Friday, 13 November 2015

Savour Kilkenny 2015 (Part 1): Fermenting Facts in The Little Green Grocer

I felt a little nervous for Hayley as she perched herself on a set of steps, and looked down on the sea of expectant faces that gazed up at her. One of the store owners, Eleanor, stood beside her to give her moral, and I presume physical support if need be as the steps looked a little shaky! The shop was packed and I don't think she was expecting such a turnout for her talk on fermented foods, and her business - The Cultured Food Company.

Let's back up a little ...

We - myself and Nige, my long suffering vegetarian sidekick - had taken a break from the Savour Festival proper and made the journey up Parliament Street in Kilkenny to firstly visit one of my favourite bars in Kilkenny - Brewery Corner - and secondly to catch a talk on the fermentation of food stuffs such as sauerkraut and kimchi at The Little Green Grocer.

I must admit to knowing very little about fermented foods, although I did make my own sauerkraut a few years back. I had forgotten about it until I saw the line-up of talks for Savour and this one struck a cord, as it also jogged my memory to a podcast I had listened to about Sandor Katz, a fermentation guru from the US who gave a fascinating talk about fermented food on The Brewing Network.

Brewery Corner was a little quiet, which wasn't surprising given that the food festival was on and buzzing. They slyly tried to tempt me with chalkboard marketed scotch eggs (They must know my weaknesses!) but I resisted and went instead for just a glass of Rascal's Wunderbar, a German hopped IPA with an almost Märzen-like quality that could have been my imagination playing tricks on my palate based on the name. The hops were subtle-ish but gave the beer a certain tropical fruitiness combined with an almost white pepper spiciness that complemented the malt biscuit, er, malt taste. What a beautiful, balanced beer.

We chatted a little with the barman, talking whisky and whiskey among other topics. I was fascinated by a The Peat Monster, a blended malt Scotch from Compass Box. I was drawn by the graphics on the bottle (Forgot to take a photo!) but felt it a little early in the day to be trying anything more than a peaty sniff. Maybe next time ...

It was soon heading towards the time for the talk so we finished our drinks and scarpered up the street to TLGG. We were concerned about space, as it's a smallish narrow shop and wouldn't fit in too many food fermentation fans if the interest in the subject was as strong as I suspected it to be.

The Little Green Grocer is a perfect-looking, pretty shop painted in subtle, suitably greenish-blue colour that gives off an air of understated elegance. Their ethos seems to rotate around the words 'organic', 'artisan' and 'natural', and whatever your feelings about any of those words there is no doubt that from wine to cheese to their deli range, they are standing by their beliefs and succeeding in driving their business based on those concepts, which can only be admired and applauded in my opinion. A look at their Facebook page shows gorgeous, tasty-looking, mouth-watering food that underlines to me the above commitment and passion in what they buy, and then sell.

The shop was pretty packed when we arrived but we squeezed in the back, which turned out to be where Hayley would be giving her talk from anyhow, so our just-in-time arrival had paid off. And so with Hayley perched on her steps, inches away from hair-frizzling spotlights she began her talk.

I needn't have worried about Hayley by the way, as she spoke confidently and knowledgeably, and although I can't repeat all she said verbatim, her belief and passion in her products and in their health benefits shone through in her talk. She went through the probiotic benefits of fermented food, how to make your own, told us how ketchup started as a fermented food, how fermented food like sauerkraut kept scurvy at bay on Captain Cook's ships, how sauerkraut juice has been touted as a hangover cure and what exactly kimchi is, amongst other things. She has loads of information and links on her Facebook page that will give you a much better understanding and appreciation of this enigmatic food group than I could ever give here.

She finished up by offering a tasting of some of her products. The red sauerkraut was sour (Duh!) with an almost bitter-fruit quality that appealed to my not-so-sweet-tooth. But it was the kimchi that was a revelation, as it first seared one side of my mouth and then proceeded to stomp across my tongue leaving traces of chili spiciness and plethora of strong vegetal flavours in its wake. Wow it was hot, but once I was over the original palate jarring sour/heat, the flavours calmed a little and left a wonderful warming bitterness that had me hooked. This was something I needed to try to make myself.

Time was marching on and we had more to see and do at the festival, so buoyed by the excellent talk, great food-infused surrounding - and for once a positive sour taste in my mouth - we said our good byes and thanked Hayley before heading back to the festival.

(24th October 2015)

Addendum ...

Back at home I've attempted my own sauerkraut with red cabbage, mustard seed, juniper berry and caraway seed. I'll let you in on the method and recipe when I see how it turns out!

I might try the kimchi next ...

Liam K.

(Part 2 is here.)

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