I know I've posted about this before. I have vague memories of a batch of kimchi that I made in my dorm room last year that made the whole floor smell like something diabolical. It smelled great to me, but I've been known to sigh dreamily in the cheese cave where others would probably gag or at least hold their nose (although, kudos to the food bloggers who came out--they seemed to love the smell too). I also don't mind smelly hippies, but that's another post altogether.
My point is, it occurred to me today that I've been doing a lot of fermenting lately. My housemate and I have been blasting through some homemade raw goat's milk kefir, I've made a couple quarts of sauerkraut, a gallon of mead, and I'm baking bread again--sourdough and simple yeast bread. Not to mention the cheese I make every day at the farm--that's fermentation on an entirely different scale. I suppose not everyone enjoys fermented foods, and I have to say that I pity them in a way. For me, few things are as pleasant as that sour, tangy flavor from some fresh chevre or a freshly made sourdough loaf.
And then that brings me to another point. Digestion. No one wants to hear me talk about that sort of thing, but I'm going to put myself out there. It's good for your belly. Anyone with a sensitive stomach or dietary issues can relate when I say that an upset stomach--even a slightly upset one--is terribly unpleasant. For me, the solution is ferments. I notice that I digest kefir and yogurt a lot easier than plain milk. There's something about those good bacteria and yeasts that colonize, breaking down the sugars--lactose and maltose--into acids--acetic and lactic--that really aids digestion.
My favorite fermentation resource is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This guy is a fermentation rogue. He mostly uses wild yeasts and bacteria to ferment, and he applies a sort of easygoing style to this ancient food preservation technique that's refreshing to anyone who's trolled the internet and gigantic cookbooks for hours trying to figure out how to make sauerkraut (Katz's method is something like this: 1.) chop cabbage 2.) add salt and mix 3.) wait). This books talks about everything from the most basic ferments to making tempeh and miso.
In opposition to Katz's freestyle fermentation is Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. Obviously, you're not going to find anything about kimchi in here, but the chapter on sourdough is phenomenal and detailed. I'll admit, I've been a little more daring with my sourdough starter than Beranbaum suggests, but her work is a fantastic resource and answers a lot of questions for the new or new-to-sourdough baker.
The most rewarding thing about fermenting? Well, apart from the obvious--you get to eat the results--there's the magic of it. You feel like a wizard when you check on your mead and realize that it's getting fizzy, or when you see your sourdough starter bubbling up. Fermentation is the art of living foods, after all.