After a three year hiatus, Portland Fermentation Festival is back with a full line-up of fermentation pros keen on teaching others how to transform food into other food. There’s no doubt that you’ll relish the moment.
Pre-pandemic, the festival—also affectionately known as Stinkfest—was an annual gathering of pickle enthusiasts, at-home fermenters, and anyone interested in sniffing the two-month-old apple juice in the fridge and loudly declaring, “It’s not bad, it’s fermenting!”
The fest marked its 10th anniversary in 2019, but paused during pandemic shutdown. Organizers considered doing a virtual version, but knew it just wouldn’t be the same. “Our fest has always been such a stinky in-person endeavor,” festival co-founder Liz Crain told the Mercury.
Now, the one-day party returns to the EcoTrust Building, albeit in a larger, airier space, and with an action-packed agenda filled with skill sharing, sampling, and fermentation fundamentals.
The 2023 festival headliner is Oregon’s own Kirsten Shockey, author of several books on the art of fermentation, including 2014 bestseller Fermented Vegetables and 2021 favorite Homebrewed Vinegar. Shockey also co-foundered the Fermentation School, which gives anyone with internet access and disposable income a chance to learn how to make sauerkraut, kombucha, dosas, and even cheese from the comfort of their own home.
Following Shockey's talk, Bon Dance Picnic PDX will perform a traditional Japanese fermentation dance, which attendees can participate in. Organizers also planned a hangout area on the building's roof with Swift Cider on beverage duty, food from DesiPDX, and the host of XRAY.FM's Electric Avenue DJ Jimbo handling tunes.
“Beyond that, we do kind of do the same thing every year," Crain said. "We have 20 or so amateur or professional fermenters sharing their wares and giving out samples to everyone. A big part of the festival is meeting makers, getting recipes, and trying what they fermented.” You read that right: free snacks.
This year, fermentation enthusiasts will be sharing kimchi, miso, pickles, natto, and a whole lot more. Crain is excited to reconnect with old friends and veteran vinegar makers (“It does feel very reunion like,” she says), but she's happy to welcome new artisans too, including Eleni Woldeyes of Eleni’s Kitchen. “She is bringing Ethiopian injera so I think that's going to be really fun to learn about and sample,” Crain said.
Even the co-founder of a fermentation festival—and co-author of the recently published cookbook Fermenter: DIY Fermentation for Vegan Fare—hasn’t tried every pickle out there. Crain said she's excited to taste Neusihin's Pickles for the first time. She describes them as “an old, Depression-era fermented pickle that was really beloved in Portland” but, in an age-old tale of corporate greed, was lost in the annals of pickledom when the company was sold. Now, in addition to a Facebook page ardently arguing for their return, an amateur pickler is DIY-ing them to share with folks who crave a sour brine pickle.
While the fest's number one approachable activity is definitely snacking, newbies can also try their hand at making their own dilly beans at the Fermentation Station, and explore a Bacterial Petting Zoo filled with the SCOBYs—the cute acronym of Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast— that are at the heart of transforming fermented food.
Folks who have been around the fermentation block a few times are encouraged to bring their own vinegar, kombucha, sourdough or other starter, or culture of some kind to swap with other makers for what may be a first—culture appropriation, but in a good way. “It is a festival where you could potentially come home with like a dozen cultures,” Crain said.
Be forewarned though, with all its pickles, vinegars, krauts, and kombuchas, the festival does live up to its nickname. “It is really, like, always a pretty stinky festival because everyone's opening up their crocks and their buckets” says Crain. Even with the vinegared air, there's no doubt that the return of this festival is a big dill.
The 2023 Portland Fermentation Festival will be held at the Ecotrust Building, 721 NW 9th, Thurs, Oct 19 6-9 pm, $15-35, tickets here, door tickets are cash-only, all ages, youths 12 and under attend FREE.