Ferment Bristol




Since I returned from Canada, I’ve been lamenting the fact that nobody is making local ferments in Bristol. So when someone told me that two people had started making kimchi and sauerkraut just down the road from me, I got very very excited. 

Sarah and Lynne (or Sarakraut and Lynchi as they joking call each other) have both being making and eating ferments for years, but the idea of forming it into a business came about last year. “All of our friends were loving the ferments that we were making and told us we had to start selling them,” Sarah explains; “I actually couldn’t keep up with demand.”  Lynne continues; “It’s all quite new. We’re scaling up to the next level of making every fortnight.” 

They decided to form Ferment Bristol, but their journeys to this point have been very different. Lynne lived on a farm in the Forest of Dean and was growing all her own veg. “We’d get to the end of the growing season and have a lot of root veg,” she explains. “Swede and turnip gets really boring when you have to eat it at every meal,” she says, laughing. “So I started playing around with them to see what you could do to make them more interesting, and started making kimchi as a way to preserve them through the whole winter. And it was so much nicer than eating just swede!”

Sarah came at it from the health perspective. “I’ve been healing from an autoimmune skin condition for about 4 years, and ferments have been a massive part of that.” We talk more about gut health and the importance of live food. “Lots of people are struggling with health conditions; low grade chronic disorders, irritable bowel, digestive issues, food intolerances. A lot of people who’ve had antibiotics in their life or live in an environment that’s highly clean will have some kind of degraded gut flora. They talk about 70% of our immune system as being in our guts, and ferments are a really wonderful way to start restrengthening your immune system,” she continues. “Fermented food has hundreds of times more living probiotics than a probiotic tablet. And it’s much cheaper; anyone can make it. Having a small amount with every meal can help your digestion and help build your immune system over time; none of this is going to fix you over night, and it takes time and a lot of other things in your life that need to be balanced. But it’s certainly been a massive part for me.”

We get to talking about the actual ferments themselves. They currently make sauerkraut and kimchi, both of which vary with the seasons and the vegetables available. “Our kimchi is not entirely traditional,” Lynne explains. “We use seasonal root vegetables, which we try and source as locally as possible. Basically we chop them up really thing, put them in a salty brine for two nights. We drain off the liquid after two days, mix in ginger, chilli and garlic, pack it into containers, cover again and let ferment with the liquid for two weeks before jarring it.”

Their sauerkraut is very much along the style of Northern European kraut. “You basically shred cabbage, add sea salt and whatever spices, bash it til the juice comes out, squash it under the juice and leave it for three weeks,” Sarah tells me. “We want a slow ferment; that’s the way you build the flavour. Coriander and caraway seeds are naturally anti-microbial, so they culture the bacteria you want and stop mould growing.” I ask about their favourite things to eat the kraut and kimchi with. “We’ll eat it with everything,” Sarah responds, laughing. “I love the kraut with poached eggs and avocado on sourdough bread,” Lynne admits. “I’d eat that three times a day if I could. But I really like to use the juice; it goes very well with a stock to make a broth, or I like to put it in a salad dressing.”

Last week they processed a massive 140kg of vegetables. “That was our biggest batch to date,” Sarah points out. “Fortunately I have quite a large kitchen!” They’re constantly scaling up though, and are beginning to work out what that might look like. “We’re starting to explore things like sharing a commercial kitchen space,” Lynne tells me, and Sarah explains; “That’s the kind of thing we really need in Bristol; there are commercial kitchens you can hire by the hour, but nothing with storage.” With their courses and ‘fermenterships’, they’re becoming increasingly in need of this space, and the hunt is on for some stepping stone for the next stage of their business. Their ferments have just starting making their way into shops and stores. “We went around to all the shops that we thought might sell it with a batch ready to go, and they all sold out within days,” Lynne explains. Sarah explains; “What’s interesting is that all of these shops have ferments already, but none of them are local so there’s obviously a market in Bristol for people who want to buy local.”

So where do they want to go from here? “I think it’s growing quite organically, and there's a lot of interest, so we definitely want to ride the wave,” Lynne replies. “We’re going to start doing courses at the end of April, so will have a combination off teaching people how to do it through courses, letting people do fermenterships, and hopefully then join the worker’s coop." Sarah joins in; “I think the name lends itself to the fact that it’s local and it’s here, but if we get the model right here, it could be replicated elsewhere; I don’t think there’s many small scale, locally focused companies in the UK." Lynne is dreaming about the sourcing side of it too; “If we can get to a scale that makes it viable, we’d love to rent some land and bring a grower in and have a closed loop that pays everyone fairly.” We touch on some of the larger agricultural issues at play in the UK; “In the summertime we got most of our vegetables from growers nearby, but we bought out their entire season’s worth really quickly. Land is so expensive, particularly peri-urban land, so we end up buying our veg off the larger scale farms that get most of their income from subsidies that probably aren't going to be around in this way for much longer.” 

I can vouch for the tastiness of their ferments, and it's definitely inspired me to get back stuck into fermentation again myself. Watch out Bristol, the fermenters are coming...

More info: http://www.fermentbristol.co.uk