Reedsburg’s annual celebration of all things fermentation began with an appearance by food writer Sandor Katz.
Katz, who considers himself a fermentation revivalist, spoke to a full house at the Ferme Lab Oct. 1. His talk was one of many highlights during Fermentation Fest.
After his presentation Katz helped lead the Fabulous Fermented Feast. The dinner included contributions from area chefs, gardeners, meat producers, wineries and breweries. The menu was created by Chef Kimberly Clark Anderson of Chef K Clark Pickles and Preserves.
Katz told the Times-Press that Reedsburg’s celebration is “an amazing event.” He said has met so many interesting people and had the chance to share his passion for growing, cooking and preserving food.
Fermentation Fest boasts impressive programming, he said. This year’s festival has more than 40 classes and workshops as well as the Farm/Art DTour, a self-guided driving tour that covers about 50 miles in Sauk County.
The practice of fermentation affects more food than many people expect. In fact, much of the food Midwesterners enjoy comes from fermentation, said Katz, a New York City native who now lives in Tennessee.
Early peoples in temperate climates created fermentation to preserve perishables like milk and meat. They didn’t have refrigerators or freezers so they relied on microbes and live cultures to create food with a longer shelf life. The result? Savory cheeses and chewy jerky.
A multitude of other foods, from yogurt to soy sauce to vanilla flavoring, are created through fermentation, he said.
Katz added that he has yet to encounter a culture that hasn’t used fermentation in some way and continues to discover new ways to create edible food. He told of meeting an Aboriginal guide in Australia who warned him not to eat a certain kind of nut. The natives had discovered the nuts were toxic until soaked in water. Once they’d been submerged for a time they were safe to consume.
It’s an example of how numerous peoples’ ancestors learned to both convert and keep safe, edible food. However, the art of fermenting has been lost over a few generations, Katz said. Industrialization and mass-produced food have led to convenience for many but hardship for others.
He pointed to the loss of family farms, which has affected Wisconsin for years. The decline in farming leaves economic and social scars on communities.
Interest in local food is coming back though, Katz said. It took a few generations but Americans are starting to rediscover the taste and freshness of home-grown produce, locally raised meat and fresh dairy products.
The Internet has helped. There was a time when most Wisconsin residents had grandparents or parents who farmed and they could learn the tricks and trades from them. Due to social shifts there are now children who have never seen a farm. However, thanks to the Internet, anyone with a connection can read, ask questions and connect with others who are interested in growing, preparing and fermenting, Katz said.
He added that fermenting is fascinating because any food item can be fermented. It doesn’t always lead to tasty results but it does keep practitioners busy with new ideas for potential creations.
Taste is the reason he developed an interest in fermenting. Katz said his discovery of delicious dishes and seasonings led him to write and travel the globe. His books include “Wild Fermentation” and “The Art of Fermentation.”
He also considers fermented foods an important part of maintaining his health. According to his website Katz has been living with HIV since the 1980s and sees healthy food as one of the keys to his survival.
For more information about Katz or his books, visit www.wildfermentation.com.
Fermentation Fest takes place through Oct. 9.
The next guest writer is Peter Reinhart, a California baker who has written such books as “Whole Grain Breads,” “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” and “Crust and Crumb.” He will lead special sessions on Oct. 8 and 9. Visit fermentationfest.com for details or to register.
The Farm Art/DTour is still ongoing. The tour is free but visitors are encouraged to buy maps. Maps cost $5 and are available at the Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce. The fee will help defer printing costs.
Vendor hours for the Farm Art/DTour are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday.