The art of fermentation: An interview with Sandor Katz
“Could you imagine Irish cuisine without cheese, bread, beer, whiskey, or cured meats?”
So asks Sandor Katz, who will speak at Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest 2014 which will be held 16-18 May next. The idea doesn't bear thinking about, the foods he mentions above are the very essence of our cultural heritage and for many of us, barely a day goes by when we don't eat a fermented food.
Interest in traditional fermentation methods is on the rise however. Katz explains:
“The products of fermentation--which include bread, cheese, beer, wine, chocolate, coffee, olives, cured meats, vinegar, soy sauce, and so much more--have never for a moment waned in popularity. But like all aspects of food production, they shifted over the 20th century from being produced in every community and many households, to factories and centralized production. During the same period, bacteria became associated primarily with disease and a generalized fear of bacteria developed, so that home cooks and restaurant chefs thought it was best to leave fermentation to specialists and became fearful of the process. As more and more people are becoming interested in reclaiming food and food production, reclaiming fermentation is an important part of that process. And far from being dangerous, fermentation is an important strategy for safety and preservation.”
Just how simple or complicated it is to ferment at home, is really up to the cook, but Sandor Katz says “Most fermentation processes do not require elaborate special equipment. To ferment vegetables, all you need is a jar, veggies, salt, and a knife cutting board. I recommend starting with fermenting vegetables. It's easy, requires no special equipment or starter cultures, is extremely safe (with no case history of food poisoning or illness resulting), relatively quick (you can begin enjoying after just a few days), and it is delicious and supportive of good health. Chop, salt, pound or squeeze, pack into a jar, and wait.” You can find more directions on his website.
He admits that he became an accidental evangelist for the art of fermentation.
“I fell into my fascination with fermentation; I fell into teaching about it; and I fell into writing about it. I certainly didn't start out with a vision of spreading fermentation fervor far and wide, but I love my role as a fermentation revivalist.”
Sandor Katz spoke at the inaugural Litfest last year and was hailed by many visitors as one of the most inspirational speakers over the weekend. The list of speakers this year reads like a library catalogue of an entire section devoted to culinary arts and heritage. Ranging from Ireland's own Donal Skehan, Catherine Fulvio and Ross Lewis to renowned international experts such as Sandor Katz, René Redzepi and Yotam Ottolenghi, some events sold out within minutes and there are select tickets remaining ranging in price from €10-€95. Events in the Big Shed area cost €5 for the entire day.
So who is Sandor looking forward to seeing at Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest 2014?
“I am thrilled to be appearing on a panel with Diana Kennedy, whose books I have referenced for decades. Last year I met so many amazing people, from Ireland and far beyond, that I jumped at the chance to return to Ballymaloe.”