By Vicki, Local Grocery Brands Coordinator
Nowadays the "Fermentation Nation" section of the cooler at Cambridge Naturals is pretty crowded. There are SO many amazing locally made fermented foods options, can there really be anything "new" out there? Well, lo and behold we found Rosen's Kraut at the Sustainable Business Network annual conference, and were bowled over by his crunchy, tangy, delicious and totally original Butternut Squash Kraut (what?!) - along with Beets & 'Neeps and Garlic Pickled Carrots. The texture, the taste, the smell of all of Rosen's Krauts are all so enticing, so eye catching, that it will leave you with a bigger smile and a happier tummy.
Here is a deeper look into the brand, the vision they have, and some other interesting tidbits that will connect you closer to one of our newest local brands!
How did you first learn about fermentation? And how did that spark the interest in starting your own business?
Well, I remember my parents were brewing beer at home when I was ten or so, so I suppose I'd been exposed to the idea that you could ferment your own food and drink since I was a kid. In college, I spent my summers cooking at a folk dance camp in Plymouth, where the head cook introduced me to their sourdough starter and taught me how to bake bread. But it wasn't until after college when I lived in China that I really developed a taste for pickled vegetables. I'd always liked cucumber pickles, but in China I was introduced to the concept of salted pickled vegetables like turnip and mustard tuber that were eaten with breakfast, alongside steamed buns or in savory crepes. It wouldn't have occurred to me to eat salty, sour, or spicy condiments first thing in the morning, since we're more used to eating sweets with breakfast here, but once I got a taste for it I was really hooked.
When I moved back to Boston I began experimenting with making my own kimchi and fermented grated carrots that I'd eat with my eggs and coffee. Around that time, JP also started hosting the Boston Fermentation Festival just down the street from where I lived, and I'd walk down every year and taste what everybody was making. Just about a year ago I left my software job and had some time on my hands, so I thought I'd try selling my carrots and see if I could make a business out of it. I played around with a ton of recipes and vegetables this past summer, including some brined ferments like cucumbers and okra, but eventually narrowed down to a line of kraut-style veggies that go particularly well on salads. I figure, everybody eats salad, but salads can get boring, so I'm hoping my products can help fill a big need here, even with people who might not necessarily be thinking about the health benefits of fermented foods, but who are just looking for something more exciting and colorful to put on their salads.
Of course, I eat this stuff with everything, and if I can get others eating pickles with breakfast, that would be awesome, but it might be a bit of an acquired taste for most folks.
Why is eating fermented food important for us?
There's a lot to be said about the health benefits of fermented foods, and Sandor Katz even writes about fermentation as a kind of political act, but I just eat it because I'm addicted to the flavor. Fermented foods, pickles, cheese, beer, wine, bread, all have that distinctive umami flavor that you can't get without it.
You have one of the most unique krauts available, how did you get the idea for the Butternut Squash Kraut?
I'd been intrigued by the color and texture of butternut squash for a while, and was curious to see how it would ferment. Great, as it turns out. The bright yellow color is the first thing you notice, and the texture is crunchy but also has a creaminess to it. The most common variety of butternut was also developed here in Waltham, so I thought it would be nice to focus on a crop that's local to Boston.
Where do you source your veggies for your Kraut? Why is sourcing important to you?
Sourcing good produce, I've learned, is essential to the quality of my krauts, especially because my recipes are so simple. I take veggies, shred them, salt them, add garlic, and that's it. I don't cook them, I don't use vinegar, and I don't add any other spices that could compensate to mask the flavor or texture of a poorer quality vegetable. The fermentation process is entirely natural and results can vary widely depending on the quality and ripeness of produce used, so throughout the season and as I source from different farms, the flavor of my ferments will change from batch to batch. Since I got started in January I've been buying directly from small farms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. My last few batches have all been sourced from Red Fire Farm in Montague, but their supply of winter squash just ran out for the season so I'll need to look a little farther afield for butternut this summer. Next year if things go well I'm hoping I'll have reached a scale where I can find a farm to grow all my butternut for me, to process once at the beginning of the year to last me the whole season. Fermentation is primarily a food preservation technique, after all!
What inspires you in life?
I like meeting people who have done a whole bunch of different things in their lives, who end up being successful at something interesting that they hadn't imagined they'd do, or could have planned for as part of a traditional career path. For example, there was a little while when I was working in Beijing, I got a gig as an interpreter for the special effects team on the production of The Kite Runner. My boss, the special effects supervisor, was a crusty old kiwi who had spent much of his younger professional life on deep sea excavation of naval wrecks. That's how he learned a bunch about explosives, which turned out to be a useful skill for special effects in film. He didn't go to film school or plan to work in movies, but now he gets paid to travel the world blowing things up and making fake snow.
I've also been inspired by my kung fu teacher for as long as I've been studying with him. He worked in business making bean sprouts wholesale for twenty years before opening his martial arts school.
Anyway, I'm still not sure what I'm going to be when I grow up, but I figure if I keep doing things that interest me, I'm probably on the right path.