Greater Sonoma is in a bit of a pickle … and that’s a good thing. It’s at the forefront of one of the hottest culinary trends, fermented foods, as witnessed by the growing prevalence of sauerkraut in home and restaurant kitchens, and the enthusiastic response to the Farm to Fermentation Festival, held each summer in Santa Rosa.
Forget the limp, pallid topping on ballpark franks. Unlike commercial sauerkraut, Sonoma craft kraut makers follow traditional fermentation methods, eschewing vinegar and relying on salt and naturally occurring yeasts to foster the growth of beneficial bacteria during pickling. The result: crunchy krauts and kimchees with layers of flavor and packed with healthful nutrients and probiotics.
David Ehreth pursued his passion for pickles by founding Alexander Valley Gourmet in Healdsburg in 2004. Pickles led to sauerkraut, and his quest for new flavors resulted in the Latino-influenced Smokey Chipotle Sauerkraut and Curtido (some producers spell it Cortido), based on the traditional relish of El Salvador. Ehreth, who changed the brand name to Sonoma Brinery, recently introduced Jalapeños en Escabeche.
Rick Goldberg was a volunteer with the Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol when the nonprofit curtailed its sales of homemade sauerkraut. He and his business partner, Christopher Glab, acquired the enterprise and started wildbrine in 2011 in Windsor, with two “sauerkraut salads,” Arame (a kelp) & Ginger and Dill & Garlic. They later added pickles, kimchee (also sometimes spelled kimchi), salsa and innovative krauts such as Madras Curry Cauliflower.
Kevin Pestell became a kraut convert in 2014 when his brother, Shaun, nursed him back to health from a rock-climbing accident by feeding him homemade fermented foods. Their Farm to Ferments startup in Windsor produces small-batch krauts that include Plum Shiso Leaf and Rosemary Meyer Lemon.
The Pestells sell at farmers markets in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. Sonoma Brinery and wildbrine distribute nationally.