David Klingenberger gets more passionate about fermentation than anyone has a right to. The founder of the Brinery (thebrinery.com), demonstrating his products in a recent collaborative dinner with Zingerman’s, is attracting national notice for his natural brine-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. Although he was presented with a prestigious award as a local food hero at the dinner, David was more excited talking about his modern twist on the ancient practice of fermenting food.
“I started doing this when I worked at Tantre Farm (in Chelsea), and we had an abundance of cabbage. Our ancestors would take abundant harvests and preserve them for later use. So that’s what I did. I made sauerkraut from all that cabbage.” Unlike most mass produced pickled foods that rely on vinegar, the Brinery uses a lactic acid fermentation process that is naturally catalyzed with salt water (brine). Sourdough bread, yogurt, and cheese are also naturally fermented foods, which are widely thought to aid the digestive process. The Brinery’s slogan is “stimulating your inner economy,” but the “Brinery Jingle” on the web site is more blunt — including the lyric, “Probiotics make your bowels move and groove.”
However, the true (lactic) “acid test” of any food product is in the presentation and taste. At the Zingerman’s dinner, four sauerkrauts were presented. The first was the “Stimulus Package,” a traditional kraut recipe made with green cabbage and caraway. The “Red Horse” used red cabbage and horseradish, while the “Storm Cloud Zapper” gets its deep red color from beets, with a burst of ginger.
The fourth kraut was an example of David’s penchant for promoting the harvest of local farms with unique “single batch” products, a recipe made from Tantre Farm’s cabbage, carrots, celeriac, and parsnips. What made this so delicious — indeed, all the krauts — was the distinctiveness of the crisp, raw vegetables, and the bright flavor notes from the recipes developed by David and fellow briner Greg “The Heart of the Brinery” Hart.
The dinner’s next course was a macaroni salad, and while this writer is generally no pasta salad fan, cucumber and turnip pickles made this a perky favorite. Following that, inside a homemade pasta wrap, was a sauerkraut pierogi, complemented by a tart sour cream. But the stars of the evening were Zingerman’s Reuben sandwiches, one made with corned beef and another with tempeh, topped with “Stimulus Package,” the sauerkraut now used by Zingerman’s in all their deli Reubens.
David also came to the defense of tempeh, a naturally fermented soy product with a mildly nutty taste and satisfying chewy texture. “This is not a meat substitute. People in other cultures eat this because they like it in its own right — think of it as the charcuterie of the fermented vegetable world.” David has high hopes of eventually convincing Zingerman’s to add a tempeh Reuben on their deli menu.
In the meantime, you can find the Brinery’s products not only at markets throughout Washtenaw County, but in stores and restaurants all over Michigan. One great thing about naturally fermented foods, besides the taste, is that they last forever if properly stored. This makes shipping and storage a snap.
Regardless of your political persuasion, we can all agree that our inner economy needs stimulation from time to time. As the Brinery’s jingle urges us, “Call a neighbor, tell a friend, lacto-fermentation never ends!”