Pickle Lovers, Rejoice: Pennsylvania Now Has a Trail for Fermented Foods
We all know that sauerkraut, beer, and kombucha are fermented, but did you know that coffee and chocolate, plus some root beer, teas, and cheese, are too? You can sample these and more on Pennsylvania's new Pickled: A Fermented Trail, which launched this fall. It's part of the state's drive to showcase Pennsylvania's culinary history, and preserve its foodways in the process.
"Fermented food, like kombucha, is cool right now," says Mary Miller, cultural historian and professor who engineered the trails. The route showcases the long tradition of Pennsylvania Germans and Eastern European immigrants pickling and fermenting foods to preserve them through the winter.
One of Pennsylvania's four new culinary trails—the other three highlight charcuterie, apples, and grains—the fermented trail is broken into five sections to account for the state's massive size. The divisions also ensure that Miller, who spent two years designing the trails, could get in as many small and historic businesses, makers, and producers as possible.
Follow one of the thoughtful, enticing trails to traverse the state, stopping into spots like The Family Cow Farm Store in Chambersburg for lacto-fermented dilly beans and ginger carrots, and Mr. Lee's Noodles in Easton to try the house-pickled vegetables and kimchi. Sip spirits at Wilds Sonshine Factory, which distills from locally-grown grains and sunflowers grown on the owner's farm, and stop at Edinboro Brewing Yeast Library at Edinboro University, a source for special brewing yeasts to cater to the state's brewers.
Don't miss Fairview Swiss Cheese in Fredonia, fourth generation cheesemakers using three different types of bacteria to ferment their cheese, including Propionibacterium shermanii, the one that makes the holes. In Washingtonville, stock up on bulk foods like homemade sauerkraut and goat's milk yogurt, at Burkholder's Farm Market.
Read on to kickstart your adventure, and sample berry habanero tepache, barrel-aged sauerkraut, and more.
Stop 1: Martha
Start in Philadelphia at Martha, the neighborhood bar and restaurant in Kensington is known for its creative cocktails, craft beer and natural wine selection. Also on the menu: chef Andrew Magee's fermentation-focused foods. The vegan hoagie, for example, is layered with veggies like low vinegar-fermented radish, tamari, miso-marinated eggplant, and a fermented giardiniera relish of pickled cauliflower, carrot, bell pepper, and celery. "
The whole hoagie has four types of fermentation going on," says general manager Olivia Caceres. Pair one with a drink, like the on-tap berry habanero tepache, or whatever's on draft from local artisan brewery Fermentery Form.
Stop 2: V Marks the Shop
The city's first all-vegan convenience store, V Marks the Shop caused quite the stir when it opened in South Philly—land of the meatballs and chicken parm—in 2019. But it's become a beloved neighborhood (and city) staple, selling a dazzling assortment of vegan groceries and prepared meals. Stop in to stock up on local and small batch fermented foods like Fishtown Ferments barrel-aged seeded sauerkraut, Peachey's Vinegar, and fermented Conscious Cultures vegan cheeses.
Stop 3: Franklin Fountain
The beloved Old City ice cream shop sells a robust menu of housemade flavors they use for sundaes and shakes, but they also make their own root beer. The commercial version of the soda was actually invented in Philly (though Native Americans made similar fermented tonics with roots, barks, and flowers.) Pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires used Sassafras, sugar, and yeast to ferment the concoction, which he unveiled at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1875. At Franklin Fountain, order a root beer float and sip it at the counter, surrounded by charming retro decor.
Stop 4: Baba's Brew
Escape the city for Chester County, a bucolic Philly suburb, where Baba's Brew ferments its popular probiotic-infused kombucha. Owner Olga Sorzano named the company for her Siberian great-grandmother, and continues the Old World tradition, with her own modern spin. Visit the CultureFactory, the on-site tasting room to sample from six op-tap flavors like Bee's Knees, with chamomile and wild honey and Flower Power with lavender, hibiscus, and rose petals—all made with fair-trade tea and naturally fermented in small batches.
Stop 5: Eclat
Master chocolatier Christopher Curtin has been making his bean-to-bar delights—including truffles, paper-thin mondiants, and a sea salt caramel with a cult following—since 2005. Visit his shop in downtown West Chester, which is also home to his factory, to hear more about how he produces his chocolate (surprise, it's fermented!) While you're there, stock up on favorites like dark chocolate bars infused with Aleppo Chile and pink peppercorn, or the PHL, made with Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels. A favorite of chefs and food producers in the region, you can also find Curtin's confections in shops like DiBruno and Vernick Coffee, as well as on the menu at restaurants like Nicholas Elmi and Fia Berisha's new Lark in Bala Cynwyd.
Stop 6: Olde Heritage Root Beer
A little less than an hour from West Chester, make for Olde Heritage to sample the region's made-from-scratch root beer. The Amish root beer-fermenting tradition dates back generations, and you can find it sold at roadside stands in the area, usually in unmarked glass bottles. Don't expect A&W, though. This variety is known for tasting less sweet, with plenty of complex flavor thanks to the natural ingredients. While you're at Olde Heritage, peruse the gift shop for local honey, whoopie pies, and fresh lemonade, too.