Fermenting frontier

Carlos Gonzales

Photo by Whitney Garcia

Three years ago, Carlos Gonzales was working as the e-commerce manager at his father’s business, Fifth Sun, when he began experimenting with fermentation during his free time. Six months later, he and sister Amber Smith decided that the local culinary market was ripe enough to support a preservation-by-fermentation business, and they founded Pacific Culture. Their current focus is on making sauerkraut and pickling locally grown, in-season organic vegetables, but they’re open to branching out into other fermented foods as well. In fact, Gonzales said he hopes to start selling Pacific Culture kombucha soon at the Thursday Night Market. The company is a small operation—there are just two employees—but its products are sold throughout the North State. Pacific Culture has a small storefront at 1266 Humboldt Ave., open Tuesday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. You can also find Pacific Culture products at Chico Natural Foods, S&S Organic Produce and Natural Foods and New Earth Market. Log onto www.pacificculture.com to learn more.

What inspired you to start Pacific Culture?

I had been interested in various kinds of fermented foods for a few years. In college [at the University of Southern California], I would make sourdough pizza and breads, as well as different fermented vegetables. As I researched and learned about the process, I became more and more interested. When I moved [back] to Chico, I identified the signs that it was a growing market.

What were those signs?

There is a lot of new research coming out about the benefits of probiotics, and there is also a general resurgence in craft businesses. There is a need and appreciation for things done really well, on a small scale. Those trends of renewed interest are allowing me to stay true to my own values of sourcing locally and being more environmentally aware.

What are some of the benefits of probiotics?

First and foremost, consuming probiotic foods boosts the gut flora in your stomach and that aids in your digestion. There is a lot of research coming out about how your gut is connected to your brain. So, eating probiotics could be good for your emotional health as well.

Can you explain the pickling process?

At Pacific Culture, we do lactic-acid fermentation, which means we use dry salt instead of vinegar to make the process happen. First, we wash the vegetables and process them accordingly—cutting, slicing, shredding and coring as needed. Through the entire process we are trying to avoid oxygen, because, if the vegetables are oxidized, they will soften during fermentation. Then, we salt them as soon as possible. The salt draws the water out of the vegetables, and the vegetables sit in the brine until they are transferred to an airtight stainless steel tank, where they ferment for anywhere from two to eight weeks. And when it comes out of the tank, you have a traditionally preserved, live fermented vegetable product.