A Q&A with Jeremy Ogusky, Boston Fermentation Festival founder
Sauerkraut is a gateway drug. Gateway to the wide world of healthy, flavorful fermentation.
Luckily for you, the fifth annual Boston Fermentation Festival is coming to the Boston Public Market on Aug 27 to celebrate all tasty rotten things. From a “kraut mob” to microbiomes and twice-fermented bagels, the event is perfect for connoisseurs and the newly interested alike, according to festival founder Jeremy Ogusky. Oh, and did we mention the cocktails? We asked Ogusky about all of it.
So, why fermentation? Health benefits? Taste? What brought you over to the fermentation side?
I think fermentation has a lot of draw, a lot of reasons to be interested in it. I’m interested in it for the flavor; that’s what originally brought me in. But after learning about fermented flavors and the process, I learned a lot more about the health benefits, and I also connected the dots in terms of my family, where they’re from, the fermented foods that my grandparents and my great-grandparents used to make and eat all the time. My family is all originally from Eastern Europe, specifically Lithuania and the Czech Republic where a lot of food and drink is fermented.
A lot of people are interested in the health benefits. We’re finding—there’s all kinds of new studies—we’re realizing that eating food that is alive and full of healthy bacteria and microorganisms is really good for us. Not eating homogenous, radiated, pasteurized, dead food …
Wait, so you’re saying we maybe shouldn’t eat McDonald’s for every meal?
Well, it’s not just McDonald’s. A lot of the food we eat is not full of life. We’ve made our food homogenous. We’ve made food a lot safer in many ways, and it’s led to a lot of really great advances, but maybe we’ve gone a little bit overboard and killed all the life in our food. That’s affecting our bodies … our food is not, and then our bodies are not, full of the diversity of microorganisms that we need to be healthy.
People have been talking about this for generations, but now Science with a capital “S” is starting to catch up. The amount of diversity in microbes in just a forkful of sauerkraut is incomparable to what’s in a probiotic capsule, and people are starting to catch on to that.
Catch on indeed—you had over 14,000 people attend the festival last year. What are you most excited for at this year’s fifth annual fermentation festival?
Every year it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit better. I think what I’m most excited about is that fermentation is a really cool window into all sorts of other really neat topics. There are lots of clinicians and medical health experts who come to the festival, and there are also lots of farmers and urban homesteaders and DIY folks that come, who are just interested in making things themselves. And there are a lot of science people who are interested in microbiology or brewing. It’s really cool to get these groups together in the same room, talking to each other. They don’t often get to come together like that.
You have a great lineup of speakers this year. Are there any, say, at-home fermenters or microbiology experts we should look out for especially?
Two really cool people that are coming are Michael Harlan Turkell, who has a show on the Heritage Food Network, a food podcast, and recently wrote a book called “Acid Trip” where he basically fermented vinegar all over the world. He’s from New York City, and he’s a really creative food journalist.
I’ve paired him with a friend of mine named Jitti Chaithiraphant, who is a local chef and vinegar maker here in Boston. Michael’s going to be talking about the history of vinegar making and then Jitti is actually going to have samplings of a bunch of these vinegars that he’s been working on. He does all kinds of wild vinegars—things you would have never thought about … like banana vinegar.
A lot of our speakers are going to be multisensory. People are going to be learning and they’re going to be listening and tasting at the same time.
Along with speakers, you’ll also have activities like this so-called kraut mob. Could you tell me a little about that?
The kraut mob is always super successful and fun. It’s called a kraut mob because it becomes a mob of people all learning how to make sauerkraut. It’s totally free. We’ll have probably 600 pounds of vegetables all piled up … and anyone can just walk up and learn how to make sauerkraut and then walk away with a jar full of fermenting and bubbling cabbage. It’s very simple, and it’s a great introduction to fermentation if you’re a bit skeptical or nervous or just curious. Sauerkraut is a great gateway drug to fermentation.
Right next to the kraut mob on the plaza at the Boston Public Market, we’re having a libations garden. We’re going to have all different local fermenters who create alcohol. We’ll have small distillers there giving samples, we’ll have cocktails, we’ll have small brewers, all New England based, and some cider makers and sake makers and mead and everything else.
And this year we’re doing something really cool. We’re having a farmer’s market sweep afterparty. From 5 to 7 after the festival, we’ve recruited five local bartenders to spend the day collecting fermented ingredients. Each of them are sponsored by a local distiller. At the afterparty they’re going to create cocktails with the spirit of their sponsor and whatever they’ve collected. So if you come to the afterparty, you’ll get to taste five custom fermentation-forward cocktails and vote for your favorite.
FIFTH ANNUAL BOSTON FERMENTATION FESTIVAL 2017. SUN 8.27. BOSTON PUBLIC MARKET, 100 HANOVER ST., BOSTON. 10AM–4PM/FREE/ALL AGES.
FARMER’S MARKET SWEEP AFTERPARTY. SUN 8.27. BOSTON PUBLIC MARKET, 100 HANOVER ST., BOSTON. 5–7PM/$25/21+.