The world of fermentation

Adam James's fermenting trials.

Adam James's fermenting trials.

A self-taught chef sets off on a world tour to master the art of fermentation.

Fermenting is by no means a new concept, but in the past few years the age-old preserving tradition has seen a revival like nothing else, with fermented ingredients popping up on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves worldwide.

You may already have a well-thumbed copy of Sandor Katz's bible The Art of Fermentation on the shelf, but our own home-grown king of live cultures is undoubtedly Adam James of Hobart's Tricycle Café and his off-shoot fermenting company, Rough Rice.

The self-taught chef knows his gochujang from his doubanjiang. For the past four years he's been making everything from Sichuan chilli paste to genmai miso in his laboratory-style kitchen. "I'm intrigued by how fermenting can heighten umami," he says. "With just a little time and salt, you can get incredible results."

James has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship this year, a travelling scholarship that will allow him to study fermentation techniques around the world. The eight-week trip kicks off in July in the Jura, where he'll learn about the making of Comté cheese and vin jaune. He'll also investigate culatello and Parmigiano-Reggiano in Emilia-Romagna, and colatura di alici, "the world's first fish sauce", on the Amalfi Coast before travelling on to China, Korea and Japan.

While there's been plenty published on the health benefits of fermentation, James says his research and experiments always put flavour first. The ferment fanatic supplies a small number of restaurants with goods, and his goal after this trip is to set up a "fermentery", possibly as part of the Agrarian Kitchen's expansion.

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