micro-brewery based in Llandow, Cowbridge who combine new ideas with old traditions to create full flavoured beers to appreciate, savour and never to forget.