ENCINITAS — Yeah, Austin Durant can pickle that.
It’s a premise maybe best suited for an episode of “Portlandia,” but it’s happening for real here, too.
Durant first started fermenting about six years ago and since then has fermented anywhere from 15 to 20 different foods.
And the Normal Heights resident is returning to Encinitas for the second time in as many years with his Fermentation Festival, celebrating the ancient tradition of fermenting foods and beverages.
“All ferments are pickled, but not all pickles are fermented,” said Durant, who is also the founder and chief fermentation officer of the Fermenters Club in San Diego.
When most people would hear the word fermentation, they’d probably think of beer and bread, Durant explained. But since starting the club five years ago, he’s noticed that more people are aware of fermentation and the health benefits that stem from the process.
His discovery into the world of fermented foods came while on a “journey,” he said, of understanding where food comes from.
On that journey, he came to understand what organic meant and what eating seasonally and eating locally meant.
“And along that journey, I discovered this ancient tradition that pretty much every culture has done throughout the eons,” Durant said. “It was done as a way to preserve or transform food and I just got hooked.”
Fermenting had just been a hobby for Durant up until last year when he decided to leave his job in the corporate world and make the leap into a new career, running the club and festival and hosting instructional workshops on all things fermentation.
Last year’s festival saw about 1,000 enthusiasts turn out. This, year, he’s looking to see attendance increase by at least another 500 people.
Dr. Rob Knight, a professor at UCSD and co-founder of the American Gut Project, will serve as keynote speaker. The event also features 14 different workshops, live music and food and drink sampling.
When compared to other cities like San Francisco and Portland (Durant hosted a fermentation festival in Portland last year, which he plans to do again this year), he said San Diego is still a little bit behind in the amount of fermenters around.
“But what does that even mean? It just means there’s more opportunity for sharing wealth of knowledge.”
And the fermentation culture does appear to be undergoing a boom, possibly because of people’s interests in digestive health. Locally, kombucha companies, for instance, have been taking off, like Living Tea Brewing Company in Oceanside and Kombucha Culture in Encinitas, to name a couple.
According to Kombucha Brewers International, a nonprofit trade association, kombucha is currently a $660 million industry.
Durant said that it’s incredibly easy to get started fermenting at home, too.
Fermenting, which is different than canning, starts off with brine (salt and water), Durant explained, and then the natural lactic acid bacteria do their thing, transforming the brine into lactic acid.
The easiest food to start with — sauerkraut, he said. “Take cabbage, shred it, add salt, pack it into a jar and that’s all you need to do.
“The hardest part is waiting,” Durant added. “Just being patient and letting the natural fermentation happen.”
Though through the fermentation process, things can get smelly. Kimchi, for example, has the power to clear out a room.
“After about three days, your house is going to smell,” Durant said. “It can get stinky, some (foods) more than others. Kimchi has a lot more pungent ingredients.”
And sometimes the process can go wrong, he said.
“It’s a natural process…if there’s an errant mold spore in the air, if there was something on the vegetable that you put in there that takes over before the good bacteria take over, it can go bad. And what that means is you simply wouldn’t eat it. I tell people to trust your senses because they’re going to tell you whether something’s really offensive and you don’t want to eat it.”
But what Durant hopes people come away with from the festival is that fermenting foods is easy and it’s safe, it’s delicious and it’s healthy. “And this is another way to create connections with your neighbors and friends and community is by making and sharing this stuff.”
The San Diego Fermentation Festival at Coastal Roots Farm, 450 Quail Gardens Drive, is Jan. 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $35 with beverage garden and children under 12 are free. Visit sandiegofermentationfestival.com for tickets and scheduling.