Food Miles vs Organic
Ever gone to the supermarket or local store and feel unable to to buy anything? That's how it was for me when I started making larger amounts of kraut and kimchi and kefir and wanted only the best ingredients. I grew slowly, so never could afford nor had the commitment to order tonnes at a time; which worked well at the time, but of course made it harder financially. We have grown into an awkward teenager stage of not being big enough for the really big organic farmers, and too big for the small ones... :( So we need to shop around a bit until we get over to the next stage I guess. But the really big organic farmers...... seem to be too big as well.... we can only honestly get to a certain size before we just stop and be happy. Because environmentally we sit with local is best, so we need to be that as well.
So it's no surprise that food miles vs organic is a matter of passionate discussion at The Fermentary still. Whilst it's our aim to be a certified organic food producer, we aren't always happy with the bureaucracy that guides it and would prefer to make our own judgements. Ideally we'd use biodynamic farmers and that is our end goal. We do believe that certification is there for good reason, but also that for some, especially small scale farmers, the bureaucracy and red tape aren't affordable or even viable. Fresh vegetables provide the best environment for successful and delicious fermentation and as cabbage is in the safe zone of clean vegies we are able to go for local over simply organic.
We require a large variety of ingredients and are determined to tick our own boxes and trust our own farmers and producers over a lofty import from afar. Ingredients for our ferments are chosen carefully and taken personally, and to be honest, we aren't always that happy with what we have to settle for. This has been a steep education in our food web for me - and often shocking to me personally as a regular consumer with a big family.
FISH SAUCE (goes in our authentic kimchi - none in the vegan of course)
We are in the process of making our own garum/fish sauce for our kimchi - but until then we love and use Red Boat 40N. It is beautiful and worth every cent - this is not the stinky stuff you (sadly) may be used to but real fish sauce that is long, has caramel hints, is a little syrupy, mild and refined. You would buy this to use as a dipping sauce alone. But we take so much time and love making our kimchi that putting crappy ingredients doesn't make sense. Red Boat 40N has just 3 ingredients - anchovies, salt and time - at least a year in large wooden barrels.( Check them out here :http://redboatfishsauce.com/ )
There are whole levels of fish sauce admiration going back as far as the Romans and even further I'm sure. Every culture that has a coastline or even lakes and rivers seem to have a version of this delicious umami filled delicacy. Actually - try making your own. Or try to find some artisan fish sauces. Let me know how you get on!
RAW SUGAR (goes in our water kefir and kimchi)
The sugar we use is raw and organic and there isn't any organic sugar made in Australia. To be honest I would probably have just gone for regular Australian cane sugar from the beginning had our kefir grains not been fussy and needed organic. But since then I've learnt a little about the sugar industry and it's one of the few ingredients we've chosen to import.
My main issue with the industry is that the pesticides and herbicides used are extremely damaging to the water table down to the (once) great Barrier Reef; and sugar cane in particular takes a lot of chemicals. I've popped a link to dangerous pesticides used in Australia - it's from 2010 but I have referred to this for a while and it's easy to follow. Check out how many are banned in EU but are OK here.
I didn't know until the other day that almost all brown sugar is refined white sugar soaked in molasses to make it brown again because not many large factories can have the machinery for both white and brown sugar processing. aaaargh. So much about what goes on with our food.
WATER (for our brined vegetables and of course our Water Kefir)
Lucky us - our water comes from deep under us - very old lovely spring water from very close to The Fermentary - pretty much Mt Franklin water (Mt. Franklin the kind you buy in plastic bottles that was originally from this area but has since been bought by coca cola and sourced from springs all over the place now.
Water is pretty important for our beautiful water kefir of course, but we are lucky to be able to use it for our brine ferments too. Lovely to have this water up in Daylesford where it's hard to believe that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on this planet.
TAMARI (in our kimchi)
Gluten free was our aim, so we chose a gluten free soy sauce. Soy sauce is a tough one, and I wish we had more readily available good quality soy sauce. The flavours of the puddle on top of my home made miso are very similar to what real soy sauce tastes like. How sad that the soy sauce we all know here in Australia is so VERY different to the real original thing. We haven't made enough soy sauce to sell - but I would love that. One day. We use a gorgeous organic Tamari imported by Spiral Foods - (gosh do they have a great story and history of food in Australia!)
There are problems with milk kefir and the main one at the moment is that most milk kefirs you see on the supermarket shelves are NOT actually milk kefir. They are copies of milk kefir- milk heated and cultured with a mix of manufactured bacterias chosen to mimic real kefir. You'll never get any of the healing and beautiful feelings that real kefir gives you from the fake ones. The flavour is different too, but the range of bacteria's are inferior to the real thing. It's very hard to make commerical milk kefir though - so if you can't find ours somewhere then get your own grains here at our shop or find some from a friend or culture swap.
For our commercial milk kefir we use Schulz's milk. They have some of the luckiest cows around and their milk is gorgeous and the land has been run on biodynamic principles since the '70's.
We are worried about the dairy industry and the changes large scale production has taken on our farmers as well as the kinds of cheeses available to us here in Australia. We will stick to making only small amounts of real milk kefir and rely on other fermenters elsewhere to join in on the revival of honest fermentation.