“It’s an addiction. You start out making kombucha, move on to levain, and suddenly you’re surrounded by pots.” This is how programmer Leonardo Alves de Andrade describes the fascination that fermentation has on kitchen professionals and amateurs alike.
Leonardo is a partner of Fernando Goldenstein Carvalhaes at Companhia dos Fermentados, a small kombucha factory that, in seven years, became Grupo Fermentare, with a store, distributor, school and publisher.
Written by Carvalhaes, the book “Sugar, Alcohol and Vinegar: Celebrating the Art of Fermentation”, released in September last year, is the author’s second and the publisher’s first. Around 10,000 people have already gone through 18 courses, which teach how to ferment vegetables and produce miso and vermouth, among other topics.
The duo is also about to launch a social network dedicated to the subject. Users of the Fermenta.Me app, scheduled to go live in the first half of the year, will have free profiles to share recipes, exchange yeast cultures and even receive alerts when it’s time to stir a pot.
“Whenever a course ends, students organize themselves into WhatsApp groups to clear up doubts. That’s where the idea came from. It won’t be a question-and-answer forum anymore, we’ll have a very dynamic timeline”, says Leonardo.
The theme has never been so high around here. On the 29th and 30th of April, São Paulo will host the first Bora Fermentar Fest, an event with a fair and courses that will feature the American Sandor Katz, popular author of “The Art of Fermentation”.
Katz’s book, released here by Tapioca in 2014 and already sold out, is the gateway for most amateur fermenters. It was like that with filmmaker Marina Person, who launched herself into this universe in search of healthy foods and has already taken several courses at Fermentare.
“I already know how to make curd, yogurt, pickles, kombucha and levain [fermento natural] of gluten-free rice flour. I experiment and teach to several friends. It’s literally a little bug that bites you and improves your health,” she says.
Equipment with strange names, such as “air locker” (valve to release carbon dioxide) and refractometer (which calculates alcoholic concentration), are part of the routine of fermenters. But you don’t need lab instruments to get started.
Nutrition student, Juliana Pião tells that she made the first kombuchas in a kitchenette. Today, installed in a larger property, she is already able to produce her own shoyu. “Now friends get together to ferment with me. If a long holiday comes along, we already calculate how long there will be time to ferment.”
Author of the recipe blog Cebola na Manteiga and the ebook “To Start Enjoying: Fermentation of Vegetables”, Carolina Dini from Minas Gerais teaches simple processes like pickles and sauerkraut at her school in Belo Horizonte. Time-consuming and more complex recipes, she registers in posts on Instagram, where she has 54.1 thousand followers.
“People follow it like a soap opera, they see me making mistakes and getting it right. It becomes entertainment”, he says.
In professional cuisine, fermentation has become a mandatory subject since 2018, when René Redzepi, chef at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, launched the book “The Noma Guide to Fermentation”.
The publication inspired people like Raphael Vieira, chef at 31 Restaurante, in República, downtown São Paulo. “I started fermenting to make better use of the ingredients. Since we don’t have an oven, time is a team cook.”
He created dishes like nukadoko, pickles made with rice bran, accompanied by a yolk cured in tomato garum, a fermented sauce that, in ancient Rome, was produced with fish entrails.
New specialized businesses have popped up around there. São Paulo already has two breweries —Trilha, in Barra Funda, and Jandira, in Butantã— where the technique appears in all sections of the menus.
From the menu at Trilha Fermentaria, the Pra Chuchar (R$49) includes house-made pickles, which vary according to the day, curd based on sheep yogurt, cucumber relish with yogurt and bread made from pizza dough.
In Sorocaba, Felipe Zalewska, founder of 1Mami, produces garuns based on meat or vegetables, in addition to other fermented condiments that are already available in São Paulo restaurants such as Aizomê.
At Cepa, in Tatuapé, on the east side of São Paulo, chef Lucas Dante finishes toasted mussels and peperonata with meat garum from 1Mami. Together, he and Zalewska are making a mirin, a kind of rice liquor that also uses fermentation, which will only be ready in the middle of the year.
None of these professionals and amateurs can explain why this age-old process, a non-photogenic biochemical transformation, dazzles so many people.
“Often, it’s also stinky,” adds Carvalhaes. “Whoever makes sauerkraut for the first time smells fart. But who said food always has to be instagrammable?”
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