If your experience with sauerkraut is limited to store-bought kraut in a can or plastic package, Carly Dougherty has a feeling you’re going to like her kraut. A gut feeling.
Carly and her husband Dave own and operate Food and Ferments, a Cortland County-based business. They make naturally fermented, artisan sauerkraut, kimchi (sauerkraut’s spicy Korean counterpart) and pickles galore (cucumbers, carrots, okra and “whatever we think to pickle next”).
You may have seen them on Saturdays at the Central New York Regional Market or the Cazenovia Farmers Market, where they set up shop and engage with and educate customers about ferments. Sometimes, they offer pickle and kraut juice shots, an excellent pick-me-up (and hangover cure), according to their signage.
In addition to being tart and tangy, fermented foods are rich in probiotics, “beneficial bacteria’’ that promote gut health and healthy digestion and help to boost our immune systems.
Why fermented? They like that it’s part chemistry, part culinary and creative — and healthful. Fermented foods are found in cultures all over the world, Carly Dougherty says, and food preservation was essential to survival. “We were drawn to the historic quality of fermentation,’’ she says. “At the same time, it feels modern and is good for you.’’
Before they entered the Central New York marketplace, the Doughertys made their mark in Philadelphia. They met and fell in love while working at A Full Plate Cafe and later Cedar Point Bar and Kitchen, where they made “buckets’’ of old-world, barrel-aged caraway sauerkraut for Reuben sandwiches, Carly says.
Before long, they were fermenting sauerkraut and kombucha in barrels and jars in their apartment. They launched Food and Ferments in 2012, and grew their brand and following at several of Philadelphia’s farmers markets.
In September 2014, the Doughertys relocated to Central New York to be near family. Headquarters for Food and Ferments is Twin Oaks Dairy in Truxton, a farm run by Carly’s family. They make their products in small batches in a farm workshop turned kitchen. The farm is on a hill overlooking the Preble Valley, which Carly says is ideal for growing cabbage, beets, cucumbers and other produce they use. They get most of their produce from local and regional growers.
Bestsellers include their classic caraway sauerkraut and kosher deli-style pickles. “I can’t keep them on the shelf,’’ Carly says of the pickles. They also make a curry kraut, with carrots, onion and curry powder, and sea king sauerkraut, spiked with Maine coast seawood, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds. The sauerkrauts and kimchi are sold in bulk and by the jar.
The Doughertys also make beet kvass, a deep red tonic, popular in Eastern European countries, that also contains cabbage, ginger, garlic and salt. Dave Dougherty, who Carly calls a “natural-born mixologist,’’ has fun with kombuchas, which have grown in popularity in recent years as a healthier alternative to soda. They’re usually made with sweetened black, green or white tea, which becomes effervescent as it ferments. Flavors rotate but have included apple ginger, blueberry lavender, hibiscus lime and grape fizz.
For those who have only had sauerkraut on a reuben or with a hot dog from a street cart or at the ballpark, Carly recommends thinking of it as a side dish. So much of what we eat is cooked, she says, that it’s nice to have something “raw and alive’’ and pungent on the plate. She likes to eat a few tablespoons of sauerkraut in the morning with breakfast food like eggs or an egg sandwich.
“There’s a lot of educating to be done,’’ Carly says, “but I’m encouraged by the reactions. We’re getting regular customers and building a base.’’