Karen and her family don't live on a farm or milk their own cows.
And they even failed terribly at gardening (so far).
…they are passionate about keeping traditional homesteading skills alive, so they age their own cheeses, they butcher and process animals, they make salami and dried cured meets, they brew beer, they ferment veggies, they make yogurt, and they bake their own bread.
They are truly an inspiration, showing that even if you don't have 100 acres and a cow, you can still do the homesteading thing!
And… now they are bringing us The Cave.
The Cave is a chamber that can heat, cool, humidify, and circulate air for making cheeses, dry curing meats, and fermenting almost anything.
Finally… home fermenters living in a modern world where houses don't have cellars or cheese caves… can stick their ferments in a “cave” with just the right temperature and humidity.
It's so exciting! Listen, watch, or read the podcast below to learn more about Karen and her family, get her simple tips for fermenting anything, and to hear more about how you can help get The Cave off the ground by supporting their Kickstarter project*.
(*The Cave is being funded through a Kickstarter project that you can support. Our family has pledged support! And we truly hope it succeeds because I am really looking forward to having my own cave someday… soon!)
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“The Cave” Home Fermenting Chamber
Here's the complete transcript from this podcast.
Wardee: Hey, everyone! This is Wardee, with Know Your Food with Wardee podcast. Welcome to episode #164.
If you're catching this later, you can visit the show notes for links and more that I mention today at knowyourfoodpodcast.com/164
There's going to be a lot of information about my special guest, who you'll get to meet in a moment, and as I said, links and more about everything we're discussing today.
If you have been listening or reading for awhile — my podcasts, or Traditional Cooking School — you know that I love fermenting, and that's why I was so excited to have my guest today, Karen Christian. She and her family… Boy, you're just going to love hearing from them.
First I want to start out with some ‘don't's that Karen shared with me… They don't live on a farm. They don't milk their own cows. She even said they failed terribly at gardening.
But even though they don't have any of those things, they really have a strong desire to keep traditional homesteading skills alive, so they age their own cheeses, they butcher and process animals, they make salami and dried cured meets, they brew beer, they ferment veggies, they make yogurt, and they bake their own bread.
So, see, you don't need a hundred acres, you don't need a milk cow, to keep those homesteading skills alive. I know you're all going to be really inspired by what Karen and her family are doing.
Let me a give a warm hello to Karen.
Karen: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Wardee: This is going to be so thrilling.
I just gave a little bit of a teaser about you and your family. I'd love you to fill us in on the rest. Tell us a little bit about your family, and what you guys do, and about your life.
Karen: Okay, well, we have just this drive to keep doing things ourselves. Even though, like you said, we're not very successful at gardening, or homesteading, or anything like that, it seems like everywhere we look, we're trying to find ways to make our lives more complicated.
Wardee: I love how you said that! Gluttons for punishment.
Karen: Yeah. Well, I don't know, there's just something so satisfying about doing something yourself, and I think there's a real movement toward trying to bring back some traditional skills that are being lost, and you know, trying to make things that you could buy if you wanted to, that might still be readily available, but there's just such a satisfaction in making them yourself.
Wardee: For sure.
Karen: Yeah, like you said… We've been making cheese for about five years, and that probably is where our fermentation journey began: making yogurt and cheese.
Then we started adding all these different kitchen projects, like making sausages, and then we wanted to make salami. Then, dry curing our meats, and then taking a pork loin and making lonza, or something like that.
It just kind of snowballed.
I read Nourishing Traditions and got the idea, and that idea just meshed really well with our prior philosophy of making our own things and fermenting, and we've just kind of been adding lots of different projects along the way.
Wardee: I love that. I can totally resonate with that. It's like, you start with one thing and it snowballs into more.
And I think a lot of people that are listening today are going to be similar, because you know, other people might look at us and think, ‘you are crazy to do all that yourselves!' But there is such a joy! And yes, you can buy it, but there's that joy in the process, and there's also that it's so much better. It tastes better and it tastes so much better for you, if you do it yourself.
So, keep going, tell us a little bit more about this journey.
Karen: Yeah, well, almost all of these things that we have started doing ourselves, we had to self learn… I mean, not in the sense that we rediscovered on our own how to make these things, but we didn't have a family tradition of making cheese or making salami or things like this. We had to go look online and read books and seek out some mentors and friends who could show us how to do some of these things.
It's been an interesting experience, it feels like we're kind of relearning these skills.
James', my husband, grandfather grew up on a farm. And he used to make sausages, butcher his pigs and his animals, and things like that, and talking to him… It's like there are all these skills that we're trying to learn, that they used to be common knowledge. People used to do these things. We just have this passion to not only learn them from ourselves but to try to make it possible to bring some of these traditions back and help people keep them living; to keep them alive.
Wardee: And you have two young children. How do they feel about all of this?
Karen: Well, we have three now, actually.
Wardee: Oh, three! Okay.
Karen: They like to help. We have a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 6-month-old. The 2-year-old and the 4-year-old are very helpful in the kitchen… My 4-year-old will cut up the carrots that we're fermenting, she even helps my husband when he's siphoning beer into the bottles. That's a really fun activity. She doesn't drink it, but you know, she helps.
They're good helpers. It's funny, too, because a few months ago we butchered a pig, and they were there. They were running around. This was before the 6-month-old was there. But we kind of wondered how they would react to that, because the last time we had butchered an animal, we had a babysitter to watch them.
It was actually pretty surprising. There was no fear, or disgust, or anything that someone maybe a little bit older would feel when they would see… You know, it looked like a pig when they saw it. It had already been slaughtered, but we skin the pig and we cut it into sections and everything.
They were just interested. And it's interesting to see, if you don't taint your children with some of those preconceived notions… They just really accepted it.
Wardee: Yeah. Yeah, totally. So, give us a little bit of a peak into how actually you make this happen, practically speaking, because you're not on land… You're trying at gardening.
Wardee: Where are you acquiring your ingredients? And are you raising these animals, or are you having other people raise them? How does this actually work for you?
Karen: Oh, well, we don't raise any animals. I think our renters would throw a fit if we tried to keep some animals in our backyard here.
But no, we've gotten things from several sources.
We have a contact where we've gotten pigs from, or from our farmer's market, we've gotten beef. James has gone hunting — he hasn't always been very successful — but we're trying to source our meats locally or more naturally. We also get meats from the grocery stores to work and play with.
When we've made cheeses and things like that… When I started making cheese, I had this thought that, ‘you know, I'm going to learn to make cheese so that someday when I live on a homestead, I'll be able to put my goats milk to use, or my cow's milk…' That hasn't happened yet. We don't live in an area which would support raising animals.
But we either use grocery store milk, or we have a cowshare where we can get some raw milk sometimes that I'll use.
We just cobble things together from whatever sources we have to use as ingredients.
Wardee: I love that. I think you are just such a great example, and inspiration, of someone who doesn't let things other people would find insurmountable, stop you. And that is fantastic. Kudos to you for that.
Karen: Thank you.
Karen: I would love to tell you about The Cave!
So, as we were starting our journey on making all of these different things, we realized that the one thing we were missing was an actual cave. You know, like a place in the hillside to tunnel in, that has cool conditions and humidity, and would be perfect for aging cheeses or hanging salamis, or something like this. But we didn't have access to that. In our modern world, there are ways that we could try to cobble these environmental conditions together, but we realized that it took a lot of work…
So what my husband and I have done is we have created a product that we're calling The Cave, and it gives you the perfect environmental conditions for pretty much any fermentation project that you want to do.
You can have cool and humid conditions for aging your cheeses, or dry curing your salamis, or it can also control temperature to heat it so that you can have conditions for proofing bread or making yogurt. I mean, there's a number of applications that you can use for it.
Yeah, so, we saw this need of something we needed, and then we created a product that can control these conditions.
We are launching a Kickstarter campaign to see if other people would like to use this, and to be as crazy as we are in making all of these different food things.
Wardee: It is so awesome! Yet another example of how you're not letting anything stop you.
Now, everyone who is listening, I know you're anxious to check it out. I have a link for you.
You can go to Karen and her husband's website, which is swisshillsferments.com
If you want to check out the Kickstarter in particular, which is ongoing right now at the time we're recording this but will be wrapping up shortly afterward, that's tradcookschool.com/thecave
I love The Cave, and I'm planning to support your Kickstarter, Karen. You just got one more supporter.
Karen: Thank you!
Wardee: So, now let's get practical. First of all, you and James… This is right up your ally. You have a doctorate in chemistry…
Wardee: …which you are applying towards fermenting, and James is a very good businessman. I love that the two of you are combining your talents to something that is so awesome for those of us who love fermenting. So again, kudos to you.
Let's get practical with what you can use The Cave for. How does it work, and what can you do it in? Just walk us through some of these things.
The Cave is a fermentation control unit. I'll just explain briefly how it works, then I'll give you some examples.
It installs on a refrigerator. You will need some type of cooling element to put it on. The Cave has a touchscreen, and you can control the temperature just from that. It will tell your refrigerator when to turn on, and when to turn off. If you need heat, it has a heater included in it so it will pump some heat into your chamber.
And then, it also has an interior port where you can plug a humidifier in. So that if you need those nice humid conditions for certain applications, it can control it just at the touch of a button.
It also has a wireless application. If you want to check in and see what your conditions are, while you're at work or something, or out of town, you can just check it on your computer or your phone or your tablet or something like that.
It's designed to be very user-friendly, very easy to install… It's just a simple application that you can put on your fridge to get you started right away, and you don't have to worry about figuring, basically re-figuring out, how to make the conditions you need.
Wardee: So can you fit this on a full-sized refrigerator, or even like a small refrigerator, like the ones you get in a motel room? Can you retro-fit any refrigerator?
Karen: Almost almost any refrigerator.
Karen: Ideally, you're going to want one that doesn't have dual temperature zones. So, one that doesn't have a freezer component to it.
If you want a big one, the best way to do that would be to get a stand-up freezer, or even a chest-freezer would work too, because those don't have different temperature zones to try to control.
Wardee: I see. And you have one, built and functioning, and at tradcookschool.com/thecave, which is the kick-starter, I see some gorgeous photos of what has come out of your Cave.
Karen: Thank you!
Wardee: Wow. So walk us through some of the things we can do in a Cave.
Karen: Well, actually, in our kickstarter video, we're trying to highlight more than anything all the things you can make with it.
We have on there all the different cheeses you can make, you can dry cure salami, you can make a venison ham or something like that, you can proof bread in there because you can control the temperature — and also humidity, so you don't have to put plastic over it — you can make yogurt, you can ferment your beer or wine in there and have those specific controls… Especially helpful if you want to lager your beer, because lagering a beer requires lowering the temperature incrementally to almost freezing. So that is a pretty easy way to do it.
Let me think what else. I've made rice wine in there, I've made sauerkraut in there… I don't know. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Tempeh you could probably make it there, although I haven't done that.
Not all at the same time, of course!
Karen: Because they require different conditions. But these are all the possibilities.
So, everyone, you need to go check this out: tradcookschool.com/thecave
Or if the Kickstarter campaign is no longer going, you can check out the details at swisshillsferments.com
Karen, since you are a long-time fermenter now, you know, many years you've been experimenting and getting into this, could you give us some tips on something that you've learned that our listeners would find helpful in fermenting?
Karen: Oh, yes. Well, let me think.
Well, I'll bring it back to temperature and say that for pretty much anything that you're going to ferment, temperature is a factor.
A lot of things that people can ferment can be fermented at room temperature, which is so convenient. You can make your lacto-fermented items at room temperature, which I do all the time.
But understanding how temperature plays a role will really, I think, help to create a more consistent product.
For example, if your kombucha is sluggish, if it doesn't seem to be progressing fast enough, if you warm it up just a few degrees, sometimes that makes all the difference.
Or, if you're brewing beer for example, and your temperatures are swinging wildly throughout the day because you live in the desert and it's 30 degrees colder — I don't know, you're keeping it in your back porch or something, and at night, it gets 30 degrees colder — your beer is going to suffer.
So, whether you have a Cave unit or not, there are things you can do to help your ferments proceed in a better way, and to help those beneficial bacteria and yeast and molds to thrive as opposed to negative ones, and a lot of time that comes down to what the temperature is, and controlling how fast your fast your foods are fermenting.
I would say that for anything that ferments, temperature is going to be kind of the consistent factor there.
Wardee: Oh, I would totally agree. I receive requests all the time to troubleshoot different ferments — sourdough, or veggies, or cheese — and the first thing I bring up is ‘tell me about the temperature.' If it's not warm enough, or if it's too hot, or if there are too many fluctuations, then it's not necessarily going to be a bad result, but it's not going to be the result that the recipe says.
Wardee: It's not going to proceed just like that. In some of the examples you shared, it might not turn out to be what you want. So, yeah, temperature. Totally agree with that.
I love that The Cave solves the temperature issue for us.
Karen: Right, yeah.
Wardee: So, I know that people are very excited to check this out. Tell us how they can get involved. Like, when they go to tradcookschool.com/thecave, walk us through some of the options.
Karen: So, if you take a look at our Kickstarter site, you should watch the video. It will explain some more about what you can do with The Cave and how it works, and there's a description on there to explain what our Kickstarter is doing, what we're trying to raise money for.
There are also different rewards that you can select. If you're interested in The Cave, you can pledge money, and if we reach enough funding goal, then we'll ship you one. That would be great. But if you're not to that level yet, if you just want to know more information about how to make cheese, or how to make salami, we also have an ebook that we're selling that you could look for.
We've got some other really cool prizes. Like a sourdough starter, or a bacon-making kit, or a beer stein. Things like that.
So, check it out. See what we have, and spread the word.
Wardee: Yeah, and I love it. I love that you've given people options if they're not quite ready for The Cave but they believe in what you're doing… A very small pledge, $8, nets you three eBooks that are beautiful. There's the Swiss Hills Guide to Brewing, the Swiss Hills Guide to Cheese-Making, and the Swiss Hills Guide to Meats. They look beautiful.
Karen: Thank you! I've tried really hard to distill all the really important information, all the things you would need, and put it in an approachable guide that's got pictures, and some of them have recipes.
Wardee: Okay, well, everyone, we're going to wrap up here. I just want to point you to tradcookschool.com/thecave, for the Kickstarter information.
You can also do swisshillsferments.com, which is Karen's website to learn more. It's probably the portal for everything that they're doing and sharing.
And Karen, as we wrap up, is there anything you want to add before we say goodbye?
Karen: Oh, I just want to give… I would just say that I hope that you are inspired, because some of these things that I've done, like making cheese, it just sounds unapproachable to some people, but at the same time, it's a lot simpler once you understand the steps and once you know what the process is like.
I just hope that you are inspired to go try something, whatever it is… If it's cheesemaking, if it's another traditional skill like wood carving, or I don't know! Anything that is interesting to you. I think that hobbies like fermentation just expand who you are as a person, and make you more interesting, and bring more culture to our lives.
(Wardee and Karen laugh)
Karen: I'll just end with that, I guess.
Wardee: I love that. Couldn't have ended on a better note. I totally agree.
So get out there and make something simple, ferment something simple… I mean, you can take your yogurt or your kefir, and you can drip it through cheesecloth, and you have the easiest cheese in the world, and it's so delicious and so wonderful.
Well, thank you, Karen, so much for being here. I want to tell you and your husband God bless you, and I really hope your kickstarter succeeds, and that you are able to bring The Cave to the world. It's so exciting, and as I said before, I am planning to support it.
I hope that others will join me!
Karen: Thank you so much, Wardee! I really appreciate being on your show.
Wardee: Thanks, Karen. Bye-bye.
About Karen (and her husband James and family)
We don't live on a farm, we don't milk our own cows, and we have failed terribly at gardening (though we keep trying every year). But even though we don't live out on a farm (yet), we have a desire to keep those traditional homesteading skills alive. So we age our own cheeses, and we butcher and process animals (sometimes in our garage).
We make salami and dry cured meats, and we brew beer, ferment veggies, make yogurt, and bake our own bread. We think these are important skills that a lot of us in the modern world are forgetting, and we want to help bring them back. We realized about two years ago how difficult it can be to do some of these projects that require temperature and humidity control, and that's when the idea for The Cave was born: a chamber that can heat, cool, humidify, and circulate air for making cheeses, dry curing meats, and fermenting almost anything. Since then we've been working hard to start up our business, and we're finally ready to unveil our pre-sales!
My favorite ferment is triple cream brie. James' is probably sour beer. Our children's favorites are yogurt and fermented carrots and sourdough bread.
- Swiss Hills Ferments — Karen's beautiful website and blog
- The Cave Kickstarter page — support this project!
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