Last updated November 16, 2020.
This website has information and links to the fermentology talks from April–November 2020.
Join us for a series of short talks (20 minutes on average) about the culture, history and science behind the foods you have at home. Each talk has been recorded and is available on the Applied Ecology Youtube page.
April 16th: Wild Sourdough
At NC State’s Department of Applied Ecology, Lauren Nichols, Erin 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 23rd: 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 30th: The Evolutionary History of Bread and Beer Yeast
Caiti Heil is an assistant professor at NC State’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 7th: 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 12th (Tuesday): Tasting Bread
When we evaluate a slice of bread, we don’t start with the crust–we have to set that aside for now. It’s the inside, the crumb, that reveals the nuances of fermentation the crafter has manipulated to deliver the bread’s aromas and flavors. In a unique online tasting session, Michael Kalanty invites you to bake up a loaf of your favorite bread, sit down, and taste along with him. Learn basic steps to evaluate and describe bread’s sensory qualities of aroma, flavor, and texture. (No time to bake? Pick up a fresh loaf and support your local craft baker!) Michael is a bread baker, sensory scientist and certified master taster from San Francisco who has developed a bread-tasting chart similar to the wine wheels used by oenophiles to describe the aromas and flavors in their wine glass. He’s written several books on baking, including one, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread® , that has a cult following among young bread bakers of all ages. (Yes! We will be tasting the crust, too!)
- View/download Michael’s Mise en Place for this tasting here.
- View Michael’s Flavor Wheel for Bread here.
- View/download Michael’s Pain au Levain formula here.
- View/download Erin McKenney’s basic sourdough bread recipe here (about half-way down the page).
May 14th: 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.
This talk is supported and promoted by the NC State Apiculture Program.
May 21st: 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 28th: 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.
This talk is sponsored and supported by the Max Planck Institute’s ERC-funded project, Dairy Cultures.
June 4th: 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 18th: Fermentation in Ancient Mesopotamia, Beer, Bread and More Beer
Tate Paulette is an archaeologist and Assistant Professor at NC State’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.
This talk is co-sponsored by NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
June 25th: 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 2nd: 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 30th: Vegetable Fermentation
August 27th: Bread Baking As Opportunity
Bread baking presents us with countless opportunities: reflection, patience, nourishment, generosity, observation… and the list goes on and on and on!! In this session, Josey Baker will explore some of the opportunities he has found in his decade of bread baking, both from the perspective of a baker but also from the perspective of a neighbor and community member, and will posit some questions that he has found through bread that he has yet to answer. Josey is a bread baker, published author, teacher, and business owner based in San Francisco, CA. He is the founder of the bakery Josey Baker Bread, and co-owner of The Mill, a cafe/bakery in San Francisco, CA. He is the author of Josey Baker Bread (Chronicle, 2014), and leads a small team of bread bakers & pizza makers who specialize in freshly milled whole grain sourdough. Josey has taught baking workshops all over the world, and has a loyal and passionate following he has built over the past decade baking bread. He takes great pride in working to embody a balance of integrity, quality, compassion and fun in everything he does.
September 10th: Modernist Cuisine
Should you add raisins to your starter? What is the best feeding schedule? When is it “ripe?” What can you do with excess starter waste? Join Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine and co-author of the award-winning Modernist Bread, as he answers these questions and provides research findings conducted by his team over four years that dispel many long-standing baking myths. Fermentation transforms dough into bread with a complexity of flavors, aromas, and a tender crumb from the moment the yeast is mixed with flour, water, and salt to the time it’s baked. Understanding fermentation’s critical role in the stages of the bread making process enables you to bake better bread.
September 24th: Spices in Mesopotamian Food
The world’s oldest culinary recipes exist in the form of clay tablets from ancient Babylonia dating to the 18th century BCE. In this talk, Patricia Jurado, Gojko Barjamovic and Pia Sörensen from Harvard University will introduce the history and science of the recipes, as well as their team’s efforts interpreting and reproducing them. Their work follows an experimental approach and draws on expertise from their team’s collective backgrounds in assyriology, the life sciences, and culinary practice and history. Join us for this deep dive into culinary history — you may even come away knowing how to cook a 4,000 year old recipe!
The team that conducted this research includes:
- Patricia Jurado Gonzalez (Research Scholar, Harvard University),
- Gojko Barjamovic (Senior Lecturer on Assyriology, Harvard University),
- Pia Sörensen (Senior Preceptor in Chemical Engineering and Applied Materials, SEAS, Harvard University),
- Chelsea Alene Graham (Digital Imaging Specialist at the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University),
- Agnete Wisti Lassen (Associate Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection, Yale University),
- Nawal Nasrallah (Culinary historian, author, chef)
October 15th: The Sourdough Club–A Conversation with Vanessa Kimbell
Join Applied Ecology Prof. Rob Dunn and Vanessa Kimbell live on the Sourdough Club instagram! In this wide ranging conversation, Vanessa and Rob will talk about sourdough and the microbiome, fermentation in the modern and ancient kitchen, and much more. Vanessa Kimbell is a specialist sourdough baker and the founder of The Sourdough School and The Sourdough Club. Vanessa is currently researching the effects of fermentation, the gut microbiome and mood towards a PhD in nutrition and digestibility of bread. This event will be live on The Sourdough Club’s instagram account.
Watch the recording here – no Instagram account required!
October 29th: The Prehistory of Bread
The origins of bread have long been associated with the development of farming communities that first cultivated and domesticated cereals in the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years ago. However, most recent discoveries show that bread was not a product of farming, but perhaps something which fuelled it. Amaia and Lara 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. They will also talk about the cereal-based foodstuffs that prehistoric communities consumed in southwest Asia and how they changed with the development of new technologies such as pottery.
Amaia Arranz Otaegui is Assistant Professor at the University of Copenhagen. She is an archaeobotanist and investigates the use and consumption of plants by prehistoric hunter-gatherers and early farming communities in southwest Asia. Lara Gonzalez Carretero is an archaeobotanist at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and a researcher at the Scientific Department of the British Museum. She is an expert on the study of archaeological food remains, with especial interest in cereal meals such as bread, porridge, etc.
November 5th: Pickling (and Kraut!) with Vivian Howard
Vivian Howard will tell the story of her wild ride from a small North Carolina city (Kinston) to New York and back, a story that is far from over and features a wildly successful television show, a growing number of restaurants and a starring role in the transformation of Kinston. Howard will discuss pickles, kraut and their role in food storage in the southeastern United States. She’ll then share a recipe featuring both old and new end of season vegetables.
November 12th: 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.
This collaborative project is sponsored by NC State Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Program, NC State’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.