„Archaeologists believe that human collecting of honey predates our cultivation of the soil … When by chance or intention honey is mixed with water, fermentation happens. When the honey is pure, it acts as a preservative and inhibits microscopic life. But honey diluted with water becomes a stimulating medium for airborne yeast to land, feast upon, and reproduce exponentially, bubbling and vividly alive. Within a short time, the honey-water will be mead, its sugars having been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of tiny beings invisible to the human eye.
… It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks. The production of mead does not require fire, and possibly it has been part of human life for even longer than controlled fire. Imagine the wonder and awe our ancestors must have felt as they first encountered fermenting honey-water in the hollow of a tree. Were they scared by the bubbling? Or just curious? Once they tasted it, they must have liked it and drunk more. Then they started to experience a light, giddy feeling. Surely some divine spirit granted them this substance and the state it induced.
… The learning of techniques to ferment alcohol and thus enter sacred states of altered consciousness is a defining characteristic of human culture, made possible by the life-cycles of humble yeast cultures.
… mead-making marks the passage of humanity from nature to culture.”
from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz
If you learn to recognize it fermentation is everywhere. It is in the ubiquitous Romanian winter pickles and cabbages (sauerkraut), borscht, cheese & kefir & most other milk products, bread, beer, wine, soy sauce & miso, tea, coffee, cocoa, vinegar … so much of our nutrition is a product of fermentation! Today I’d like to share with you all a story about Yoghurt.
A few months ago Iulia heard from Madalin (a Bucharest producer) about his success in making Yoghurt. She then organized a conference call where Madalin shared his process with a few other interested producers. Horvath family, from Cluj were also on the call. For approximately two months their members have been enjoying a surprise of a small bottle of Yoghurt in their packages.
A few days ago Iulia came back from Cluj with a sample of that Yoghurt. It is delicious. It has a nice consistency and a delicate flavor that mixed wonderfully with the fruit salad that Iulia added to it. One bottle of yoghurt was enough for our two servings, but then it was gone … and I wanted more. To be honest we did have another bottle, but when I say I wanted more I really meant to say I want it to be available to us all the time.
The first thought that came to my mind was of my old industrial mentality: „How can Horvath family ramp up production and make more?” Then I realized that thanks to the nature of fermentation they don’t need to. We can make as much Yoghurt as we want!
Disclaimer: The oh-so-simple instructions work oh-so-well with naturally made living products. These instruction may not be applicable for industrially produced, lifeless, store-bought produce.
To make Yoghurt all you need is a little Yoghurt and some fresh milk (the milk that is delivered by the Horvath family is raw). All you need to do is add some Yoghurt to fresh milk, place it in a warm place (~20c, it will still work in a lower temperature but will take longer) and … wait! Within ~24 hours the consistency of the milk will begin to change. It is ready when … no need to look at your watch … it reaches a consistency and flavor you like. When it is ready, set aside a bit of Yoghurt and add it to another batch of milk. You are an independent yoghurt producer.
We don’t need large industrial food production that need strict regulations to provide us with low-quality food. We do need lots of small producers who care deeply about their produce and their customers because their life depends on it. Can there be a better way to embody that view then by every family becoming its own producer.
This also touches on our recent theme of the cost of choice. In an industrial mindset the burden of production automatically falls to the producer. Suppose we all wanted to have more yoghurt. That would mean that Horvath family would need to purchase larger fermentation containers, enough to be able to produce numerous generations of yoghurt for a steady supply. They would need to arrange a warm space to hold them all. They would need to sterilize them between uses. They would need to tend to the new „production line”. They would need to purchase and package many more bottles (creating more waste). They would need to finance all these additional tools, space and effort, and all that would at best yield a marginal difference in their income.
With yoghurt we have a sweet opportunity to experience something we don’t often get to experience as urban creatures. We don’t need to all agree to becoming yoghurt consumers. We can all become producers for whatever we want to consume. That small bottle of yoghurt is, if you want it to be, much more than a product, it is a seed for you to plant and nurture in your home, in your life. It is a teacher, if you want it to be, of a profound meaning of culture.