Thursday, January 23, 2014

Building Unity Farm - Winter Fermentations

It's the dead of winter in New England, with new snow on the ground and temperatures near zero.    The animals are clustered together in their barn spaces and heated buckets are keeping their water liquid.

There are many indoor tasks to do on the farm during winter - sharpening chain saw chains and other tools, reorganizing the workbench, ordering seeds, planning for Spring planting (we've been tractor shopping), and nurturing all the fermentations begun in the Fall.

Our fermentations include 3 kinds of cider, mead, cyser (a mixture of cider and honey), vinegar, sourdough,sauerkraut, and fermented pickles.   Here's an overview

1.   Cider, Mead and Cyser

Although we bottled 4 cases of sparking cider in the Fall, we still have 12 cases in the fermenters.    Fermenter #1 is a Champagne Yeast fermentation of 11 different kinds of apples kept at 52F in our mudroom to prevent Malolactic fermentation.  The malic acid in apples is a dicarboxylic acid with a sharpness/crispness that I like in a sparkling cider.  Think of it as the flavor of a green apple.    When I make sparkling cider, I add 6 grams/liter of dextrose at bottling to prime the cider for carbonation.  The malic acid and dextrose create a harmonious flavor that's very refreshing.   I typically have a 16 ounce bottle of sparkling cider with lunch on weekends.   After 2 months of aging, the ph of this cider is 3.75 and the malic acid taste is very notable.

Fermenter #2 is a Champagne Yeast fermentation of 11 different kinds of apples with added Malolactic bacteria culture.   After two months, the ph of this cider is 4.15, much softer and smoother given that most of the malic acid has been converted to lactic acid, which has only a single carboxyl group.  I'll bottle this cider uncarbonated - as still cider.   Malolactic fermentation changes the flavor a bit, adding the kind of butteriness you taste in most Chardonnays.

Fermenter #3 is a Champagne Yeast fermentation  of 11 different kinds of apples with added Malolactic bacteria culture.   The yeast has exhausted many of the nutrients in the cider due to a Keeving process  I used during the initial fermentation.  It's fermenting very slowly and I believe I will end up with a smooth cider with a small amount of residual sweetness.  I'll bottle this cider uncarbonated as well.   The ph of this Cider is 4.07.

The taste among the three is remarkably different and we'll see which one is best once I bottle them in the Spring.

The mead and cyser fermentations continue.   At the first racking, the specific gravity of the mead decreased from 1.090 to 1.030, yielding 8% alcohol.    The specific gravity of the cyser decreased from 1.085 to 1.010, yielding 10% alcohol.   We'll continue fermentation until the Spring and bottle them uncarbonated in 375ml clear wine bottles once fully fermented to a specific gravity of 1.000.

2.  Apple Cider vinegar

I separated 20 liters of hard cider from the other fermenting batches, added mother of vinegar  and stored it in the basement, open to the air.   When it is finished, the titratable acidity will be 5%.  It's currently at 2% and has a remarkable flavor without being overpowering.

3. Sourdough
We use the King Arthur Starter and keep buckets of active sourdough growing in our mudroom.

4.  Sauerkraut
We use a 5 liter Harsch crock and weights with the following recipe

3kg of cabbage
15 grams of salt

Remove wilted outer leaves of cabbage head, and the stalk. Shred cabbage.

Layer the cabbage, sprinkle some salt then press down with a fist until juice appears. Repeat until pot is full.

Lay on the weights and if there is not enough juice, add cooled boiled salt water (15gm salt per liter ratio)

Close lid, then add plain water to the rim (water trap)

Leave pot at room temperature for 3 days until you hear some bubbling.

Move to a cooler room for 4-6 weeks

Move into large Ball jars in the refrigerator.   Eat within a month.

5. Fermented Pickles

We use a food grade 2 gallon bucket and a plate on top as a weight
2 pounds freshly picked firm, unwaxed, bumpy pickling cucumbers, often called Kirby
2 cloves spring garlic, sliced thin
1 dill flower, or 5 sprigs fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dill seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and slivered
2 tablespoons salt

Soak cucumbers for 30 minutes in a bowl filled with ice water to loosen any dirt. Slice the blossom end off each cucumber, which is opposite the stem end. If you aren’t sure which end is which, slice a little off each. Cut cucumbers into spears or chunks, if desired.

Pack cucumbers into one or two clean quart jars. Tuck in garlic, dill, coriander and jalapeño, if using.

Add salt to two cups boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Add two cups of ice (made with filtered water if yours is chlorinated). Stir well until the ice has melted and the brine is cool. Pour brine into jars, covering cucumbers.

Loosely cap jars and place in a bowl or pan because the jars may leak during fermentation.

Leave pickles on the counter to ferment. The brine will bubble lazily and become cloudy. Taste after 3 days, leaving on the counter another day or two if you want your pickles more sour, or refrigerating if they’re ready. They keep a month in the refrigerator.

It's time to put another log on the fire and listen to the subtle bubbling of our winter fermentations.

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