Here is a story featuring food but also somehow tightly connected to the winemaking process and I found interesting that three winemakers were taking part to an age-old food preparation using a natural fermentation process. I witnessed a few years ago (story) how Russians in the deep country keep preparing canned vegetables using the same simple and healthy method, the lacto-fermentation, which allows them to keep vegetables with their vitamins and other properties through the long winter without preservatives or fridges. In Russia millions of people (and not only farmers) keep preparing their winter food through this simple process, and oddly, the soviet-era food shortages helped maintain this heathy tradition while in our western countries the modernism and prosperity led people away from these practices and pushed them in the supermarkets.
But lacto-fermentation is a good way for consumers who have patience and a piece of land to vote with their feet from mass-produced products.
I stumbled into this thing as I called Laurent before a weekend I was to spend in Touraine, when I heard that he was in the middle of a lacto-fermentation of vegetables with two other winemakers in the old farm house at Pouillé, I thought this might be interesting, you don't come across winemakers doing canned food everyday.
Yes, all right, I must admit that I suspected there would be at some point one or two very enjoyable wines popping up along the way, and that was already a strong motive to go there and see what was going on...
Here is the scene I saw when I entered the house at la Tesnière outside Pouillé, everybody was busy peeling or grating their respective share of vegetables on the long wooden table (Maïlys doing the carrots). the three winemakers involved in this new adventure was Laurent Saillard, a New York restaurateur-turned-winemaker, Paul Gillet who now runs Les Maisons Brülées and Julien Pineau who has been making wine a couple of years with Jean-Christophe Comor and who is now looking for other opportunities in this corner of the Loire. These guys I'm sure regularly do biodynamic preparations together now and then and here they were working on the basic-food side, the one that can really make a difference in their own lives (and in ours as well by the virtue of emulation). Maïlys who gives a hand here is not a winemaker (yet) but she did the harvest several years at Hervé Villemade, quite a good reference...
Paul Gillet was not there that day but he had already prepared his share of vegetables, and Laurent showed me the central vessel they use for this lacto-fermentation process : it is a German pot specially designed to prepare sauerkraut, the maker is Gärtopf and by the way you find these type of pots in Alsace too with this German tradition of preparing sauerkraut the old way. There's a system on the top to make it airtight with water, so that cgas can come out but not in. Paul Gillet who spent years in Alsace had a friend who brought him these 20-liter pots and his own was already full with sauerkraut in the making. You can find on the website of this German company all the accessory tools needed for your preparation and canning of your garden vegetables including this insightful page about the hidden benefits of these rustic foods, particularly sauerkraut (use Google Translate if you're not familiar with German) : vitamin C, anti depressant, protects against ulcers, infection and even cancer... If after that you don't rush to Amazon.de to order one of these wonder fermenters, you deserve to die...
These three winemakers decided to each make a different batch, Paul did the sauerkraut (choucroute in French), Laurent chose the carrots and Julien did turnips & beets. Once this all will be ready they'll split the fermenters and have the content canned so that each of them gets a share of the different vegetables. In short the work together like they by the way often to to give a hand for the winery/vineyard tasks. They're not sure but they think that once filled and covered with the water-sealed lid they're going to wait one of two months that the natural process does the magic.
The mix of turnips and beets is almost plentiful enough to fill the 20-liter fermenter, but they'll be wondering till the actuall filling if more is needed as the volume will shrink a bit under the action of the salt. Laurent like the other guys grows vegetables but the production is not yet big enough to make such preparations possible, so he (like the others if I remember) bought the vegetables to a young organic-vegetable producer who had just opened shop in the area. For Laurent who has always been fond of real products including when he was shopping at the farmer's markets there in Brooklyn. In the Loire he also experiments with raising piglets until adult age and process them in diverse charcuteries and other delicacies (see bottom of this story).
Speaking of New York and organic food, a recent transplant from Brooklyn is opening shop in Paris, something that could change a lot regarding organic food : Park Slope Food Coop is kind of getting a franchise here in Paris, duplicating this format of organic food stores operated by members and where only members can buy stuff, the result being the excitement a collective movement and discount prices compared to the organic-food chains, in short a revolution and the affordability of otrganic food for everyone. The name of this French version will be La Louve.
On the issue of cut-price opportunities in Paris and while I was considering waiting for my next Japan trip to change my glasses at Jins, I found a recently-opened optician that seems to be shaking a business that has been ripping us off for so many years: Lunettes pour Tous seems to take the same path as Jins with glasses and mounts at the reach of everyone (no sponsoring here, just a tip for my Parisian readers).
This age-old recipe for canned vegetables is so simple we can wonder why we abandonned it for dubious products often laced with preservatives and other enhancers, but we're familiar with the issue with the wine. The difference is, making wine is quite difficult while doing this is so simple.
Here Julien is preparing the ideal dose of salt for the lacto-fermentation, Laurent says that about 8 to 10 grams per kilo is the good weight. Julien brought this gros sel salt, it's not any salt but a very special and natural sea salt prepared by a couple named Emmanuel Violleau & Nathalie Lechat (Salines de Millac). The added salt is going to bring water out of the vegetables and there will be some sort of fermentation with the sugar turning into lactic acid, and he says that you can keep it very long then, and it's very good for the intestinal flora.
Another thing is that the size of the vegetables pieces has an impact of the final acidity of this sort of sauerkraut : Laurent opted for bigger cuts compared to grated carrots because the bigger the pieces, the less acidic the canned vegetables will be at the end. Samely, Julien cut his tirnips and beets in relatively thick slices, and for the same reason.
This vegetable preparation or recipe is named a saumure or brine in English (no relation with Saumur as far as I know). Laurent says that he's been doing saumure for a while, usually with green beans in spring (the guy is a cook, for sure...), using a recipe he discovered when he was living in New York, it's called dilly beans. Like for latter this recipe he'll put the 20-liter fermenters near a heat source to start the fermentation process.
Here you can see that Julien adds a few spices, you may not know the exact recipe after all, they have to keep their thing personnal...
Maïlys (pic on right) also used a Microplane at one point (to get thin cuts of ginger if I'm right), this kitchen tool being a narrow grater fit for very thin grating, Laurent explains that it was invented by a carpenter who wanted to design a rasp, Laurent says that he can't work in the kitchen without a microplane now.
Time to fill the pots, the carrots will be by themselves and the turnips and beets together. Laurent is dropping handfuls of carrots into his own fermenter. I can tell in fact that among the spices added on top of that there will be ginger and mustard for the carrots, and coriander and cumin on the beets/turnips.
They cut the vegetables by hand instead of using a machine because doing it with an electric kitchen tool heats the fabric of the vegetable and may harm the properties of the vegetable.
That's when we had a glass of a beautiful red made by Julien (picture on top) : he made this wine with the grapes that had been forgotten on the vines of Clos Roche Blanch (where he has been working this past season), he passed along the rows and picked all thse grapes which had been either forgotten or just left aside because they were too small or not ripe back then in the regular harvest 1 month and a half before. you have several varietals vinified together here, as he picked every grape he could find to make a sizeable, if small, volume of wine. There is cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, pineau d'aunis and gamay. No need to say that this is not even a table wine, this is illegal and doesn't even exist officially, and yet, this is so pleasant to drink...
Julien made this wine in his kitchen for a total volume of 50 bottles, really nothing. This late picking took place in november, he made a 5-day maceration with whole-clustered grapes that he stomped a bit to get some juice out, and 3 days later he added more grapes atop of that and stomped with the feet. There's not a single addition of sulfur in this wine. I wonder how enologists take such a pain to doctor their wines with techniques and additives when this simple work yields such a pleasant result...
Laurent filled the fermenter with the 10 kilograms of carrots and we waited a few minutes to see the result.
This was amazing, as soon as the vegetables had been sprinkled with salt and put into the fermenters, water began to come out in such a volume that the only thing you could see was the colored juice. To keep the vegetables down, there's a ceramic lid that comes with the fermenter, and when you consider that the fermenter is properly filled you lay this weight atop, leaving the water and juice on the surface. It took just a handful of minutes between the two pictures to have all this water come out.
The fermenters must not be filled more than 4/5, according to the flyer going with the pots. Once the sugar is eaten the fermentation stops by itself.
These canned vegetables can be prepared year around, following their availability in the garden. Laurent says that in this register he has been preparing Kimchi regularly, and he says he may try to use this German fermenter for a kimchi also.
Speaking of nice and healthy products, Laurent and Julien have a a couple projects together beyond this vegetable lacto-fermentation, one of them being to keep sheep in a vineyard, these would be a small-size breed and they would roam around in autumn/winter to eat the grass.
Laurent says he got lots of inspiration from friends of his, Jori Jayne Emde and her husband Zak, Jori Layne is doing wonders with vegetables and organic preparations in upstate New York, he told me about vegetables she prepared using daikon radish with a soya sauce base, leaving it in a fermenter all winter through successive frost and defrost cycles, this all seems very healthy and also connected to ancient food preparations. She has farm animals, she makes mouth wash and picks herbs around for extracts. You can check her products on her webpage Lady Jaynes Alchemy (subtitled : Made in a barn in the woods). Zak Pelaccio, her husband was a chez in New York city and he moved to upstate New York with his wife (in the Hudson valley) and opened a restaurant named Fish & Game.
There was then this other bottle brought by Laurent, I expected a sparkling wine of some sort but it was a Loirette beer (an artisanal brewery located in Touraine) which was mistakenly delivered to him : it was a leftover case dating from 2013 that accidently landed in the delivery and even the guys at the brewery were curious about this "old vintage" beer because the produce and sell at such a pace that they can't stock on the side a few cases to see how it ages, and if not with this forgotten case thare resurfaced by accident they had no real experience on how their artisanal beer ages.
This beer is 18 months old and it is very interesting, I'm not familiar with the just-brewed version but this one tastes so good, very aromatic and savoury with a light bitterness to underline the whole thing. Laurent is going to ship one of these bottles to the brewers.