In his weekly newsletter chef Cúán Greene expounds upon topics relevant to food culture, sharing insights, positing questions and meeting people who are adding to the collective pot. Each month, we will share a selection of edited highlights from recent posts. To sign up for a more comprehensive deep-dive, visit omos.co
“After much time, many failures and enough tears to fill a Kilner jar, fermentation now forms the basis of almost every dish I make.”
I’d love to tell you that I quickly became adept at fermentation upon my introduction to it. It wasn’t that way at all. As a young student, I was originally inspired by the use of fermentation in Noma’s book: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine. This came at the expense of my thesis on Molecular Gastronomy, which I battled through despite losing interest and pouring myself into books about fermentation. It was Noma’s beautifully natural form of plating that caught my full attention. Foraged goods of all sorts were sourced throughout the seasons and preserved in a myriad of ways. The ingredients and processes mystified me. Noma used ingredients I was familiar with but manipulated them in ways that I had never seen before. Lacto this, cultured that, pea-so what? These were terms new to me and frankly, as a spectator, I didn’t know where to start.
A little later, coming across Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, I was elated to find a book that would easily break down the seemingly complex processes and analogies. I had visions of my parents’ garden shed becoming my very own chamber, replacing the shelves of paint with jars of preserves, showcasing an entire rainbow of colourful vegetables for every season. Miso galore, made using every grain one could imagine; an entire labyrinth of ageing soy sauces, beers and wines; and a plethora of cured salumi, whole legs of meat and cured fish, all hanging from the roof. I imagined a space where one could spend many any hour, happily nibbling on whatever pickle or preserve presented best. In truth, this optimism was short-lived. My attempt at grasping such techniques was proving tricky. I found the terms and applications that Katz explained to be perplexing. Having reached a page’s end, without any concept of what had been said, I would reread page after page only to become frustrated and too afraid to make a first attempt.
On paper, fermentation appears complex and I found that myself. It wasn’t until I worked up the courage and began to experiment (using the aforementioned books as a guide), that I began to understand what was at large. After much time, many failures and enough tears to fill a Kilner jar, fermentation now forms the basis of almost every dish I make. Its deep underlying flavours are capable of achieving the extraordinary.
A man who did start fermenting in his parents shed is Seamus Jordan. He is one of the new generation of Irish bakers to embrace sourdough. Having spent most of his early career training as a chef, and later in bakeries (Firehouse in Co. Wicklow, and Tartine in San Francisco), he began Plúr Bakery – the Irish word for flour – in his parents’ back garden. Seamus sold his baked goods at local markets and supplied sourdough bread and viennoiserie to cafes in the surrounding area of Carlow. He then met James and Janine Ludlow, two brewers who wanted to open a kombucha brewery. Together the trio joined forces to create The Fermentary. Given the name above the door, it’s no surprise really that Seamus and Co explore other areas of fermentation. A baker and brewer’s knowledge is more linked than you might think. After all, both professions are dictated by microbial activity.
I set out to meet Seamus at The Fermentary. Upon arriving in the town of Borris in Co. Carlow, I thought Google maps might have led me astray. There wasn’t a soul on the street. O’Sheas pub on my left, Joyce’s on my right. The hearts of the village were seemingly closed. It was a quaint, old world Irish village if there ever was one and the last place you might expect to find a fermentation-focused spot. That said, Seamus told me The Fermentary is a local hit. Tactically situated beside the Post Office, the bread and pastries sell out on a daily basis and it is now the pride and joy of Borris. I picture Seamus strolling through Borris like Daniel O’Donnell walks through Kincasslagh in Co. Donegal. Jokes aside, people travel from far and wide to The Fermentary, with weekend visits from Dubliners who recognise the quality of Seamus’s bread.
While I love great bread – and am known to sip on a kombucha or two – I hadn’t travelled two hours to fill up on the naturally fermented goods. It was Seamus’ recent advertisement about selling a product not so easily obtained in Dublin that caught my eye. Koji. After an hour long conversation about sourdough (another hour could easily have been spent discussing the wonders of flour, water, salt and yeast, we’re geeks, I know), next up was koji.
I was enlightened to hear that Seamus primarily uses koji to make amazake, which he feeds to the unsuspecting Borris community in the form of granola (don’t worry, it’s safe and actually very good for you). Amazake is a koji-based ferment lauded for its health benefits and sweet flavour. Traditionally in Japan, it takes the form of a porridge or drink and is full of probiotics, digestive enzymes, B vitamins and amino acids. (To find out more about Koji, visit the digest.)
Words & Images : Cúán Greene
wildfermentation.com (Sandor Katz)