As far as Daren Cook is concerned, humans never would have made it without fermentation.
It’s hard to imagine a tolerable modern life without beer, wine, cider and mead — not to mention coffee, tea and chocolate, but Cook means it quite literally.
“Fermentation made food digestible,” he says. “It preserved food to last the winter. I don’t think the species would have survived if it hadn’t accidentally discovered what happens when food goes bad.”
Cook, a sometime farmer, brewer and food preservation expert, is at home among the ingredient-stacked shelves at Boulder Fermentation Supply (2510 47th St).
Boulder’s home brewing legion has made a beeline to the shop since it opened in 2013.
The name says it all: Boulder Fermentation Supply is a one-stop destination for equipment, ingredients and knowledge for fermenting almost anything: milk (cheese, yogurt), fruit (cider, wine, kombucha), vegetables (pickles, kimchi, hot sauce), and, yes, grains (tempeh, beer).
Perhaps the most important thing the shop features is advice from folks who have actually made the foods and beverages.
“When it comes to fermenting vegetables, making pickles, we’re talking about lacto-fermentation,” Cook says. “The easiest one to start with is sauerkraut. Rough chop some cabbage and put it in a 2.5% brine — that’s just salt and water. Come back in about four weeks and you have sauerkraut.”
Make sure the veggies are completely submerged in the spiced brine at room temperature with a loose cap on the container. Most vegetables — except onions and garlic — have natural bacteria on them that thrive in brine. Never pour any brine down the drain since you can add more vegetables, drink it in bloody marys or reduce it into an umami-rich sauce.
According to Cook, the easiest fermented alcoholic beverage to make at home is fruit cider, typically made with apple juice.
“You mash the fruit, extract the juice, and add yeasts,” Cook says. “You can make a low-alcohol apple cider that is not very sweet.”
“You’ll need an airlock on the bottle that allows gas to escape but keeps out competing microbes. Don’t blow your top,” he says, adding that accounts of exploding jars of fermented foods and vegetables are common.
The funky shop offers walls packed with bottles, fruit presses, kettles, copper coils, siphons and mushroom-growing logs. Coolers full of hop varieties and beer, ale, cider and wine yeasts are near an array of flavorings like wormwood, licorice, heather and giant cans of fruit puree. Stacks of kits are available for making everything from red zinfandel to hefeweizen. An extensive book section features volumes on brewing, fermenting, pickling and other forms of food preservation.
One room at Boulder Fermentation Supply is jammed with diverse malts and grains that can be milled fresh onsite in small qualities for brewers.
Cook notes that the many of the yeasts the shop stocks for brewing can also be used to craft distinctive-tasting loaves of breads.
About the only fermented food that is not featured at the Boulder shop is salumi — fermented meats, like chorizo. The potential food safety risks are much higher with fermented meats, he says.
As we come into the season of fresh local vegetables, herbs, fruits and grains, Cook wants locals to learn how to use them. While the health pluses of fermented foods are many, fermentation rewards you almost immediately with amazing tangy flavors and textures, he says.
Another payoff awaits this fall when you pop open jars of preserved foods and bottles of bubbly drinks for family and friends.
Cook — who leads groups on fungi forays to the mountains — notes one other critical advantage that Boulder Fermentation Supply enjoys because it is part of the funky, next-door Vision Quest Brewery: “You can get a beer and sip it while you look through the shop,” he says.
Taste of the Week: Beyond Pupusas
Over the decades, Boulder has grown fond of pupusas as a favorite handheld food. They are masa corn pancakes griddled with fillings from cheese to chicharrónes and greens. Boulder’s recently opened Pupusas Lover 2 (2525 Arapahoe Ave., Unit E1B) expands diners’ experience with Salvadoran and Central American cuisine.
The eatery’s mixto plate is a great best-of cruise. It starts with two pupusas served with spicy curtido slaw and salsa. Add a chicken enchilada, fried yuca, a banana-leaf wrapped tamale and fried plantains. The plantain pastelito, a flaky savory empanada, was especially memorable. Dessert was a sweet corn tamale paired with house-made aguas frescas and Salvadoran horchata de morro flavored with cinnamon and sesame seed.
Local Food News: A Kind Burger
The Boulder Theater on June 14 will host the inaugural showing of The Sink’s 100th anniversary movie. Many local faces are featured in the documentary, including yours truly. Long ago I worked at The Sink for one night that felt like a year.
In honor of National Hamburger Month, PETA has named the best vegan burgers in the U.S. Boulder Meta Burger earns a spot for its Flatiron burger with steak sauce, gouda-style “cheese,” grilled Brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
99Bar Saloon and restaurant has opened at 449 Main St., Longmont (formerly the site of Smokin Bowls Restaurant).
Shopey’s Pizza is dishing pies at 577 E. South Boulder Road, Louisville.
Coming soon: Juicy Seafood, 2341 Clover Basin Drive, Longmont. Menu will include lobster, clams and alligator.
Nibbles Index: Vegetable Trust Issues
Fully 46% of us do not trust anyone else to pick out our groceries, according to a new Kroger survey. I am one of those shoppers suffering pretty painful experiences ordering fresh produce online for delivery.
Words to Chew On
“If the first bite is with the eye and the second with the nose, some people will never take that third, actual bite if the food in question smells too fishy, fermented or cheesy.” — Yotam Ottolenghi