Malcolm Jolley discovers two mums with a bubbling crock and a passion for ferments.
Joanna Biafore and Marketa Mervat met through their kids and call themselves ‘schoolyard friends’. That friendship turned into a business opportunity when they found out they had a mutual interest in fermented foods. Leveraging Joanna’s interest in nutrition, and what she calles the holisitic lifestyle, and Marketa’s Czech heritage, the two of them invested in a crock and started making sauerkraut. As they began to enjoy their homemade food and reap the nutritional benefits form it, their friends and neighbours became interested and the two mums decided to get back into the work force and start a fermenting business, Just Shut Up and Try It Ferments. Biafore and Mervat expanded their line to include a variations on sauerkraut, kimchi, and a kid friendly kimchi, as well as a ‘jun’ drink, which they describe as the ‘Champagne of kombucha’ (it’s made with green tea instead of black).
They’ve become a fixture at Eat End Toronto famrers markets and are starting to expand into boutique food shops. But it’s still very much a handmade operation: the pair make a regular trip to Zephyr Organics farm northeast of the city to supply every batch and spend the better part of five hours chopping their ingredients beofre laying them down.
I caught up the two friends turned business partners last week for the GFR interview below.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: OK, you know what the first question is. Why is your company called Just Shut Up and Try It Ferments?
Marketa Mervat: We were brainstorming a lot of different names, and then we realized that this food is the food we want our kids to eat, and sometimes you have to tell your kids, ‘Just shut up and try it!’ And then, of course, explain to them why.
Joanna Biafore: And the name made us laugh; it encompasses our personalities. Marketa and I are both into holistic lifestyles and healthy eating. It frustrates us when people turn up their noses at foods that aren’t mainstream without trying them. So, we say you just have to try it and see how it makes you feel.
MM: Some people love sauerkraut, but some people really don’t know, so we have to say, ‘Just shut up and try it!’
GFR: To be fair, a lot of the industrial sauerkraut around isn’t very tasty, or at it’s kind of tasteless.
JB: Here’s the thing about real sauerkraut, when your body gets used to it, it starts to crave it. When it’s made properly, sauerkraut will stimulate bio-flow and get your gastro-juices going and that makes you start to salivate.
GFR: Are we talking about gut flora?
JB: We’re talking about two things. One is digestion and getting the digestive juices flowing, which breaks down your food. And the other is balancing your gut flora. That’s the balance of good to bad bacteria in your stomach. Our ferments, both our drink and our sauerkraut, are full of the good stuff.
MM: I’m Eastern European, and fermenting is a very old way of preserving. [Eastern Europeans] figured out the benefits by default.
JB: And we started fermenting instead of buying pro-biotic supplements. Supplements can be expensive and we’re also of the mindset that we want a little bit of control over what is in what we’re eating. So, we know our ferments are full of vitamins, minerals and the probiotics. The supplements are just probiotics and you never know of you’re absorbing them. You could just be pooping out your money.
MM: Are you buying any of this? [Laughs.]
GFR: Yes, at least most of it since I think it’s pretty much established that good gut flora is good for your general health, and foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help grow it.
MM: Good, but we’re so happy to be making it and eating it that we’d be doing it anyway.
JB: We do want to help people, just because we’ve lived through it. We have families and kids and had ailments that we saw improve. We started sharing our ferments when people overheard us talking about them in the schoolyard. We just want to share it. We need to get this message out.
Find out more about Just Shut Up and Try It Ferments at justshutupandtryitferments.com.
Follow Malcolm Jolley’s food and wine adventures on Twitter at @malcolmjolley.