Video: Eco Philly on Phickle’s Eco-Ferments

I was recently interviewed by a young and talented videographer, Frances Dumlao, about the potential eco-friendliness of fermented foods. I’ve written about how to conserve through fermentation a few times, so if you want some ways to do it yourself, check out the recipes below.

Enjoy the video! Frances took some beautiful shots, so I definitely recommend watching full screen. Just ignore my hair, makeup and bad shirt choice, please :-).

Food Waste Prevention Pickles

Pickled Collard Stems Pickled Kale Stems

Need those leaves for a salad or a wrap? Don’t let the stems go to waste!

Wine Vinegar from Leftover Wine (Insert “What’s That?” Joke Here).

Making Wine Vinegar without a mother with leftover wine

Party Foul! Did you leave that half full bottle unsealed overnight? No worries, and no tossing it down the drain.

Bread Kvass from Stale Bread

Bread Kvass

Any stale loaves of bread sitting around? Great! Kvass is the next step.

Matsoni: Caspian Sea Yogurt

Homemade yogurt recipe. Making yogurt is SO easy, especially when you use an heirloom variety. Lasts forever and cultures at room temperature

I taught a class that included yogurt-making this weekend to a group of very bright and lovely college students. This one had been on the books for a while, so when I saw Cultures for Health was having a culture sale a few weeks ago, I decided to ditch my usual viili or thermophilic* yogurt demos for some brand new (and yet very old) cultures. I was also inspired by the extensive dairy chapter in FermUp host Branden Byer’s book to expand my milky horizons. And I’m SO glad I did. I tried three new (to me) dairy cultures in the past few weeks (more on the other two coming soon) and I’ve had tons of fun playing around with them. They culture quickly (12-24 hours) so I’ve been able to get a lot of play into just a few weeks.

I culture in a jar, but you can culture in a bowl if you're like!

I culture in a jar, but you can culture in a bowl if you’re like!

The first culture I want to talk to you about is Matsoni. The word on the street is that in Japan, it carries the more romantic moniker “Caspian Sea Yogurt” which I love! But whatever you call it, matsoni is a good one for reluctant DIY yogurt eaters. Like all mesophilic yogurt, it ferments at room temperature which makes it laughably simple to make. Unlike all mesophilic yogurts, it has an exceedingly mild flavor that will offend no palate and pairs perfectly with just about any flavor combination, sweet or savory.

Mesophilic yogurt is the perfect demonstration of the fermentation practice of backslopping. I know, the term doesn’t sound super appealing, but it is actually very illustrative of what you need to do. It just means that once your yogurt is finished, you take a small amount from that finished batch and add it into fresh milk to serve as the culture for the next.

Flavoring with fresh fruit is a great way to eat your homemade matsoni.

Flavoring with fresh fruit is a great way to eat your homemade matsoni.


You can apply the ratio of 1 tablespoon (17 g) of yogurt to 1 cup (235 ml) of milk to any amount up to 1/2 gallon (1.9 liters), according to the instructions I got from Cultures for Health. I haven’t tried batches larger than that. The texture of this yogurt is more thin and jelly-like than creamy, and it breaks apart into pieces when spooned. It also tends to produce a lot of whey that rises to the surface. Great news for those of you who enjoy using whey to culture other products or as a flavorful and protein-rich addition to soups, breads or smoothies.

The texture of this particular strain isn't creamy, but it is light and delicious.

The texture of this particular strain isn’t creamy, but it is light and delicious.

1/4 cup (68 g) finished matsoni yogurt

1 quart (945 ml) whole, pasteurized milk

Place live, matsoni yogurt in a quart jar. Fill the jar to the threads with fresh milk. Stir thoroughly with a spoon or a chopstick to distribute the yogurt into the milk. Cover with a cloth secured with a rubber band, or place the jar lid on top and secure loosely. Don’t tighten the jar fully or the CO2 released during fermentation might make your jar lid go all wonky. Let it sit at room temperature (70-77 F or 21-25 C) for about 12 hours, but it might take up to 18. To check if it’s set, gently tilt the jar. If it moves in a glob like mass rather than in a splashy wave like a liquid, it’s ready to be moved to the fridge. Tighten the lid or remove the cloth and place a lid on the jar before putting it in the fridge. Allow it to chill, and then it’s ready to eat. Before eating, be sure to set aside at least one tablespoon of the finished yogurt. You’ll need it to start your next batch, but there’s no need to start it right away. You can safely store the starter culture in the fridge for a week before starting your next batch. They yogurt will continue to ferment at a much slower rate in the fridge. It may separate a bit, but as long as you still like how it tastes, it’s fine to eat. Generally best to consume within 7-10 days.

Matsoni is a very mild tasting yogurt.

Matsoni is a very mild tasting yogurt.

*thermophilic yogurt must be cultured in heated milk (this is the more typical way to make yogurt, and the way that just about any yogurt you buy at the store will be made) but mesophilic yogurt strains are cultured at room temperature.

Wine & Brine – Small-Batch Fermentation Classes

There’s a new class series happening at Phickle Headquarters! In addition to the summer kimchi class I have scheduled for COOK Philly next month, I’m starting a new kinda class: Wine & Brine.  We’ll focus on one type of ferment, drink wine (and whatever beer, kombucha, water kefir or other fermented beverages I have on hand), eat fermented foods and do the normal class thing; eat samples, make jars of our own pickles and generally have fun while talking fermentation.


Dill head. No, not you! The thing in the jar.

Dill head. No, not you! The thing in the jar.

I’ll be doing one of these each month, and there will only be space for 8 people.  Besides the chilled out vibe with drinks, you’ll also have the opportunity to taste pickles that have been featured on the blog, some of my everyday ferments and possibly even some ferments that haven’t been posted just yet. Bonus – you get to see just how many jars it takes to be a fermentation blogger. (Spoiler alert: a large number of jars are required to be a fermentation blogger.)

Each class will feature a single ferment, as mentioned above.  The ingredients will always be seasonal and local (thanks, Fair Food, for sourcing freshly picked pickling cukes for this class), and in this small group setting you’ll have time to ask all the questions you’d like to!

This first class will feature cucumber pickles, a topic I’ve NEVER covered in a class before.  Cucumber pickles can be prone to a less than 100% success rate (unlike most other vegetable ferments) and my concern in larger classes where multiple topics were covered was that I wouldn’t have the time or attention to make sure that all of the bases needed for perfect sour dills were covered. It’s not that they’re crazy complicated, it’s just that unlike most other vegetables, there are some constraints and must-dos when fermenting them.  They’re also, understandably, one of the most requested vegetables and my “Tricky Pickles” post on cucumber pickles is on of the most visited posts on Phickle. If you’re not so crazy about the dill, I’ll mine my garden for something you like better.  Maybe some huacatay or shiso pickles? (A shiso ginger variety will be one of the varieties on hand for tasting this Wednesday).

Come brine with me. Wine is on the house.

Come brine with me. Wine is on the house.

So please join me this Wednesday to learn how to ferment a classic while enjoying good company and good ol’ phickled eats. You can find all of the specific details on my classes and events page. And be sure to check back each month for the next Wine & Brine.

PS – If I have any spare culture lying around (I’ll only have water kefir grains for the July class, but I should have at least kombucha SCOBYs and the occasional set of milk kefir grains at future classes) they’ll be available for free adoption to a good home at these classes as well.

Microbial Terroir

Last week was Beer Week in Philadelphia and was therefore a week of many fermentation-related events for me! On Sunday I was part of a panel of fermentation artisans who spoke about the beauty and bouty of the wild, microscopic beasts that make our fermented foods so very tasty. Obviously I’m not an artisan, but my favorite Philly fermentery, Food & Ferments, is so they provided the goods and I provided the words to accompany them in the vegetable fermentation category.

The question at hand was one of Microbial Terroir.  If you’re a fan of food microbiology, you’re probably aware of Rachel Dutton’s lab at Harvard where she and others, notably Ben Wolfe, do incredibly interesting work surrounding the microbial life in and on food. They write a lot about this question of “microbial terroir.” The simplified idea is that microbial life can be wildly different in different climates, even if those climates are very near to each other (think of your skin and your gut, for instance) and that the microbes in a given area have the potential to greatly impact the taste of fermented foods. So for instance, Philadelphia might have its own particular flavor, and when we use wild yeasts and bacteria to cultivate our food, we’ll have a uniquely Philly product because of that terroir.  In the Dutton lab they’ve studied the microbes responsible for making certain foods very distinctive, with a focus on cheese.  I highly recommend reading as many of their articles as you can.  They make it their business to be readable and accessible to everyone, not just the scientific community, and it’s difficult to read anything they’ve written without saying, “Wow!” a lot. For my husband’s benefit I may start wearing a sign that says, “CURRENTLY READING BEN WOLFE. ANY GASPS SHOULD BE IGNORED.”

A plate full o' Food & Ferments

A plate full o’ Food & Ferments

At the Beer Week Microbial Terroir event I participated in, Nick Bokulich, a microbiologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center moderated an impressive number of sessions from a group of very talented producers who all use some natural yeast or bacteria (e.g., not pre-harvested or grown in a lab somewhere) in their production. The event highlighted Philadelphia’s artisan fermented food and beverage producers and asked the question: is there something special in our microbes here? 

Wild brews for tasting

Wild brews for tasting

Here are the folks who presented, each with his own answer to that question:

Gerald Olson – Owner/ Brewer at Forest & Main Brewing
Mike Fava – Brewer at Oxbow Brewing
Kirk Schillinger – Sour/Saison Homebrewer
Alex Bois – Head Baker at Fork / High St. on Market
Ezekial “Zeke” Furguson – Manager of Valley Shepherd Creamery
Amanda Feifer O’Brien – Y’all know me
Charcuterie maker  – Chef Andrew Wood of Russet

The room was packed, the talks were interesting, the drinks and food samples were copious and packed with the flavors of wild (but decidedly not lazy) fermentation. The answers to the question at hand were, shockingly, not conclusive. This may be a question for microbiologists to answer, but personally I found hearing it from the producers who depend on these microbes for their livelihoods very compelling!

Philly Homebrew Outlet is selling sourdough starter these days. They brought some to share.

Philly Homebrew Outlet is selling sourdough starter these days. They brought some to share.

The Brewers seemed the most drawn to the concept that there was extra special stuff that made their sour beers taste right. You can understand why. Wild beers, like the very famous Lambic, tend to be difficult or impossible to reproduce outside of their limited geographical reasons. That could be for a variety of reasons, but most brewers don’t take any chances. Brasserie Cantillion, the renowned Lambic brewery in Belgium, famously kept all of the roof tiles in the building when the roof was replaced in 1985.  They weren’t going to risk throwing the baby out with the bath water, or the wild yeast out with the ceiling tiles, to be more precise.

The baker, aka the best bread baker in the universe, Alexandre Bois, had worked in bakeries that had actually tested the stability of wild microbes in their sourdoughs.  What was discovered (and what is also mentioned in some studies I’ve seen) is that there isn’t generally a whole lot of diversity in the microbes present in global sourdough cultures.

Sourdough English Muffins from Philly Bread on the potluck table!

Sourdough English Muffins from Philly Bread on the potluck table!

Zeke, cheemonger extraordinaire and manager of the Valley Shepherd Creamery at Reading Terminal Market, was even less convinced about the importance of wildness in our cheese.  While there are a very few cheesemakers using wild cultures, most rely on specific cultures to produce specific results. There are a few rare examples of wild cheeses, even some local versions from Bobolink Dairy, but the many, many cheese cultures in the world tend to do specific things in cheese and most cheesemakers like to go for a particular end product over the mystery of what will come of wild versions.

Krauts at the potluck table.

Krauts at the potluck table.

I, as mentioned, talked veggies.  Food and Ferments’ beet kvass and assorted pickles were wonderful examples of the goodness that happens with wild bacterial fermentation of vegetables. Since I’m not a commercial producer, I don’t have as much to worry about. My stuff is wild and crazy and if a batch doesn’t turn out as desired, I can start over without too much of a loss. For fermenty businesses, this is a more interesting dilemma. I personally love to believe that there is something special about the terroir of my South Philadelphia row home.  That maybe it began with the Italian family who made their own wine in the basement 100 years ago and continues with me today.

What do you think? Are your microbes special? Does your kraut taste like no other? Does your sourdough rise more perfectly than it would at your neighbor’s house?