Crafting the Cave

With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, James and Karen Christian are crafting a small fermentation chamber for easy at-home curing.

May 9, 2016

GleaningsIssue 18: May/June 2016

In an endeavor to reconnect with the rustic, urbanites are trying it all: home-grown herbs, garden greenhouses, beer brewing, jelly jarring, chicken cooping. Perhaps you’ve canned your own clementines? Dried your own dates?

Try making your own deli meats and curing your own cheese in a home fermentation chamber.

Fed up with indecipherable ingredients and who-knows-how-processed commercial meats and cheeses, husband-and-wife team James and Karen Christian decided to home-cure their own.

Karen, who has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and chemistry education from the University of Arizona, spends much of her time watching their three children and making homemade meals.

Both Karen and James value healthy, made-from-scratch foods, so home-fermenting seemed a natural step to take. They soon discovered a glitch: while there are online tutorials by intrepid meat-smiths with guidelines to rig an old fridge or freezer for fermentation, there is no small-scale product to allow city-dwellers to cure their own meats and cheeses.

So they got creative, designing the first-ever—as far as they know—cure-it-yourself home fermentation chamber, which they called the Cave. The roughly mini refrigerator-sized appliance is big enough for beer brewers yet small enough to grace a garage, living room, or basement.

Karen and James Christian designed a specialty fermentation chamber to help individuals and families get into home fermenting.

Karen and James Christian designed a specialty fermentation chamber to help individuals and families get into home fermenting.

For five years now James and Karen have refined recipes for fermenting cheese, sausage, salami, prosciutto—and don’t forget the beer. They call their project Swiss Hills Ferments. James, who has a background in international business relations, hopes to turn their passion into a business focused on teaching people to ferment foods at home using the Cave.

“Our mission is to help other regular people to ferment foods in their house or apartment,” said Karen. “We’re trying to bring those farming traditions back to life.”

Built by Veenema Design Works, the Cave maintains the specific temperature and humidity needed for fermenting, drawing similar or less energy than a refrigerator.

There is room for all inside the Cave. “Your meat products would hang on racks to dry, and you can place cheeses or products that you’re pickling on the shelving unit. They’d be ready to eat after you enjoy the taste,” she said. “The longer you leave cheese in the chamber, the stronger the flavor. If you’re making beer it can sit on the floor of the unit.”

Home-fermented products have another plus: They’re high in probiotics, the healthful bacteria proclaimed to balance digestion and boost immunity.

Whatever the reason, Karen notices a movement in the making. “It seems that people are going back to crafts such as knitting, woodworking, or fermentation,” she said. “The community around these projects is wonderful and welcoming. Everyone is willing to teach you or help you get started. It’s time to get excited about creating your own food again.” ✜

Shelley Littin is a science journalist and anthropologist. She spends her free time running unreasonable distances in beautiful places.

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