It feels like our life is surrounded by fermentation.
This may be the result of over 20 years in the wine industry. At least 20 vintages and the incredibly evocative smell of fermenting grapes, first in South Australia and now in New Zealand.
Every place we’ve been has smelt different, but it took a while to truly understand why this was. Lifelong learning about microbiology helped us realise that ferments are a result of the micro ecosystems they come from.
In wine this has manifested in the most extraordinary way. The vineyard that Nick planted, Greystone, now makes a vineyard fermented Pinot Noir. This recognises that there are specific native yeasts in that vineyard that contribute to the flavour and aroma of the resulting wine. If it was fermented in the neighbours property it would taste different, and the same Pinot grapes taken into the winery and inoculated by the yeasts residing there in the walls and roof, also tastes completely different.
Nick adding grapes to the Greystone vineyard ferment.
Greystone is the first winery in the world to produce a vineyard fermented Pinot Noir, and the gentle understanding of the possibilities has informed all other fermentations here on The Food Farm.
Raw Milk Yoghurt
And there are no lack of them! We hand-milk our own cow and making cheese and other dairy products from the raw milk has helped us understand a huge amount about fermentation. Light bulb moments came from learning about natural techniques from David Asher and his Black Sheep School of Cheese making. When we pastuerise milk we kill ALL the bacteria, good and bad. That then leaves a blank canvas for anything to predominate. If we give raw milk the right conditions good bacteria and yeasts will take over the ferment and deliver something delicious and truly ‘of this place’. We’ve also learnt to trust our senses. When something doesn’t smell or look right, we simply start again.
Three pregnancies taught me the power of my sense of smell, each time it was hugely heightened, often resulting in foods that were ‘off the list’ for the duration. I sometimes think trusting our senses is something we’ve lost in the modern world where they aren’t needed as much as they once were.
We’ve fermented everything here; beer, fruit, vegetables, sour dough bread, meat into things like salami, and even fish into fish sauce (although to be fair we’re all too scared to try Nick’s fishy experiments!).
But there’s one fermentation that remains a firm family favourite- pickles!
Pickle Ingredients: Gherkins, spices, dill, blackcurrant and vine leaves, garlic, cider vinegar, water and salt.
My children could eat a jar each of lacto-fermented pickling cucumbers in a single sitting if I let them. Over the years they’ve become experts on the flavour of each batch, so much so that they’ve become a big part of the process- sowing the gherkin seeds, transplanting, harvesting, making the brine to ferment them in, and preserving them in jars.
Matilda picking gherkins.
We have a huge pottery crock to ferment them in and obviously this crock holds within it, it’s own colony of microbiology. Instead of pasteurising them we heat the brine and pour over the jarred gherkins. We keep them in the chiller and use our senses to make sure they taste right. Having said that we’ve eaten literally hundreds of jars and have never had a dud.
The pickling crock.
The final lacto-fermented pickles.
In summer, we do much of our preserving and cooking outside on the terrace, and I’ve often thought about the native yeasts and bacteria that must reside in the air and the glory vine above us. Our own version of ‘vine-yard ferment’.
The Food Farm Terrace covered by the glory vine.