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Rot Is Hot

Farm to Fermentation Festival enters its sixth year

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PICKLE POWER Sonoma County is an epicenter of fermentation businesses.
  • PICKLE POWER Sonoma County is an epicenter of fermentation businesses.

Chances are you are a fermentation fan and didn't even know it. Like beer? Wine? Cheese? Salami? Pickles? Chocolate? Sriracha? Of course you do. All those foods and drinks are fermented, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the friendly bacteria that make fermentation possible.

New and established lovers of fermentation can show their appreciation to our microscopic friends at the Farm to Fermentation Festival Aug. 24 in Santa Rosa. The festival began in 2009 in Freestone and in 2011 moved to Petaluma under the direction of self-described fermentation advocate Jennifer Harris. As the popularity of the event and all things fermented grew, the event relocated again to the Finley Aquatic Center in Santa Rosa, and that's where it's going to be again this year. Last year, about a thousand people attended. (Disclosure: the Bohemian is a sponsor of the event).

"Every year, there seems to be more interest in fermentation," says Harris. "We're so desperate for back-to-the-roots action and DIY."

Harris works as a consultant to fermentation festivals in places like Boston, San Diego and Austin, but she says the fermentation trend has really taken root in Sonoma County because of its agricultural community and scores of small-scale producers.

"Sonoma County is this epicenter of fermentation businesses," she says.

While kombucha was all the rage a few years ago, Harris sees a couple of new trends like a "ferment-it-all" approach to pickling everything from green beans and carrots to ketchup and salsas.

While there will be beer and wine available for VIP ticket holders, Harris says a limited number of drink tickets will be sold so as not to make alcohol the focus on the event. Instead, look for events like a sauerkraut competition and a hands-on "culture petting zoo," where attendees can get their hands wet and slimy handling vinegar and kombucha mothers, water kefir grains and other agents of fermentation. There will also be about 45 food and retail vendors.

At the heart of the event are the many workshops on home fermentation. I'm especially excited about Karen Solomon's presentation on Asian pickles. She's the author of the excellent Asian Pickles cookbook, and she'll be talking about how to make Japanese nukazuke pickles.

I also want to check out Aaron Gilliam's talk on meat curing. Gilliam makes the salume at Thistle Meats in Petaluma. He learned the ways of traditional meat curing in Italy. I've never had good luck making kimchi, so I also want to hear Ellen White's talk on this spicy staple of Korean cuisine. White owns Ellen's Kimchi.com, a small-batch kimchi company.

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