Category Archives: Why Saueressen?

blog posts where we focus on sharing stories and inspirations that drive us to build or participate in a local, sustainable, secure and just community food economy.

Time-Lapse Video and Troubleshooting Cultured Milk

Fermentation can be funny sometimes.  Same ingredients, same process (or so it seems), and yet different results.  Fortunately, “different” seldom means “ruined.”  But it requires us to think creatively or adjust expectations.    So my curds separated from my whey in my dairy ferment.  Ruined?  No, certainly not.  Cheese?  Well on its way!

Donna Schwenk created a short time-lapse video that effectively illustrates how temperature, time and starter ratios (the volume of starter culture compared to fresh milk) all interact to produce different results.  Watch the video here (sorry, there’s no way to embed):

Milk is just a colloidal suspension (specifically, an emulsion) of proteins and fats in water.  Under certain conditions (such as acidification), these different components can separate out.  In this case, the physical process of separation involves the denaturing (curdling) of proteins, causing them to tangle and gob up with one-another, and the production of carbon dioxide, which then gets trapped among the now-solid proteins, causing them to rise to the top of the vessel.  Shaking or stirring typically disentangles and redistributes the proteins, releasing the trapped carbon dioxide as well.

In my experience, the separation tends to happen when acid-producing strains become dominant. There’s a rhythm to backslopping, so the frequency with which you use and renew the culture also affects its behavior (people who work with sourdough tend to understand this principle).  I would consider frequency a fourth variable for us to keep in mind, alongside ratio of starter used and temperature and time (as displayed in the video).

If I’m making a rennet-free kefir or yogurt cheese, then I want the curds to separate from the whey, as the video portrays.  This involves minimal disturbance so the proteins can tangle together and form a gel-matrix.  I can then further drain and salt and press and age the curds into cheese, depending on the type of cheese I want.  However, if I want my dairy ferment to stay smooth and creamy, then I’ll shake and stir it periodically as it ferments, or try making several smaller batches in rapid succession and use a smaller ratio of starter:total volume than normal to rebalance the microbial community.

Relational Note

Learning these subtleties takes fermentation and our relationship with the wonderful micro-organisms who preserve our food and nourish us to a whole new level.  It involves a dialog betwen us and them.  “Ok, this is what I want, what do you need to help me produce those results?”  We think of the industrious little critters less as slaves and more as coworkers and colleagues, and ultimately giving us better food and better emotional results (including less stress!).

Community Note

This post started as a follow up and embellishment of Donna Schwenk’s response to a confused customer’s questions.  I respect her for trying to troubleshoot problems based on 3rd party descriptions.  I wouldn’t.  Too many variables and…ever played a game of telephone?   This brings about another reason for why Saueressen exists:  to provide real-world community-based expertise.  We need to talk directly.  We need to workshop food security in the same room, compare notes as we observe the same problems and processes.  This is the next level of the fermentation revolution.  We have tons of internet experts.  Saueressen will contribute its small part.  But the we need now, more than ever, solid and rigorous community-based expertise.  Just like deli’s dot the map across the continent, Saueressens (and artisan co-ops like them) should find their niche in every community where moderate interest in food fermentation exists.


SauerNation: in search of Live-Culture Community

SauerNation stands for the growing number of people who demand high quality, locally-sourced, nutritious and affordable live-culture foods.  It includes the artisans who produce such foods, and the farmers who supply them, as well as everyone who eats them.


  1. Rights of the Citizens of SauerNation
  2. The Live-Culture Community Vision
  3. Building Live-Culture Community
    • SauerKnowledge
      • SauerForums
  4. Saueressen Membership

Rights of the Citizens of SauerNation

  • The right to access nutritious live-culture foods made with locally-sourced ingredients
  • The right to know your live-culture food along the entirety of its supply chain
  • The right to meet the people involved in producing your live-culture food
  • The right to learn how to make and use live-culture foods

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The Live-Culture Community Vision

Together, our collective work of SauerNation will build a live-culture community supporting

  1. Access to nutritious, locally-sourced live-culture foods
  2. Local organic farms, farmers and farming practices
  3. Local artisan producers
  4. SauerKnowledge to help you
    • make your favorite live-culture foods
    • use live-culture foods in your diet
  5. Neighborhood food security hubs that
    • provide economic and professional opportunities for individuals
    • build community food preservation capacity
    • produce, store and distribute emergency nutrition supplies
    • prevent food spoilage and waste at all points in the local food system
    • develop the community’s capacity to feed itself during “long emergencies”

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Building Live-Culture Community

Contact us to get involved. We need artisan-producers, consumers and farm-suppliers (including urban small-plot intensive farmers)!


The Saueressen Knowledge Base — needs your input: submit recipes, how-to, tips and tricks, or other information, or help take on an leadership role in building our local capacity for live-culture foods.


Saueressen will host two forums to help facilitate community discussion on the two main subjects of SauerKnowledge:

  • How to make your favorite live-culture foods
  • How to use live-culture foods in your diet

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Saueressen Membership

Anyone may buy from Saueressen at the standard prices.

Annual Membership Fee: $40 to become a Saueressen member, which includes 5 pints of Sauerchi or equivalent value products. Members may purchase additional Sauerchi or other products at member discount for the year of their membership.

Low-income customers on SNAP: $20 to become a Saueressen member, which includes 3 pints of Sauerchi or equivalent-value products. Saueressen will accept SNAP/EBT in the future. Low-income members may purchase additional Sauerchi or other products at member discount for the year of their membership.

Saueressen exists as a worker cooperative collectively-owned by its fermentation artisans.

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Future Considerations

Saueressen will offer a membership for food service / institutional customers that includes an upfront purchase fee for quarts of Sauerchi.

Saueressen will offer a lifetime membership option to all customers, including low-income customers. The lifetime membership fee for low-income customers will consist of an upfront payment of part of the total membership fee, with a flexible payment plan for the rest of the fee.

Membership will include access to a shared benefits network with other local cooperatives or other locally-owned businesses.

The Saueressen strategic plan includes the establishment of neighborhood food security hubs that use and promote traditional low-energy methods of preservation. This concern over the distribution of food and food technologies may require changing the structure of Saueressen from a worker-owned cooperative to a community cooperative owned by workers and customers both. Saueressen must also actively build consumer capacity to locally source and prepare their own live-culture foods, which will blur the line between artisan producers and consumers, changing its business model from a “community-supported enterprise” to a “community-generated enterprise.”

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A Day at the Market


To bed at 2am after a long day.  Up at 6:30am.  Load up coolers, load up car.  Pick up partner in crime (so to speak).  Arrive at the Salem Public Market slightly before 8am.  Set up the display by 8:30am, which turned into a very nice rainbow fo colors.  Chatted with other vendors and learned a lot.  Sampled about three pints worth of Sauerchi between 9am and 1pm.  Said hi to dozens of people.  Helped make several sales for the Salem Food Co-op.  Bartered with other vendors.  Drank too much coffee.  Returned wired.  Put everything away.  Todo list followup.  CRASH.


The most memorable quotes from the day…a very engratiating and humbling reception!

(after first bite) Wow…oh my God!

You should be here every week.  You’ll be here next week, right?

[Do you want a receipt?]  No, I want a spoon!

I didn’t think I liked pickles for 49 years!


With Saueressen, you can eat the rainbow for all the health benefits it entails.  No food coloring added — it’s all from the ingredients themselves!  As flavorful as they are colorful, too!

Why Saueressen? EF Schumacher

My last post in the Why Saueressen? category was fairly personal.  In contrast, this post explores some of the more technical questions, such as:

  • Why live-culture foods?  Why food?
  • Why a small artisan-owned cooperative?
  • Why a community-supported enterprise model?

If I had to throw one reference at you, it would be Small Is Beautiful, by EF Schumacher.  Why?  Two words:  appropriate technology (aka “intermediate technology”), or technology that is “people-centered, small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled.”

To hear me talk about technology in this modern, industrialized world, you might mistake me for a luddite.  Fair enough — I used to mistake myself for a luddite, too.  Until I encountered EF Schumacher and permaculture and learned to articulate my ethical code concerning the development and use of technology.  Unfortunately, much of the technology produced and used by modern industrial economies falls far short of such an ethical code in both design and implementation.

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

I created Saueressen to bear a standard of sorts for the appropriate technology movement by way of its focus, the technologies it uses in the course of operation, and its organizational structure.

Focus On Food

A society’s food system largely defines or heavily influences the overall structure of that society.  In other words, a change in the way we relate to our food creates ripples of profound change throughout the rest of society.  By building a better food system, we build better people and communities.  By better, I mean more diverse, resilient, decentralized, environmentally friendly, healthy, transparent, responsive, etc.  Saueressen takes all this into account in our choice to work with local, organic farmers, which also keeps more money in the local community!

Food also serves another important foundation:  Health.  As one customer puts it:

“As an RN, I am a health conscious, research driven food consumer. Our fast paced culture has forgotten the benefits that fermented foods play in our health. As eating yogurt has become “popular” in the past years, I believe fermented foods will continue to gain popularity as people educate themselves on the beneficial properties of fermented foods. Just a quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of articles on why fermented foods are good for us.”

Fermentation stands apart from other food processing methods in a key way: it enhances the nutritional (as well as economic) value of the foods in question, rather than degrading them. Fermentation excels at delivering key probiotics and micronutrients we need to maintain a healthy body.  Simply put, live-cultured foods form an important part of a healthy diet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous or carnivorous. Your body will benefit from live-cultured foods.

Core Technologies

The core nutritional technologies that form the lifeblood of Saueressen have existed for hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years.  Fermentation is a time-tested and well-established means of nutritional preservation and enhancement.  Likewise, the equipment and techniques needed to produce most ferments are as equally well-established.  We ferment veggies in high-fired, lead-free clay crocks, for example.  The crocks have a very sophisticated airlocked design that significantly enhances batch reliability and lowers labor costs.  Other tools we use to process include implements to chop, shred and grind ingredients.

We also make appropriate use of our environment — a key condition for successful fermentation.  Most lactic acid ferments do best in cool, temperature stable environments.  Koreans bury their kimchi pots to stabilize temperature and prevent oxygen contamination.  In other words, they use geothermal energy.  In the summer, the ground cools.  In the winter, it warms.  The result is a fairly consistent and reliable cool temperature range, year-round.   We use a basement kitchen space to the same effect.  Under these conditions, we gain the option of producing — and preserving — batches of fermented veggies over the course of years, rather than weeks and months.  Have you tasted a four year-old vintage sauerkraut?  Sandor Katz has, and said it was sublime, like a fine wine.  The same, of course, goes with fermented meats and dairy.

In contrast, most long-term mixed-SCOBY ferments (vinegars) actually benefit from exposure to temperature extremes.  Placing oak barrels out in an unshaded, unheated above-ground structure results in a higher quality product.  It’s all about using space — including microclimates — effectively.

Using fermentation, we start to see a world where we don’t need refrigeration and electricity.  They become nice amenities, but do we want to slide into a crisis state every time they go away?  With fermentation, life with and without electricity becomes much easier and more enjoyable!  While Saueressen makes use of electrical implements, we also dedicate time and energy researching and developing electricity-free modes of processing ingredients into live-culture foods as part of our focus on food security.

Organizational Structure

EF Schumacher argues, in part, that the debate over “public vs private ownership” is misleading irrelevant, in large part, inasmuch as it ignores the issue of scale.  Small is beautiful in large part because smaller scale operations are inherently more sensitive and just in their distribution of the work and the benefits derived from that work.  The larger the scale the enterprise, regardless of whether it is public or private, the more difficult fair and just distribution of work and derived benefits becomes, which in turn requires a greater degree of planning, intentionality and perseverence to ensure that problematic dynamics do not arise (e.g., a combination of those who derive benefits from and may exercise control over others’ work without themselves contributing to said work).

Saueressen will always remain small because of its growth plan.  It operates as a cooperative of artisans who share the production space and overall decision-making.   Each cooperative kitchen will support about 3-5 owner-artisans who source ingredients and distribute products and services locally.  Each kitchen operating under the Saueressen label becomes a part of the trademark collective, gaining access to all Saueressen knowledge and resources while retaining complete financial independence.  Grassroots drive the entire organizational structure:  artisans manage the kitchen, and the kitchens manage the collective brand identity.  So even if the Saueressen concept of artisan-owned cooperative live-culture kitchens really catches on, Saueressen will never become the WalMart of fermented foods.

Lastly, Saueressen functions as a benefit corporation, meaning it exists to provide a “material positive impact on society and the environment while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”  We use fermentation as a vehicle to enhance community food security.  To make this happen, Saueressen supports open standards, including Creative Commons licensing and open-source software such as Open Food Source.  We build our business on transparency, trust, quality and value.  Saueressen embodies the values we look for in our best friends and family.

Thanks for reading!

Why Saueressen? Alan Watts

NOTE: This is a section of blog posts where we focus on sharing stories and inspirations that drive us to build or participate in a local, sustainable, secure and just community food economy.  It will include posts from customers, artisans and any other people who appreciate the principles of local, hand-crafted and sustainable live-culture foods.

Alan Watts

I promised myself a few years ago I would stop doing things that made me miserable.  Not coincidentally, my brother shared a video with me a couple of years ago that had a profound effect on me:

[Zen Pencils developed a wonderful comic on this same monologue]

I watched that video while working a job that made me miserable.  The contrast in my life at that time was all-consuming.  All my coworkers thought of me as a “computer person.”  They looked at me funny when I tried to talk about gardening, cooking, and especially food fermentation.  I love food, and really hate computers.  It just made no sense to continue committing myself to spending away the hours of my life in misery.

Watts:  You’ll spend your life completely wasting your time.   You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to continue going on living.  That is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing.  Which is stupid.  Better to have a short life full of what you love doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.

A Promise

Of course, I need to make some compromises.  I enjoy writing (or rather, I need to write), but hate sitting still and spending long hours on the computer, which my workflow requires.  I hate keeping records and finances, but live in an administration-crazed society.

I promised myself — and all those who support me — to work my tail off to make Saueressen succeed.  I exist with the incredible privilege of not needing to worry whether I’ll have a roof over my head and food to eat. That privilege gives me the leeway — and responsibility — to contribute to my dream of a sustainable community. Saueressen exists as a vehicle and prism through which I can pursue that desire — a life worth living, doing things I love doing.  I work 12 hour days, but it doesn’t feel like work.  Saueressen may not succeed, in spite of my efforts and the efforts of those who support us.  But I won’t know until I try.  So here I go.  Here’s my “try.”

Stay tuned for more answers to the question, “why?”