On the cusp of a comeback: Lafayette company brings old world fermented food to new level
The occasional bubbling sound in the factory’s dark back room hints at the work happening there.
A bacterial war within dozens of blue 55-gallon drums creates gases that escape through valves while food ferments.
Apple, fennel, parsley kraut
2 medium cabbage heads
2 tart and firm apples
1 small fennel bulb
1 parsley bunch, chopped
Salt to taste (Note: Salt is optional. However, it does help the fermentation process. Definitely use a starter in the absence of salt.)
1/4 cup starter (This optional starter could be whey water, sauerkraut juice from previous batch or from jar of ozuke, kombucha, etc.)
Wash produce. Slice cabbage, fennel, and apples into narrow strips. (Alternatively, use a processor or mandolin.) Chop parsley. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Salt to taste, and mix thoroughly. Use a mallet or meat tenderizer to pound produce for approximately 15 minutes. This releases natural juices. Pack kraut mix into quart jars (between 3 and 4 jars) and tighten lids. Juice must cover kraut mixture completely. If temperatures are warm, store approximately 3 days on counter. If temperatures are cooler, store for as long as a week or until desired taste is reached. Check fermenting jars every day to release gasses and to press kraut back down below level of liquid. Refrigerate up to 12 months.
Source: Mara King, Ozuke
Yield: 3 to 4 quarts
If you go
What: Food preservation class taught by Ozuké’s Mara King
When: McCauley Family Farm, 9421 N. 63rd St., Longmont
Where: 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday
More info: Contact Elizabeth Uhrich, of The Living Arts School, at email@example.com or 720-383-4406.
If you go
What: Food preservation class
When: County Colorado State University’s Boulder County Extension Office, 9595 Nelson Road, Longmont
Where: 9:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday
To register: Visit eventbrite.com/e/fermenting-foods-longmont-tickets-11780546933 by 3 p.m. Thursday.
“Think of this as a party,” Mara King, co-owner of Esoteric Food Company in Lafayette, said. “We invite everyone into the jar — the good bacteria and the bad bacteria. But we create an environment where the good guys win.”
Fermenting has preserved food safely for millennia by creating a high acid, low ph environment, she continued.
“This is not rocket science. This is grandma science,” King said.
Lacto-fermenting, the process she and partner Willow King, no relation, use to produce their Ozuké (Japanese for “the best pickled things”) brand of sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi — a spicy Korean condiment made with softer napa cabbage— only requires salt, lack of oxygen and a cool temperature.
That style of fermenting kills harmful microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, and aforementioned bacteria.
Meanwhile, the lactobacillus — a bacterium “friendly” to the human body — survives.
From there, those organisms start converting sugars, starches, and carbohydrates into lactic acid. Apart from naturally preserving food, fermentation is considered probiotic — nourishing to the healthy flora in the digestive, urinary, and genital systems, according the National Institutes of Health website.
Mara King also credits fermented foods rich in lactobacillus as increasing vitamin levels and act as anti-inflammatory agent, among other benefits.
But that’s not all.
Fermenting food also kills the one bacterium — botulism — that can survive the high heat related to canning preservation methods, she added.
For all these reasons, their fermenting business has taken off.
The women, both 40, once made all sorts of from-scratch food together for their families in their respective kitchens including cheeses, butter, nut butter, sausages and more.
But their fermented foods always won the rave reviews from family and friends, they said.
So, with an undisclosed amount of seed money from a Boulder Angel Investor, the two in 2011 went into business.
Both remember hand-cutting Ozuké labels and pressing them on every jar then.
Now, they process a literal ton of vegetables daily from five organic farms in Colorado. Their 4,000-square foot space buzzes with seven full time employees, and Ozuké jars now line refrigerator cases at natural grocers such as Whole Foods Market, Lucky’s, and Vitamin cottage in about a dozen states.
Mara King, a former sushi chef, oversees kitchen operations.
Willow King taught English as an adjunct professor at Front Range Community College in Longmont. Now, she manages the company’s marketing and sales.
Both feel that however old world, fermented food is on the cusp of a comeback.
“You sort of get the fire and the fizz in your belly when you eat it, and it comes with a great combination of health benefits and fringe culture,” Willow King said.
For more information, visit ozuke.com.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-746-0942.
Bright, accomplished nutrition therapists, chefs, and home-cooks fill the room. We are devout foodies in the most literal sense. We make our own almond milk, kefir, yogurts and champion DIY cooking to our clients and anyone else that will listen to our recipes and rambles. Diana Walley of Every Bite Counts Nutrition, and the host of the fermentation class that brings us together, introduces the day with the shared desire: “We need to encourage people to get back into the kitchen.”
I am here to teach a simple class on vegetable fermentation. I decided, based on discovery of 20lbs. of farmer’s market pickling cucumbers, that a basic kimchi and pickles are the seasonal cultures of choice for our gathering. I come prepared with Mason jars, freshly harvested garlic, backyard grape-leaves, and other bright, local vegetables. Before the class begins, I line the clear, classic Mason jars along the bartop, strategically stack books by fermentation pioneers, Sandor Katz and Sally Fallon, and place Ozuke’s crisp pickles in green-tea brine and a yellow, tangy citrus kraut on display, a gracious donation from Willow and Mara, and soon-to-be snacks for our attendees.
I have a singular obsession with decomposition- compost chemistry, autumnal decay, fungi of the saprophytic variety, and fermentation- yet until now, my adventures in microbial matter have been solitary, something I had not shared in practice nor taught. Yet, despite my kitchen confinement, the act of fermentation always has felt incredibly connective in its process and history.
Fermenting is a basic formula really. Water, vessel, air, temperature, and matter (i.e. vegetable, fruit, etc.) of choice – these elements create a framework for us to interact with the microbial world. Each determines our ferment’s progress and flavor. Slight changes in temperature, access to oxygen, vegetable cut, and water quality inform the culture we create, crisp, tangy, and satisfying or a demoralizing moldy dud. These elements combined promote culturing, cultivating certain beneficial bacteria that will keep our food preserved longer, tastier, and infused with beneficial bugs for our bodies and bellies.
I stand at the front, as women happily shred cabbage, grate ginger, and mince garlic, and describe the elements of fermentation, how we monitor and develop our ferment through awareness of this matrix, and about the abundant creativity that comes from understanding how they react and interact. Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen describes how plants use the human emotion of desire to propagate their life. Similarly, I believe, kimchi, kombucha, and our living foods use our desire for its tangy goodness to bring us into a deeper awareness of environment. Our ability to culture requires our commitment and ability to see systems, to understand interactions, to stay attuned to each individual element and how it relates to the whole.
I do not have a baby, a plant, a dog, or other entity dependent upon me. Burping kimchi, monitoring invisible microbes, saying sweet-nothings to pickles are my late-20s expressions of nurturance. This unconscious maternal substitution, always something I relayed to friends with humor, captures this living food’s gifts beyond balancing the flora in our modern bellies.
Busy hands, laughing smiles, and passionate chatter fill our gathering as we set-about creating our take-home ferments. And, in this moment, I am impressed by how our kimchi seems to culture beyond the pint-sized confines of its glass vessel, but replicates and initiates culturing community that goes beyond the jar or bottle into our daily lives.