Portland Fermentation Festival 2014 Redux

October 20th, 2014

The dapper foodists -- ferment fest co-organizers George Winborn, Liz Crain and David Barber.

Thank you to everyone who came out last week and made this year’s FIFTH annual Portland Fermentation Festival at Ecotrust such a stinky great time. It’s unanimous amongst David, George and I (festival co-organizers/founders) that this year was the most fun for us and I hope for you.

Every year has been fantastic but the three of us got to enjoy ourselves a lot more this year. I got to sample everything! In years past I always find myself running around too much to sample the ferments. I made a pact to try everything this year and I did and it was deeeeeelicious. Thanks in no small part to all of the festival’s awesome volunteers, participants and attendees. We’ve hit our stride. I guess five years has taught us a thing or two about throwing a big fermenty Portland party.

We put the Portland Fermentation Festival together every year with a shoestring budget + heaps of volunteered hours and as always we’re so grateful that Ecotrust puts up with us year after year. Thank you again Ecotrust! We love you.

We had some great coverage this year including this spot on KGW News PDX Tonight with Drew Carney, as well as the KBOO Food Show with Chris Seigel, this Portland Monthly story by Kelly Clarke, Portland Tribune story by Jennifer Anderson, Portland Mercury coverage, Willamette Week and moooooore. I guess Portland is ok with us. Happy.

If you’d like to keep up with local fermenty goings-on please check out our website, Facebook and Twitter.

Below are a whole bunch of photos from Stinkfest! If you have some great ones too please post them to the Facebook page or Twitter them with the hashtag #pdxfermentfest.

Thank you, thank you, thank you and see you all again next year we hope! Stay stinky!

We kicked off the night with a fermentation experts panel with left to right: moderator George Winborn, Josh Grgas of Commons Brewery, David Barber of Picklopolis and Bingo Sandwiches, Nat West of Reverend Nat's Hard Cidery and Eric Finley of Chop Butchery & Charcuterie.

The panel sold out weeks before and folks asked a lot of great questions. Most importantly we all learned that size does really matter especially in regard to fermenting cucumbers for sour pickles 😉

And then the madness of the first tasting ensued.

Perennial festival favorite -- Matt Choi of Choi's Kimchi.

OlyKraut brought all kinds of awesomeness including super tasty krauts and sour pickles and...

Their addictive spicy pickle brine.

Thank you Sash! She recommends using it in Bloody Marys and I am definitely going to.

Sweet Honey Farm's Lil and Jme serving up yummy krauts.

Cute shot of Lil right before the doors opened.

Out on the mezzanine the lovely Claudia Lucero did a fresh cheese demo with recipes from her hot off the presses rad book One-Hour Cheeses. Love her.

And on the other side of the mezzanine another perennial festival fave Heidi Nestler (heidinestler.com) and her husband Daisuke did a natto demo.

KGW News' Drew Carney came and shot the beginning of the fest for PDX Tonight. "Bow ties and beards right there. Surrounded."

Snapped this one during set up of my friends Teresa and Rich of Pitch Dark Chocolate. Kind of wild how many folks don't know that chocolate is fermented.

My boots photobombed their chocolate. So yummy.

Jon Westdahl getting cozy with one of his crocks.

The awesome salame spread from Chop Butchery & Charcuterie.

Connie and Brian Shaw of Oregon Brineworks with all kinds of super tasty ferments including fermented hot sauce and ketchup, beet kvass, ginger gold kvass and more. Love these guys.

My friends Jess Bull and Jemma Stromwick at ticketing in the lobby. Couldn't do it without all of our amazing volunteers. Thank you!

It was a beautiful night and on the rooftop we had food and drink from Bingo Sandwiches, Reverend Nat's Hard Cider and Commons Brewery and...

Music from DJ Pickle Barrel! The first time I got up to the roof he was playing Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You. So good.

Ecotrust/Edible Portland superstar and part of the fest dream team Lola Milholland having a tasty Bingo Sandwich with Patrick Barber. We took some swigs from my flask and talked about soy sauce. Geeky goodness.

Cute Colin Franger of Blue Bus Cultured Foods before the flood of people.

Nat West of Reverend Nat's Hard Cidery's favorite ferment of the night -- the Blue Bus Kraut-chi. Pretty stinking tasty.

Definitely the craziest ferment of the night -- Nat's LAMB hard cider.

Nat checking on it at the cidery a week before the festival. Scarier than The Shining.

David Barber's friend Patrick Barber setting up Picklopolis samples. David was probably putting on his NASA socks when this photo was taken.

Love festival moments like this -- Gabe Rosen chef-owner of Biwa, Alem Gebrehiwot owner of Queen of Sheba and Eric Finley of Chop Butchery & Charcuterie shooting the shit and drinking hard cider on the mezzanine.

Biwa's Gabe and Ed demo'ing miso. They brought three of theirs and made a miso soup. Biwa is one of my very favorite Portland restaurants and they always come to the festival.

Careen Stoli's beautiful handmade crocks.

Brad's Bread -- soooo many awesome sourdoughs.

Including...

Cute depot -- Tim Root's daughter Lil and Adelaide and David Barber's tiny lil Junior. Kids 12 and under get in for free.

Tim Root's incredible poster. We are so lucky to have him as our festival poster artist. Yes!

The cuteness doesn't stop -- David and Junior.

Tasty jun and all kinds of yummy kombuchas -- coffee kombucha?! -- from Symple Foods.

Festival fave and veteran Tress Yelig of Salt, Fire & Time. I had seconds of her rose kombucha 😉

Portland Kraut Cooperative filling up samples.

Regular Portland Bread. They got a little newsy love on KGW.

One of their many tasty treats.

Awesome crowd.

Allison Kirley and Cathy right before the panel. Their kombucha was great.

George, me and David before we did our news spot. I love these two so much -- brothers from another mother.

Always my favorite closing shot -- George with his jet pack vacuum cleaner. All cleaned up and ready for cocktails!

Thank you everyone for making this year’s fest one of the very best. We love you!

Portland Fermentation Festival 2013 Redux

October 30th, 2013

Festival co-organizers me, George Winborn and David Barber with this year's special guest speaker Sandor Ellix Katz.

We couldn’t be happier about this year’s fourth annual Portland Fermentation Festival. We got Sandor Ellix Katz back as guest speaker, we had more exhibitors sharing fermented foods and recipes than ever, we took the party to another level literally on the rooftop with D.J. Pickle Barrel, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider and Upright Brewing, we had advance tickets sales and the talk and first tasting sold out and we had demo’s on everything from natto to nightshade-free kimchi.

It was a stinky good time and thank you so much to everyone who participated and attended! We put Portland Fermentation Festival together every year with a shoestring budget + heaps of volunteered hours and as always we’re so grateful that Ecotrust puts up with us every stinking (literally) year. Thank you again Ecotrust! We love you. Thank you to festival sponsor Willamette Week and to this year’s poster designer Tim Root as well.

If you’d like to keep up with local fermenty goings-on please check out our website, Facebook and Twitter.

I was able to take a good amount of photos at the festival last week so here they are in no particular order. I know that I missed some exhibitors and I may have even mixed up some names and folks. If so please let me know and sorry in advance. Alright, on to the photos. See you at the stink next year!

Let the madness begin!

Special guest Sandor Ellix Katz's talk.

First tasting!

Perennial festival faves the Biwa crew with their housemade miso. So good.

Andie Thompson sampling her super tasty liquid non-dairy kefir and ice cream.

Connie and Brian Shaw made the trek from Hood River with all sorts of delicious Oregon Brineworks ferments.

Heidi Nestler's very well attended natto demo. Heidi teaches some great cooking classes check out heidinestler.com.

Festival co-organizer Brineyman aka David Barber giving out all sorts of Picklopolis magic.

Tressa Yellig's Salt, Fire & Time kvass samples. As tasty as it is pretty.

Joshua Unterman's beautiful/functional handmade crocks.

Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy of Cooking Up a Story documenting the stink!

Eric Christensen of It's Alive! with his tasty krauts, raw crackers and bars.

Thomas Trotter's spicy/tangy/yummy fermented hot sauce.

Colin and Kristein Franger's of Blue Bus Kraut brought spicy kraut-chi and tasty straight-up kraut.

Lost Art Kitchen's Chris Musser's super informative nightshade-free kimchi demo. Check out www.lostartskitchen.com.

Sash Sunday's OlyKraut with yummy sea vegetable kraut.

Annie Moss with all sorts of fermenty good Tabor Breads.

Jon got Sandor to sign some of his crocks!

Toro Bravo charcuterie manager Josh Scofield sampling Toro's chorizo with the Toro Bravo Cookbook in tote that I was lucky enough to co-author. The charcuterie chapter was one of my favorites to write.

Choi's Kimchi in the house! Sooooo good.

Party on the rooftop with DJ Pickle Barrel, Reverend Nat's Hard Cider, Upright Brewing and Bingo Sandwiches.

DJ Pickle Barrel and one of Portland Fermentation Festival's best, best friends -- Ecotrust's Lola Milholland.

Amanda Englund's Lion Heart Kombucha.

Robert Jordan's tasty sourdough bread and pancakes.

Coreen Stoli's beautiful porcelain crocks.

More madness!

The dynamic Bitz curtido demo duo.

Ivy Stovall's shiso pretty pink pickles.

Eva Sipple's yummy Eva's Herbucha.

Judge D. Finklea and Lindsay Dekey's fruit kimchi and kombucha.

Megan Denton of Able Farms sampled her kraut and kombucha.

What better way to end this with Lynne Van Dusen's beautiful smile sampling her Vine to Brine lacto-fermented sodas?

See you all at the stink next year & thanks for making this one so fantastic!

Oregon Mint Pt. 4

January 30th, 2012

If you aren't in the Portland area or visiting anytime soon you can buy Steven Smith Tea online here.

This is my last installment for the Oregon mint story. This section was going to be a sidebar for the print version…

Peppermint isn’t the only mint…

Sure, peppermint takes the cake in Oregon, but spearmint is a close second in terms of in-state cultivation. Two main differences between the mints are that peppermint plants are taller with bigger leaves, and peppermint has a stronger flavor and aroma than the sweeter, lighter tasting and smelling spearmint.

Steven Smith of Steven Smith Teamaker, a boutique tea company specializing in full leaf, small batch tea with a retail shop on Northwest Thurman, has been working with the same local spearmint growers since the mid-1970s — Don, Monty and Marvin Mills of Mills Mint Farm in Stanfield, Oregon in Northeastern Oregon. The Mills family was amongst the first in Oregon to cultivate spearmint and peppermint.

In the mid-70s Smith was a co-owner of Stash Tea before it was sold in 1993 to Yamamotoyama in Japan. At that time Smith and the other Stash owners and employees purchased field run mint (unprocessed mint directly from the farm) from the Mills family and cleaned it in what is now !Oba! Restaurante but which was then Stash Tea headquarters. They used the mint for their tea and also sold mint to Lipton Tea and Celestial Seasonings.

Says Smith, “We cleaned mint there and stored some of it across the street in the Maddox Transfer building before they called the area the Pearl district – I think it should have been named the Mint District for the way it smelled back then.”

After selling Stash in the early 1990s Smith started Tazo Tea in his home kitchen which he sold to Starbucks in 1999 and continued to work for until 2006. In late 2009, Smith opened his newest tea endeavor — Steven Smith Teamaker — in the brick building next to the former Carlyle Restaurant on Northwest Thurman Street.

All of Smith’s spearmint to this day comes from Mills Mint Farm which cultivates 400 acres of spearmint annually with minimal inputs thanks to regular crop rotation (corn, wheat and peas) and intensive hand weeding. If you’d like to try Mills’ local leaves they are blended in Smith’s Fez tea — a combination of Mao Feng China green tea, Oregon spearmint and Australian lemon myrtle leaves.

When asked why Smith still works with Mills Mint Farm he answers succinctly, “Flavor, appearance, aroma, overall approach to business, and long standing relationship.”

Who can argue with that?

Steven Smith Teamaker
1626 NW Thurman St.
Portland, OR
503.719.8752
www.smithtea.com

Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

Oregon Mint Pt. 3

January 16th, 2012

Butler Farms peppermint oil packs a punch.

Peppermint oil distillation takes place immediately after mint harvest at Butler Farms. The diesel powered boiler is the heart of the operation. It creates the steam that travels through the manifold and stainless steel lines into the just harvested mint hay tubs. The mint oil is extracted by the steam and channeled through stainless pipes to the condenser. As the steam cools in the condenser it liquefies and collects in the receding cans. Then by virtue of the fact that oil is lighter than water the oil naturally separates and is poured off into barrels.

For every acre of peppermint that the Butlers cultivate, they process roughly 90 to 100 pounds of peppermint oil, which translates to 40,000 pounds of peppermint oil a year. It takes a mere pound of the extremely potent oil to flavor 55,000 sticks of gum.

There are currently 21,000 acres devoted to mint oil production in Oregon grown by 150 farms, according to Bryan Ostlund of the Oregon Mint Commission. Nearly 70 percent of all peppermint grown in-state, in fact, is distilled into peppermint oil. That’s a lot of gum.

Tim Butler with a tiny jar of the mint oil that his farm produces and distills...

Of course, it doesn’t all become an ingredient in gum. Flavor houses purchase Butler Farms’ peppermint oil from a handler, and in turn sell it to oral care, candy and medical companies such as Colgate, Wrigley, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer.

Ostlund says that the recent history of Oregon mint oil production isn’t entirely rosy. Due to rapid changes in the retail business in the 1990s, “the pressure was on, and still is on, to cheapen products,” he notes. According to Ostlund, many of the older flavor house dependent companies continue to value high quality oil, especially with their older products particularly food and candy products. But, he adds, “Companies with new products coming into production, generally are not putting as high of a priority on quality ingredients. That’s usually when cheaper and inferior foreign mint oil comes into the equation. Essentially, companies are dumbing down their ingredients.”

Where Butler farms peppermint turns into peppermint oil.

The Willamette Valley has the highest flavor profile quality of peppermint oil in state. It is exceptionally bright and distinct with a nice level of menthofuran (a potent component of mint oil) which is why companies such as Atkinson Candy Company in Lufkin, Texas use it almost exclusively. Other Oregon mint production regions generally produce mint that doesn’t stand alone and requires blending.

Peppermint oil from India, China and South America is often significantly cheaper than domestic peppermint oil but that is of inferior quality. Says Butler, “It all comes down to the consumer. The consumer tells the Wrigleys and Wal-Marts and Costcos what they want; and the superstores tell the flavor houses what they want. Sure they want quality but they also want it cheap. That’s the way it is with all agricultural commodities.”

Despite this sort of cost-cutting and disregard for quality Butler Farms has no plans to slow down its mint oil production. And why should they? According to Bruce Pokarney, director of communication for Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon is the second leading US producer of peppermint and peppermint is ranked #15 of all Oregon commodities in value. Tim Butler is proud to cultivate such an important Oregon commodity. If in upcoming years we as a state can find a way to market Oregon-grown mint oil as a stand alone ingredient these numbers and percentages will likely grow. Maybe we’ll even become the number one peppermint producer in the country.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this story.
Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint

Oregon Mint Pt. 2

December 26th, 2011

Butler Farms in Stayton, Oregon in December 2010.

Although peppermint grows easily in Oregon it has its problems, like most crops, when cultivated on a large scale. Butler Farms wages a continuous battle with pests–everything from spider mites, cutworm, crane fly and nemotodes to symphylans, mint rust and verticillium wilt. One year, they lost 25 percent of their peppermint crop to mint rust. Mint rust, a fungus that blisters and destroys mint leaves, took Butler Farms from profitable to breakeven in one short week.

In other words, says Butler, “You don’t just throw it out there and hope for the best, because there wouldn’t be much.”

In the Willamette Valley, peppermint is perennial. It awakens from its winter dormancy in late January to early February. At that point, Tim Butler goes out into his fields with a winter herbicide spray to keep the weeds at bay.

By the first of March, the peppermint shoots are visible and growing quickly but Butler’s first fertilizer and fungicide applications don’t happen until several weeks later in mid-April. Butler then crosses his fingers, hoping that insecticide application isn’t necessary.

Throughout the year the Butlers monitor their fields with integrated pest management. An agronomy professional scouts the farm testing for nemotodes and other detrimental insects. Depending on the results, some fields get insecticide application while others don’t.

From April on, the peppermint is hungry and thirsty as it grows at breakneck speed. In the summer it’s irrigated with roughly an inch to an inch and a half of water weekly and fertilized heavily as well.

Early-to-mid-August at Butler Farms means peppermint harvest. They swath it, put it in rows, chop it, and pick it up with a harvester (similar to alfalfa, clover and corn harvest). From the field the mint goes into eight- to nine-ton mint hay tubs which are taken to the mint still by truck.

Stay tuned for the next two installments of this story.

Stay tuned for the next two installments of this story.
Read Pt. 1 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint

Oregon Mint Pt. 1

December 19th, 2011

Edible Portland sent this lovely card out to folks for the holidays.

So even though I’m pretty stinking busy right now working on the Toro Bravo Cookbook as well as being an editor and publicist for Hawthorne Books I’m still freelance food writing. I love covering our local food culture.

I wrote a story about Oregon mint for Edible Portland a while back and due to space constraints it didn’t make it as planned into this winter’s issue of magazine that just published. Despite getting nixed something cool happened to my story. See that card above? Mary Kate McDevitt took my story — followed up on some of the facts and figures — and made it into a beautiful holiday card for Edible Portland that I and probably many of you recently received in the mail. Literary transubstantiation!

Since I interviewed a lot of great people for my mint story I thought it would be a shame to not get it out there so with Edible Portland’s permission I’m posting it for you here in several installments and with a fair few photos. Hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the first installment…

There’s an old poster of Reba McIntyre push-pinned to the bulletin board of Tim Butler’s small fluorescent-lit farm office in Stayton, Oregon. Just below sit two small, mustard-sized jars of oil–peppermint oil. Like most oil, it doesn’t look like much: It is pretty clear with a faint straw hue. But when Butler opens a jar, a minty aroma immediately fills the room. The smell is intoxicating.

Butler Farms in Stayton, Oregon — just south of Salem — is a little less than a decade shy of becoming a century farm. Tim Butler’s maternal grandparents purchased the farm and its then 160 acres in 1918. Butler’s mom grew up on the farm; Tim, now 61 years old, grew up on the farm with his siblings; and Tim’s children, who are all adults now, grew up here. These days Butler, two of his brothers and a nephew run 2,100-acre Butler Farms. Tim’s wife, Joanie, is the farm bookkeeper.

Peppermint is integral to Butler Farms. They cultivate 400-plus acres of it annually, in addition to various vegetable crops, and every last bit is distilled on premises into peppermint oil. They began growing peppermint in 1995 after learning of a neighbor’s success.

“That’s typical of farmers,” says Butler. “You watch what your neighbor’s doing. If he’s successful at it you think, ‘Well I can do that too.’”

The Butlers are not alone in Oregon mint cultivation. The state is second in the nation in terms of peppermint cultivation (a very close second to Washington) and has seven main cultivation regions: the Willamatte Valley, Klamath Basin (including Susanville, Northern California and Tulelake), Madras, Hermiston, Ontario, Klatskanie and La Grande. The Madras and Hermiston areas focus primarily on peppermint leaf production while the Willamette Valley specializes almost entirely on peppermint oil production…

Stay tuned for the next three installments of this story.
Read Pt. 2 Oregon Mint
Read Pt. 3 Oregon Mint