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Share A Trip To Highbank Fermented Food

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A trip to Highbank: Fermented Food

Rod Calder-Potts Highbank Orchards
Rod Calder-Potts Highbank Orchards

Coming together to hear food stories is always a special occasion. It is a unique opportunity to share knowledge, passion and meet others with a similar interest.  A series of events which celebrate producers of real food, last Saturday’s Bia Beag gathering at Highbank Orchard Organic Farm in County Kilkenny was one such occasion and the topic was fermentation.

Although a practice as old as time, used mainly to preserve foods in the days before refrigeration, the benefits of including fermented foods in our diet has thankfully seen a wider revival in recent years. A process whereby the naturally occurring microorganisms in food such as bacteria, yeast or fungi, convert organic compounds such as sugars and starch into alcohol or acids, fermenting not only preserves the food but also enhances the natural, beneficial bacteria in the food, making it probiotic-rich.

Kefir Grains
Kefir Grains

Collectively known as The Microbiome, our intestinal tract contains significant amounts of bacteria, some beneficial, some neutral and some harmful. If the mix of microbes in our gut is out of balance it can lead to health issues such as digestive problems, eczema, IBS, anxiety, weight problems and a compromised immune system to name but a few.

The modern day western diet, high in processed and refined foods, can play havoc with our gut health. Fermented foods like Kefir, Sauerkraut, Vinegar, Miso, Kombucha and Sourdough help to bring the gut back into balance by replenishing the missing or unbalanced components in the gut microbiome. Fermented foods are also easier to digest so their more nutrient rich fermented form is now more accessible to the body, allowing it to manufacture or synthesise other essential vitamins that we need for good health.

Hayley Milthorpe of The Cultured Food Company
Hayley Milthorpe of The Cultured Food Company

Hearing first hand from fermented food producers Hayley Milthorpe of The Cultured Food Company, Riot Rye sourdough baker Joe Fitzmaurice, Rod Calder-Potts of Highbank Orchard and Nutritional Therapist and The Little Green Grocer owner Eleanor Duggan, was both inspiring and motivating. Their stories are full of passion for what they do and their eagerness to share their knowledge is heartening. The renewed awareness of the benefits of fermented food has thankfully led to better access to them through retail in recent years. Many of these good bacteria rich foods can also be made easily by us in our own homes as they were generations ago. A natural process, fermentation asks us for little more than time, a precious and free commodity which we would be wise to reconnect with. Whether fermenting at home or through the range of fermented foods available, we can now play an important role in our overall wellbeing and enjoy the satisfaction of procuring some of these very ancients’ foods ourselves. 

Listening to each of the speakers share their knowledge in the beautiful 17th century farm building of Highbank Organic Farm was indeed a treat. Tasting their carefully crafted fermented foods, once again reminds us of the importance of being connected to where our food comes from. Ancient grains and fertile soil are all in our care and we must protect them if we are to have a sustainable food chain. An additional treat was the hospitality, roaring fire and Julie’s Highbank Orchard Brandy which we enjoyed afterwards. 

The Magic of Fermintation
The Magic of Fermintation

As part of the weekly Thursday food tastings at Ardkeen Quality Food Store, I will be sampling a selection of the Irish Artisan produced vinegar range that we carry in store. Carefully crafted this is an opportunity to taste some of the best Irish vinegars on the market today and a perfect example of a fermented food that is both accessible and affordable to our good health. 

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