I’ve been captivated with the way fermented foods make me feel for quite some time. If my digestion gets a little wonky, all I have to do is add a bit of raw, fermented sauerkraut to dinner, and I’m back to 100 percent.
My favorite sauerkraut is from In The Kitchen in Nevada City, a locally-owned business that creates fermented foods as well as hosting cooking classes and small events in their immaculate, certified kitchen. I love their old fashioned, German-style sauerkraut. It’s amazing. I’m also a tad obsessed with their Carrapeño — it’s fantastic on Southeast Asian sandwiches.
Celebrating the cycle of produce, from farm to plate, was the inspiration behind In The Kitchen’s fermented line of foods.
Joe Meade, Wendy Van Wagner, and Wendy’s brother Tim Van Wagner, banded together to create healthy, fermented foods including sauerkraut, Kimchi, dill pickles, and more.
“You grow all of this beautiful food, and then how do you preserve that?” wondered Meade. “Can we make a product for this community that was grown here, made here?”
They did research, planned plots on the farm specifically for cabbage, sourced regional jars and labels, designed the labels, and acquired permits. After the long administrative process was completed, they began selling the product in June, 2010.
“From the start, we weren’t doing this to make money – it’s about advocacy and awareness,” explained Meade. “It’s about the local food movement. Someone had to take the risk, and we feel really blessed that it was us.”
They are really proud that they are able to pay the farmers close to market value for produce. There’s security in that guaranteed sale as well as being assured that they’re getting paid the same as they would if they were selling at a farmers market.
Five percent of the money made goes back to Living Lands Agrarian Network – the group of which Van Wagner is a part. What enables them to do so much is that they have access to both produce as well as a certified kitchen. When they’re not creating fermented foods, In The Kitchen is used for cooking classes and events.
“If we didn’t have the production facility, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it,” explained Meade.
And they find it fun – even when confronted by a mountain of cabbage after a work day, they still enjoy the process. It’s a family project that’s made easier because of the close relationships they have with one another.
“It’s fulfilling,” said Tim Van Wagner.
“It’s fun,” added Meade.
Making a healthy product for the community doesn’t hurt either. Meade and Van Wagner explained that every culture has a fermented food – sauerkraut, kefirs, many fermented drinks, yogurt, etc.
“The pH that is generated is a pretty powerful preservative,” said Meade.
“The bacteria that spoil food can’t exist in that environment,” said Van Wagner.
He explained that our digestion is dependent upon certain bacteria. The lactobacilli that is found in fermented foods helps to break down nutrients for absorption.
“There is really something for me that has a real balance affect … you can literally feel it in your body,” explained Meade.
“It definitely strengthens your immune system,” added Van Wagner.
Currently, In The Kitchen produces two sauerkrauts, an original and a German style with juniper berries and caraway; dill pickles; Kimchi made of daikon radish, Napa cabbage, ginger, and red jalapeños; and their signature creation developed by Tim Van Wagner, Carrapeño, a fermented hot relish made of carrots supplied by Leo Chapman, jalapeños, and sea salt.
They said the Carrapeño was the perfect complement to any number of dishes because of the heat and intensity of the jalapeño, the sweetness and earthiness of the carrots, and the tartness from the lacto fermentation. Meade is even using the brine in recipes in which you’d traditionally use ingredients like apple cider vinegar.