A Look Back at the 10th Annual Portland Fermentation Festival

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A clever take on “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 10th Annual Portland Fermentation Festival AKA Stinkfest. Sure, it was aromatic in there (Ecotrust’s Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center) but not offensively so (at least to my nose). The event started a little after 6pm with a keynote speech by David Zilber of the Noma Fermentation Lab. It was a really inspiring talk and got me fired up again about fermentation (I used to do it a lot). I think his assertion that humans would not have survived, thrived, and progressed as a species without fermentation is spot on. I ended up purchasing his book, The Noma Guide to Fermentation and look forward to spending time fermenting various foods over the next year. Note: I’m pretty much a mediocre fermenter right now but this book will no doubt make me a better one.

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Keynote with David Zilber

After the keynote was the tasting, which was set up around the perimeter of the room. I think I spent about an hour tasting all the things and I was delighted over and over by the variety of delicious fermented foods and beverages on display. I remarked to my friend, Lee, when I was done, “I hardly feel hungry now.” She replied, “It’s because everything was so nourishing.” So true.

Below are photos (lots of them) from the tasting. I’ve grouped them by category.

Krauts

When someone says “fermented food,” the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people is sauerkraut—and then maybe pickles. There were three vendors that brought krauts: OlyKraut, Oregon Brineworks, and Blue Bus Cultured Foods. I tried OlyKraut’s products first and it was a great way to start the tasting. All their krauts were tasty but the Smoke & Kale flavor was by far my favorite, though the Spicy Garlic was also quite appealing. The smoke flavor was made with chipotle peppers.

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Samples of OlyKraut, plus jars

Oregon Brineworks had kraut and dill pickles (as well as some hot sauces). The spicy carrots were particularly good.

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Spicy carrots and pickles from Oregon Brineworks

Blue Bus had this really tart kraut, Seaweed Tonic Sauerkraut, made with seaweed, nettles, burdock root, ginger, and Jacobsen Sea Salt. Very grounding especially with the burdock.

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Seaweed Tonic Kraut plus the range of products from Blue Bus Cultured Foods

Kimchi

A beginning fermenter often takes on kimchi—often spicy, often cabbage-based—but sometimes not, as I learned during the festival. Noraneko and Blue Bus both brought kimchi—first, here’s Noraneko’s traditional take on kimchi. It had a wonderfully soft texture but wasn’t mealy or mushy at all. I loved eating it.

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And now, as they say, for something completely different: Lobster Mushroom Kimchi. Now… what?!?

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Lobster Mushroom Kimchi—warm, earthy flavors, and one of my favorite ferments of the evening.

Cultured Milk

Cultured milk products are some of the tastiest ferments, including yogurt, cheese, and kefir, which can be dairy or dairy-free. Fermenter PDX, NW Ferments, and Urban Cheesecraft all showed up with delicious cultured milk products.

One of the prettiest offerings was the hazelnut cheese (!) using a quinoa-based rejuvelac as the culture agent. It was served on knaekbrod with ruby kraut, caraway leaves, and marigold.

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Hazelnut cheese with accouterments

Urban Cheesecraft brought a couple of cheeses—one dairy, one dairy-free. The dairy-free was made with almonds, and was called Chipotle Melt: almonds cultured with a veggie pickle brine, with garlic, white pepper, smoked paprika, and salt added.

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Almond-based cheese

I also enjoyed the cow’s milk cheese that was cultured with fig sap (fig sap!!). I’d never heard of such a thing, but the idea of it is very exciting to me. They called it Figgy Cheese. Interestingly enough, there was a warning by it to avoid it if you have a latex allergy.

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Figgy cheese

Outside the main tasting room was the NW Ferments table and they offered a few things made with milk kefir—a hot pepper kefir cheese, a plain kefir cheese, and a kefir potato cheese made with cooked potato, salt, milk kefir and fermented for three days. They were all delicious, though with some lumpiness from the kefir.

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Fascinating kefir cheese

Bread

Aside from Fermenter’s homemade knaekbrod, Tabor Bread was the primary source of fermented (e.g., sourdough) bread at the festival. As always their bread was flavorful and high quality. And beautiful.

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Gorgeous breads from Tabor Bread

Miso and Tempeh

When it comes to fermented soy, we often think immediately of tofu, but  miso is another traditional fermented soy product; so is tempeh. Less familiar is natto, soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. It has a reputation of being slimy and stringy with an unfamiliar texture, but the natto at the festival was, dare I say, delicious. The tempeh, in this case, was not made from soy, but from chickpeas.

Squirrel & Crow brought fried chickpea and quinoa tempeh—the miso was made by grinding up fresh tempeh, rice koji, and salt. It was fermented for six weeks, then mixed with jalepeño honey and raw apple cider vinegar. So, so good.

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Chickpea tempeh with miso

Jorinji Miso brought some beautiful miso—white, red, and chickpea—to the festival and even provided ingredients and hot water with which to make your own miso soup!

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Beautiful miso from Jorinji

Wanpaku Natto brought the natto and served it in a couple of ways—mixed with rice and kimchi from Noraneko, and served as beans on toast.

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Natto with kimchi and rice

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Above, the natto “beans on toast” tasted like baked beans!  A little sweet and earthy, and really enjoyable. The maker said it was an ode to the beans on toast she ate in the UK when she was younger.

Rice

My fermenting experience has never involved rice, so I must admit that the fermentation traditions feel very mysterious to me. But I love rice and would like to work with it in fermentation. Reverend Nat’s and  Koji Akademia both brought fermented rice products, and as a result I now have a new love of amazake, a koji-fermented sweet rice drink.

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Amazake in an Instant Pot—will have to see if it’s possible to make it in there (rather than just using it to keep it warm).

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The amazake sample was topped with fresh ginger, one way it’s traditionally served in Japan.

Koji Akademia had samples of koji rice, small bundles of rice surrounded with what I’m guessing is a benign mold (I could be wrong about that).

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Rice samples

Beverages

Fermented beverages are all the rage these days, whether it’s kombucha, kefir (water and milk), shrubs, ginger beer, wines, or straight up beer. The amazake earlier in this post is also an example of a fermented beverage. This was probably the largest category of fermented products at the festival. My favorites were the ginger beer and Camellia kombucha; the shrub was my least favorite. It had a rather jarring, sharp, intense flavor (it’s vinegar, after all) compared to what came before it in the tasting. In hindsight, I wish I’d tried that first and moved on to the rest.

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L-R: Eggurt, a probiotic cultured egg-white-based beverage resembling kefir; ginger beer; shrub; two fermented beverages, one of which is made from carrot juice.

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L-R: Camellia Kombucha; SOMA Kombucha and water kefir; Kombucha Ship made with yuzu;  kombucha; Shrub-bucha from Ferm Fatale

Miscellaneous

There are a few things that didn’t fit neatly into the above categories, and my favorite among those products was a sriracha by Oregon Brineworks.

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Sriracha in the middle

It had such a great flavor from the chiles and a tang from the fermentation. I may have to see if I can get myself a jar.

The crowds were robust! Here are a couple of shots from the tasting room:

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The rooftop was a nice place to take a break; it could get pretty warm down in the tasting room. The air was fresh and it was a beautiful night. Plus there was some food available for purchase from Obon up there, but I was already full from the tasting.

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There were some demos and DIY fun, as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself and feel like my appreciation of fermentation has grown and expanded. I’m really looking forward to spending some time with the Noma fermentation book (that David Zilber signed!). Big thanks to all the folks who organized and produced this fantastic event—see you next year!

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Bridgetown Bites is written by Meg Cotner, a food loving freelance writer, editor and published author in Portland, OR.

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