Fermentology Mini-Seminars

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Interested in fermentology? Join the experts for a series of short talks about the culture, history, and science behind the foods you have at home.

All talks are Thursday at 4 p.m. EST, unless otherwise specified, and open to everyone. Register to attend the virtual talks by filling in this form

Each talk will be recorded and uploaded to the Applied Ecology Youtube page afterwards.

April 16: Wild Sourdough

At NC State University’s Department of Applied Ecology, Lauren NicholsErin McKenney and a team of collaborators are leading a new sourdough science collaborative project, based on insights from the Sourdough Project and questions that the Sourdough Project raised but was unable to answer. They are motivated to embark on this project now because it is a way to do new science, but also to engage a community of people around bread, microbes, and the community associated with reconnecting, whether that be reconnecting with past traditions, reconnecting with each other, or reconnecting with the mysterious microbes on which sourdough bread depends. The team leaders of the new collaborative effort, Wild Sourdough, will discuss these motivations, describe recent sourdough science discoveries and explain the key steps necessary to make a sourdough starter as part of this project. As they do, they will also discuss the science behind each of those steps.

April 23: Why Do People Care for Sourdough? 

Using one family’s story and survey responses from hundreds of Sourdough Project participants, Matthew Booker will speculate about why people carry sourdough cultures with them around the world and down through generations. Maintaining sourdough in our kitchens pairs human and microbial cultures in a multispecies community with intriguing implications for both human history and biological diversity.

Matthew is an environmental and food historian and soon to be the Vice President of the National Humanities Center. See his books Down by the Bay: San Francisco’s History Between the Tides and, more recently, Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates.

April 30: The Evolutionary History of Bread and Beer Yeast

Caiti Heil is an assistant professor at NC State University’s Department of Biological Sciences. She studies the evolution of yeasts (including their hybridization). Here she will tell the story of the evolution of the yeasts used in bread and wine and how those yeasts have changed as they’ve been domesticated. She’ll also mention the ways in which the wild yeasts that colonize sourdough starters are likely to differ from commercial yeasts (and why). Caiti Heil will team up with Caiti LaHue for this talk. The Caitis will also consider the ways in which the evolution of yeast reminds us about and elucidates the workings of evolution and natural selection more generally.

May 7: The Fundamentals of Bread Baking Science

So how do I transform flour, salt, water, and leaven into bread? This is a crash course led by Peter Reinhart in the process of that transformation through the act of baking (baking is defined (textbook) as the application of heat to a “product” in an enclosed environment for the purpose of driving off moisture). But a lot of drama occurs both before and during this act, so we’ll examine all that occurs within the “baking triangle” that causes grain to be transformed into flour, flour transformed into dough and, finally, dough transformed into bread. Peter is the author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and  Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day and many other books. He is also the executive director of the Johnson & Wales University International Symposium on Bread.

May 12 (Tuesday): The Sourdough Library

This special Tuesday fermentology is hosted by the sourdough librarian Michael Kalanty, author of How to Bake Bread. The sourdough library is unique in the world. Right now 128 starters from 25 countries are kept in mason jars to be preserved for the future. Their biodiversity is kept for the following generations and all subjects of study. Studies conducted with different universities from around the world. This amazing collection of wheat, rye, rice, wholegrain, durum wheat etc. is maintained following the original protocol and the original flour.

May 14: The Biology of the Bread That Bees Make 

Margarita López-Uribe is the Lorenzo L. Langstroth Early Career Professor at Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Entomology where she studies bees of many kinds. Many bees rely on fermentation in different ways (some ferment nectar, others pollen, others still ferment leaves). Margarita will talk about the fermentation carried out by honeybees. Honeybees make bread out of pollen that they ferment (and then feed to their babies). Margarita and her student Brooke will talk about what goes into making bee bread and what microbes are involved in this process. They will also share preliminary data of an ongoing project about how various biocides shape bee bread microbiome.

May 21: On the Culture of Cheese

Dairying cultures around the world historically made their cheeses with the help of natural fermentation. We’ll explore why their milk was so ideally suited to this microbiological transformation; and how cheesemakers cultivated the appropriate microbes from their milk for its preservation. We’ll also talk about Kefir, and how one can keep this traditional, probiotic dairy culture at home. David Asher is an organic farmer, farmstead cheese maker and cheese educator based on the gulf islands of British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking.

May 28: The World’s Oldest Cheese and Yoghurt

Jessica (Jessie) Hendy is a lecturer in paleoproteomics at the University of York where she studies ancient proteins associated with foods in archaeological sites. Jessie will describe her research at ancient archaeological sites in Turkey, Mongolia and elsewhere to understand, using ancient protein analyses, the beginnings of milk fermentation. She will take viewers on a journey to one of her archaeological sites, describe her approach to archaeology and consider take homes from her work with regard to what anyone can do in their kitchen with milk today. Jessie has recently made major discoveries with regard to the history of Mongolian dairying and dairy fermentation and the oldest dairy fermentation in the world.

June 4: A Brief History of Sourdough 

Eric Pallant is chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability at Allegheny College and the author of Sourdough Culture: The History and Science of Sourdough (forthcoming Agate Press). For 6,000 years–since breads were first baked in the Fertile Crescent until the end of the 19th century–the staff of life was made by hand from only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and a sourdough culture of wild yeast and bacteria. Workers who built the Egyptian pyramids received the bulk of their calories from sourdough bread. Ancient Rome imported wheat from across its vast empire to turn into loaves it distributed to Roman citizens. Survival through the Middle Ages depended upon preparation of sourdough loaves baked in communal ovens.

June 11: Baking Yeasts of the Future: Where to Discover Them and What They Can Offer

There are nearly 1,500 species of yeasts in the world, many of which influence bread flavor, texture, shelf-stability, and even nutrition. Yet only a handful of these species are used for making commercial breads. In this talk Dr. Anne A. Madden will discuss why there is so little yeast diversity in the baking world, and share the research she is conducting with a team at North Carolina State University to discover new yeasts for breads of the future.

Anne is a microbiologist, entrepreneur, and 5x TED speaker, who has spent more than 15 years discovering new microorganisms from nature for diverse human applications. She is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University (@AnneAMadden).

June 18: Fermentation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Beer, Bread, and More Beer

Tate Paulette is an archaeologist and Assistant Professor at NC State University’s Department of History. He studies agriculture, food, and fermentation in the ancient world, with a particular focus on Bronze Age Mesopotamia. He co-directs archaeological excavations at the site of Makounta-Voules-Mersinoudia in Cyprus (Makounta-Voules Archaeological Project), and he is currently working on a book about the history/archaeology of beer in Mesopotamia. In this talk, we will explore the foods and, especially, the fermented foods of ancient Mesopotamia. We will look at ancient recipes, royal inscriptions, administrative records, archaeological remains, artistic works, and more on our culinary tour through the famous “land between the rivers.” Particular attention will be devoted to bread, beer, yogurt, and cheese, the fermented cornerstones of the Mesopotamian diet.

June 25: Microbial War and Peace in Cheese Rind Microbiomes

In this talk, Benjamin Wolfe will explore how microbes compete and cooperate in cheese rind microbiomes. From fungal highways on wheels of Saint Nectaire to antibiotic-producing fungi in cheddar, we’ll learn about the ecology and chemistry of microbial interactions in some of your favorite stinky cheeses. We will also learn how cheesemakers can use this knowledge of microbial interactions to improve the safety and quality of their products.

Benjamin Wolfe is the Aptman Family Assistant Professor of microbiology at Tufts University. The Wolfe Lab at Tufts uses fermented foods as model systems to identify the processes that shape the diversity of microbiomes. In addition to research focused on the basic biology of microbes, the Wolfe lab has worked with chefs and food producers, including David Chang’s Momofuku Culinary Lab and Jasper Hill Farms, to understand the roles of microbes in creating the diversity of flavors in fermented foods.

July 2: Fermenting for the Zombie Apocalypse

How does fermentation fit into your zombie apocalypse preparation plan? Fermenting can provide a number of benefits – from enhancing the nutritional value of your food, to preserving it for the long haul, to cultivating antimicrobial compounds that might help protect you from the agents of the zombie apocalypse. Fermented foods are also an example of multi-species cooperation that might serve as a good example for us all for how we might cooperate to survive the zombie apocalypse. Athena Aktipis is an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, chair of the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance, and co-director of the Human Generosity Project. She is the author of the new book The Cheating Cell from Princeton University Press and the host of the science podcast Zombified.

July 9: The Evolution of Sour Taste in Hominids

Rob will begin with a discussion of ongoing work he, along with Mick Demi, Brad Taylor, and Ben Reading are doing on the evolution of taste. He will then focus on the evolution of sour taste. Rob will discuss new insights into when and why sour taste evolved, when and why sour tastes became attractive to our ancestors and how sour taste helped early humans (and before them Homo erectus) begin to ferment foods. Rob Dunn is the author of Never Home Alone and the forthcoming book with Monica Sanchez, The Nature of Flavor (Princeton University Press).

July 16: The Evolution of Fermentation by Primates

Katie Amato is a biological anthropologist studying interactions between diet, physiology, and the gut microbiome in non-human primates and humans. Her evolutionary perspective on host-microbe interactions has recently led her into the world of fermented foods. Fermented food consumption is pervasive across human cultures, but little is understood about how and why this practice emerged across evolutionary time. Studying this behavior in non-human primates could provide additional insight, and yet few data on this topic exist. Here Katie will present data describing patterns of fermented food consumption in primates and link it to the existing fermentation literature to provide new insight into the evolution of fermented food consumption by humans.

July 23: Novel Misos

How do microbial communities change as fermentation techniques move around the world? What happens when people mix far-flung traditions and local ingredients in new ways in new places for new flavours? Joshua Evans will talk about experiments with novel misos he has conducted among chefs and fermenters in some of Copenhagen’s leading kitchens. He will discuss the ideas behind the experiments, share some results, and explore what these culinary fermentation experiments tell us about microbial biogeography and domestication histories. He will also reflect on the social context of these experiments and what it means to share and remix cultures in today’s world.

Josh is a PhD candidate in Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and a visiting PhD student at the University of Copenhagen. Previously he was Lead Researcher at Nordic Food Lab, a non-profit institute in Copenhagen that conducted open-source gastronomic research for chefs, academics, and the public.

July 30: TBD
August 6: TBD
August 13: TBD
August 20: TBD

Amaia Arranz Otaegui and Tobias Richter will share the story of the discovery of the oldest bread and what we do and don’t know about its recipe, how it was baked and more. More about Amaia’s work.

For more information, contact Rob Dunn or Michelle Jewell.

This collaborative project is sponsored by NC State Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Program, NC State University’s Departments of Applied Ecology and Agricultural and Human Sciences, NC State University Libraries, the Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics at the University of Copenhagen, and the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Source:  Michelle Jewell, Applied Ecology News