The fermenting bug bit Matt when he was only 13 years old. His best friend Agustin was Korean. Agustin’s mother always served kimchi alongside with bulgogi. Matt liked it so much that he had Agustin’s mom explain how it was made. She did, in Korean whilst her son translated. 27 years later Matt has opened Barcelona’s first Pre- & Probiotic shop and workshop: Ferment 9 Barcelona.
I met him at a sauerkraut making workshop given by Buster of Rooftop Smokehouse. We were outside at an Allthose market in unsterile conditions & Buster warned us that our sauerkraut would most likely turn. Sure enough, the contents of my self burping Weck jar went rotten and I banished the thing to a far corner of my garden. Experimenting with making my own milk kefir went similarly pear-shaped when I couldn’t keep up with its demanding schedule and abundant kefir granules.
My Eastern European background left me with a hankering for fermented foods but the best Western Europe could do was pickles. Pickles are fine, I will take pickles over nothing but they don’t have the complex umami, saliva inducing properties of a ferment.
In the last the last decade, ferments are charging into the mainstream. Scientists are interested in our microbiome (we each have about 100 trillion bacteria living inside us) and from there it started trickling down. The health food stores began stocking kefirs & kombuchas, Korean food became popular and most recently Eastern European food is being ‘discovered’.
The undisputed star at Ferment 9 Barcelona is cabbage. The first large stand up fridge is filled with kimchi and sauerkrauts. I count 6 kimchis: Mak (traditional), Baechu (with carrots), Baek* (pine nuts, jujube & red pepper), Yangbaecho (with winter cabbage), Kkakdugi (radish), Nanami Togarashi* (with similar seasoning to the Japanese condiment).
“Would you like a tour of the workshop?” He asks. I put down my blackcurrant water kefir and follow him up the stairs. He stops to introduce me to every member of staff. 4 if you include his mother Sue.
“How did you find your staff?”
“They found me. They were fermenting fanatics and they wanted to learn from me.” he says. “Here we are” He swings open the door to the workshop.
“Wow.” I exclaim. “I was at Noma last fall and they took me to their fermenting rooms but this is crazy. This is another level.”
Ferment 9 Barcelona is a beautiful shop. Large ferns framing the Ferment 9 logo on the window. White square tiles with slate grout. More refrigerated units per square meter than I’ve seen anywhere in the city, including the Juicery at Flax & Kale. Despite opening a mere month ago, the fridges are all heavily stocked. All the labels are level and facing outwards. Rows upon rows of things I want.
Matt makes me up a small tasting plate: Kimchi, jardiniera, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, fermented salsa, fermented relish, smentana and a couple of wedges of cheese. I perch myself against the counter and start doing what I do best: ask questions.
In late September, Matt has plans to start running workshops. Also in the fall, there will be food to take away. Things like ‘sarmale’ stuffed fermented cabbage leaves, sandwiches, salads – foods featuring and championing his fermented products. Matt is adamant that he will serve nothing that uses chemical preservation.
I gather a few things for home. A large jar of Mak kimchi (€12.5), a medium sauerkraut (€6.50), a sheep milk kefir (€4.75) and a water kefir (€7.5).
As I start to leave I remember what it was I still wanted to ask Matt. “I get the ‘Ferment’ but why the 9?”
“Oh that – it’s a funny story:
It’s the date I signed the lease….13 05 = 9
It’s the year I signed….2016 = 9
It’s the shop number….135 = 9
My number in Chinese astrology is 9
The number of letters in the street name Sepulveda are 9
The number of letters in Calderisi (my last name) are 9
I officially opened on 01 08 = 9
A cat has 9 lives
On cloud 9
And no matter how you calculate anything with a 9 the end result is always a 9
9*32 = 288 2+8+8 = 18 1+8 = 9
It’s the infinite number”
“Heh.” I muse. “That is funny. Especially since my mobile number has 9999 in it.”
“It’s Kismet.” He smiles.