Through all these years fermenting vegetables, I have often wondered why there is so little a tradition of this kind of food preservation in Britain. Did the prevalence of beer easily make malt vinegar available for vinegar pickling? Perhaps the relatively mild winters meant less of a hunger gap than in colder climes eastward? Maybe the early entrance of rural workers into a wage economy cause an earlier loss of indigenous food traditions? Might there be foodways left to be discovered? I’d like to believe this last, but I don’t have an answer.
I scour old cookbooks and find not much– perhaps an occasional mention of making fizzy drinks with “yeast” (which of course could so easily be wild rather than derived from baking and wine making) — elderflower champagne, for example, or bottled drinks of burdock and dandelion, or nettle. But these are sugar ferments, and different from preserving in brine with bioactive bacteria– i.e. sauerkraut, kimchi, cucumber pickles. Somewhere in Hannah Glasse I once read a reference to wedges of cabbage in salt brine– but that didn’t feel like a common cultural practice.
It was a thrill when I learned about Beetroot Stout, a delicious, nourishing, medicinal vegetable-based cocktail. When I queried Glyn Hughes of the incredible site The Foods of England Project, he responded that the only thing that came to mind for him was Potato Cheese (to England– only hypothetically– via Germany):
http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/potatocheese.htm/ Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Thursday 19 July 1855
The immediate association was with Kishk, a Middle Eastern cultured milk and bulgur wheat ferment, which I’d read about in Sandor Katz’s books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation. Two summers ago I tried to make Kishik (the names vary through different regions and translations, also “Kashk”) following the method in The Gaza Kitchen. My disks turned mouldy. I reckon the relatively chilly, damp air of a Welsh summer just wasn’t dry enough to let the ferment dessicate quickly enough to beat the rot. From this experience I believe having the artificial heat from a kitchen radiator in the winter helped the experiment this time to succeed.
POTATO CHEESE a la The Foods of England Project
I boiled and mashed a potato, and added several tablespoons of milk kefir.
Here’s a close-up of the early days:
I woke up on Day 3 to find the surface of the ferment blooming in this beautiful, vermiculated Geotrichum Candidum, tentatively identified by my Instagram friend Claudia of Urban Cheese Craft. Because this fungus is common in cheese making, I thought of it as a good thing. Hmmmmm.
…Though when I peeled it back, and realised it was just a surface feature, I worried a bit that it would slow the evaporation underneath in a project in which drying-out was the ultimate goal (unlike with cheese making proper)…. because I was emulating Kishk … but I realise in retrospect had we eaten this “cultured potato” at this point, it would have been more of a cheese-like substitute…
So with a bit of trepidation, unsure of myself, I stirred it all together (rather than remove the surface) and left the bowl near the radiator, and under a tea towel.:
On Day 11 the potato mixture felt dry enough to form patties, or disks, and I wrapped them gently in absorbent cloth, but let them air a bit too.
And nothing untoward was happening….
And by day 14 they felt fully hardened and I felt the Potato Cheese experiment to be successful…. A ferment on a carbohydrate with the goal to extend a milky cheesy perfume into the time of year with less milk and cheese…
So now I have my savoury fermented potato “Potato Cheese,” — smells cheesy in a good way — and I feel ready to experiment. I can only think of it as a substitute for Parmesan– maybe grate it over a dish where I might use a hard Italian cheese, or perhaps throw it into a soup such as Minestrone for that little extra thickening or umami sensation. I’m thinking, because it smells reminiscent of Nutritional Yeast, to search through vegan recipes to understand how that ingredient is really used. How would YOU use it? Am most interested in reader suggestion…. And truly interested in anyone’s comments or observations about any part of the process…