REAL Kombucha create a range of sparkling wines by fermenting premium Kombucha and using exquisite loose-leaf teas. Back in 2016 founder David Begg found a real need for non-alcoholic beverages that could be paired well with great food - much like you would pair a great glass of wine with a dish. When a friend introduced him to earthy and rich kombucha he realised there could be a fab alternative to wine!
REAL Kombucha know a thing or two about fermenting and have perfected their fermentation process to produce fruity, spicey, floral and aromatic flavours in their sparkling wines. The team at REAL Kombucha were excited to meet someone who knew just as much about fermenting as they did…
Tell us a bit about you and your role at THE PIG?
My name is Ravid and I am the sous chef at THE PIG-at Combe. I was born and raised in Israel and grew up in a very food orientated family, my mother is a chef and my Italian grandmother was one of the best cook’s I knew. The Israeli food culture is very heavily influenced by pickling, fermenting, and preserving. To be honest I cannot think of many dishes that don’t involve something pickled, salted, brined or fermented.
At THE PIG, we love to get the most out of everything we grow! Pickling and fermenting is an amazing and efficient way to preserve almost anything as well as adding an amazing acidity that’s desperately needed to most dishes. We also make our own kombuchas that can be found at The Folly at THE PIG-at Combe, flavoured with foraged aromats and home-grown herbs, fruits and berries. Lacto fermentation has also become a big part of our weekly prep list. More on that below…
Can you tell us what fermenting is and how did you discover it? Where did you learn it?
Fermentation is essentially ‘controlled spoilage’. What we do is use mould, bacteria and yeast to convert sugars into other substances. The controlled part just means the control over oxygen as some fermentation process require oxygen (aerobic) fermentation such as kombucha. Whereas other processes require the total absence of oxygen (anaerobic) such as lacto fermentation and the control of the PH level as well as salinity. The results are so incredible due to the fact that starchy, sugary and high protein foods are made up of long, micro stands of starch or proteins, through various methods. The fermentation process breaks down the long chains into smaller amino acids which are easier for our complex palette to recognise. Fermenting different produce can even enhance some of the flavours – bonus! One of the most important amino acids that is produced during fermentation is called ‘Glutamic acid’. Which registers to us as Umami, the savouriness, moreish flavour we get from a really good cheese or soy sauce.
Although I’ve learned a lot from my mum, books like “the Noma guide to fermentation” and the work of “Harold McGee” have introduced me to the ins and outs of how fermentation works, and how it could be made better. I have taken all of this knowledge and learnt even more about fermenting since working at THE PIG-at Combe.
Could you explain the basic steps in the fermenting process? So, we can give readers a basic how-to guide so we they recreate at home.
Lacto fermentation is a pretty good place to start, simply because it is one of the easiest methods. All you’ll need is a clean, sterile jar, a lunch bag, a starchy sugary ingredient (this could be anything from berries to chillies) and at least 2% of salt (for example 100g of chillies would require 2g of salt).
Make sure you mix all of the ingredients in with the salt well and then place in the sterile jar, then use the lunch bag filled with water to press down and get all of the air out. Then just the lid tight and then the products can be fermented from up to 5 days or even a couple of months at a time.
You will find the end result will have added an amazing acidity to a venison dish, or the liquid that will made a fantastic salad dressing will be an unforgettable luxury that can’t be mimicked in any other way.
Why do you think fermented drinks and foods are rising in popularity?
At THE PIG-at Combe we make Kombucha as well as having REAL Kombucha on our drink’s menus, it is something I struggle to live without at home. I like to start every morning with a glass of Kombucha and since doing so I have felt the best I have in a long time. Fermented drinks such as Kombucha and kefir milks are packed with amazing probiotics that are vital for a healthy gut. So not only do they add a ton of flavour and acidity to the food, a lot of fermented foods/ drinks are really good for us. I think that with many of us taking care of ourselves and wanting to ensure we are as healthy can be, the rise in fermented food and drinks comes down to this.
How do you decide what to ferment and when you have ‘hit the spot’?
I try to ferment things that are high in starch and sugars, as well as kickstarting a good fermentation, starchy foods tend to hold their integrity a bit better. Every gherkin lover knows it’s all about the crunch. I also think the best way to find out if something ferments well is to just go for it! Make a small batch, and either way you will be in for a surprise and that’s part of the fun trying new things because you might just stumble across a real gem! One of my favourite discovery is lacto fermented wild ceps. The salty, ever so slightly sour liquid I was left with that made for the best mushroom and Wiltshire truffle risotto I’ve ever tasted.
THE PIG locations are often imbued with history. Does that history come into it when you're fermenting? Do you take inspiration from it for your flavours, or perhaps even use old fermentation recipes that are related to the time period of the building?
Fermentation itself has been recorded back to ancient Rome, where they would famously ferment grapes into wine, and less famously make the most popular condiment at the time called Garum (a salty, funky condiment made from the fermented liquid of salted fish). By fermenting at THE PIGS, we are engaging with a very old method of preserving. It is also an amazing way to preserve some of our amazing garden produce, to use during wetter, less yielding months of the year.
REAL Kombucha sell premium kombucha online and ship from their brewery in the Chiltern Hills. Try it for yourself here.