Fans of fermentation continue to spread the good word
The Fumbally Stables is the latest place where people can learn about the ancient art
Sandor Katz, author of “The Art of Fermentation”: “My interest in fermentation grew out of my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening.” Photograph: Angel Franco/The New York Times
“Learning about fermentation is like learning how to cook all over again,” says Aisling Rogerson, co-owner of the Fumbally and firm fermentation fan. She’s holding up a jar of pickled gooseberries and pointing to a shelf of fermenting sauerkraut as she introduces the basics of fermentation by pickling to a group of about 20 people.
The pickling class is part of a new Saturday programme in the Fumbally Stables in Dublin 8, the experimental test kitchen run by the trail-blazers next door at the Fumbally Cafe. Saturdays at The Stables will feature a rotating series of workshops of pickling, drawing, vinegar and yoga, priced at between €15 to €35 per class, depending on the subject.
In the pickling class, we talk about dry salting versus salt brining, beneficial bacterias, lactic acids and acetic acids. We learn about the difference between preserving food by fermenting with salt and by using prefermented vinegar.
Rogerson points to her well-worn copies of The Cultured Club (2016) by Dearbhla Reynolds and The Art of Fermentation (2012) by Sandor Katz as sources of fermentation knowledge. It was with Katz that the Fumbally’s fermentation journey started, when Rogerson and co-owner Luca D’Alfonso saw him speak about fermentation at the Ballymaloe Litfest in 2014.
Originally from New York city and now based in Tennessee, Katz, who calls himself a fermentation revivalist, is known to some as Sandorkraut. “My interest in fermentation grew out of my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening,” he says on his website wildfermentation.com. “It started with sauerkraut.”
Rogerson and D’Alfonso returned from Ballymaloe and, inspired by Katz, made their first batch of sauerkraut and served it in the Fumbally Cafe. This initial foray into fermentation was soon followed by kombucha, pickled cabbages, salt-brined sweet chilli sauces and vinegars. In the kitchen at the Fumbally Stables, the shelves are teeming with jars of preserved foods, bubbling and burping with live cultures.
Fermentation has certainly resurfaced as a trend in the past five years, but it is by no means a fad. These are ancient cooking processes that help food last longer. Fermentation is still used to preserve an over-abundance of fruit and vegetables, but it has also been getting attention for its health benefits.
Katz has been living with HIV since the 1980s and claims his fermented food diet has played a large part in his healing process. Other fermented food advocates share the same anecdotal experiences of their health improving in tandem with their fermented foods intake.
Fermentation – and the healthy bacteria it supports – is increasingly being given a clean bill of health backed by scientific research. Organisations such as the NIH Human Microbiome Projectfocus efforts and resources on researching the microorganisms living symbiotically in our bodies, looking specifically at their impact on our health.
Irish scientist Dr Paul Cotter is head of food bioscience at the Teagasc Research Centre in Cork. Cotter appeared on the recent BBC2 programme Trust Me, I’m A Doctor to talk about the health benefits attributed to certain types of fermented foods. The programme also conducted a small experiment to examine the benefits of off-the-shelf probiotic drinks versus the benefits of a traditionally fermented kefir drink and foods that contained prebiotic fibre called inulin which good bacteria likes to eat.
The study found that those who drank the traditionally fermented kefir saw a significant rise of Lactobacillales in their system, known for improving overall gut health.
From the perspective of a novice pickler, fermentation can seem mysterious and a bit magical. It can be a slow process that requires a little leap of faith. The intuition involved and the lack of a strict rulebook can make detail-orientated planners a little nervous. Luckily, there are fermentation experts around the country only too happy to hold the hands of those who have yet to ferment their own fermentation intuition.
If you’re in the west, Hans and Gaby Wieland are fermentation experts based in Sligo. They host classes on fermentation on their farm, Neantóg, and their next class is on Sunday, February 26th. The Wielands are also organising the second Irish Fermentation Festival taking place this year on Sunday, June 18th at the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim.
In west Cork, food scientist and nutritionist April BanannDanann is considered a leading expert in fermented foods. She runs regular workshops and classes around the country. In Limerick, food writer and cookbook author Valerie O’Connor is a fermentation specialist who hosts regular classes around the country. Her next class takes place on February 23rd .
In the North, Dearbhla Reynolds, author of The Cultured Club, hosts regular classes and workshops helping people to become acquainted with their microbes. Reynolds is teaming up with a local microbiologist for an evening to introduce you to your microbiome on Monday, February 20th in Belfast’s Black Box as part of the NI Science Festival. Tickets are £6 and are available on nisciencefestival.com.
The Fumbally Stables will host pickling classes on the first Saturday of the month at €20 per person, and vinegar-making classes on the third Saturday of the month. The next vinegar class is on February 18th, and tickets for the vinegar workshops are €15 per person.
For more, see thefumballystables.ie/saturdays