Freestone Fermentation Festival 2011, Part 2: The Feast

    The Fermentation Feast, part of the Freestone Fermentation Festival, was a fund raising event for Ceres Project. This group brings together teenage volunteers, organic food, and community.  These young people work in the kitchen creating nutrient dense meals for cancer patients and their families.   
    After an afternoon of talking about food, I was ready to eat. There was a bit of a break  and then dinning area was opened.  When I walked in I was immediately greeted by to many decisions.   The food was set up in stations, attended to by the chefs that had created the dishes.  To my right there was sushi, my left tempeh, straight ahead kimchi and a pepperoni sausage.  It the back of the room there was wine.  I was not sure where to start.  I did not know what the “rules” where, I wasn’t sure if we were to pick up the plates along the front of these stations, or to find our seats at the tables set up on the patio area outside.  I had imagined being led through the courses, allowing our palettes to progress through these sumptuous dishes, but these first choices where not the appetizers.
    I walked around a bit and observed.  My first stop was water kefir.  After years of dairy animals and abundant milk supplies I was very familiar with kefir, but water kefir was new to me.  It was delicious, it was effervescent like a soda and had been infused with different herbs or spices. It did not have the vinegary background in the flavor that I often taste with kombucha, the darling of the fermented beverages. The ginger was reminiscent of a light ginger ale.  The most interesting was a coffee water kefir that was topped with kefir cultured cream.  It felt like I had started with desert.
    I decided to just start gathering plates.   Since I could only hold two plates at once I was not sure whether to gather the plates, drop them off at a table, or got back and forth from tables to stations.  This seemed a little athletic and didn’t allow me to eat in a progression that brought the flavors together, so I walked back and forth, and had a stack of plates in front of me by the time I sat down.  I must admit it felt awkward with the array lined up in front of me, but I have a healthy appetite.  The food was inspiring and I wasn’t deterred.  
    The tables were on a patio looking over the spectacular Sonoma landscape as the sun was lowering to night. There was a bit of chill in the air. I sat with Kathryn Lukas and Peter Cornelius from Farmhouse Culture, based in Santa Cruz.  We have admired and delighted in Kathryn’s krauts every time we have visited the area.  I enjoyed talking to a fellow Fermentista and we lamented how all of us in this new traditional food art are in a sense alone.  Fermetistas Kirsten Shockey & Kathryn Lukas The other guests were sisters who grew up in Petaluma, CA.
    Chef Minami had traditional Japanese foods. The artfully arranged plate held a natto sushi roll, Tofu Dengaku roll, and Kasu-Zuke vegetable pickles, which were pickled in Sake lees (which is the dried pressed cake of what is left after the ferment) by Cultured Pickle Shop of Berkley.  All of us at the table agreed that the pickles were amazingly delicate yet had a complex tartness.  The unique part was that they were a drier pickle, almost the consistency of  candied fruit.  This of course makes sense since they were not suspended in a watery brine to pickle. The pastes on top of the tofu eluded us, we speculated that they were miso based.  Upon turning over the menu at home, I read they were miso and honey, but we would have missed all that guessing and conversation had any one of us turned over the paper.
    What is a meal highlighting sauerkraut without the archetypal sandwich with kraut--the Rueben.  This meal was no exception, Chef Rick Goldberg and Ivan Redus of Preservation Foods were creating killer Reubens. This sandwich, despite its old world feel, is American appearing on the food scene in the early part of the twentieth century.  There is debate whether it was born in Omaha or New York, but that is for others to debate. It will suffice to say delis have never been the same. The sandwich in question this night was made from whey cured beef, the cheese a Portuguese style St. George by Matos Cheese Factory, and the sauerkraut oak barrel aged. These fermented ingredients were contained in rye bread and grilled on site on a hot plate. The result was the melding of the flavors, warm and steamy, pleasantly salt, and comforting.  The barrel aged kraut did not have the oak tannins one might expect, instead the flavor was crisp and clear.
    The tempeh.  How does a Reuben transition into tempeh?  Well not very easily for some but there was a time...In the spirit of full disclosure, we, who now butcher much of our meat, went through an eight year vegetarian phase.  One of our favorite meals was the Tempeh Rueben.  The tempeh at the feast were homemade by Chef Ricky Hass, Jill Nussinow and Chef Julie Schrieber.  They had a bean tempeh and a millet tempeh that they served with tamarind sambal, a gado gado peanut sauce and a salad of pickled radishes and onions.  The bean tempeh was not that much different than the traditional soy, a bit drier on the mouth and the taste was predominantly that of brown beans.  The millet was very subtle and slightly sweet,  I tasted a tiny bit of an alcoholic note in the ferment, but otherwise it quite bland.  Our table of critics agreed that it would have been good as a desert candidate with some rich fruit or chocolate sauces drizzled over the top.
    My desert came from the cheese table which featured an array of local cheeses.  My favorite was a rich ricotta by Bellwether Farms.  It is more like a mascarpone, creamy not grainy or dry.  I ate this alongside the goat milk fudge.