Making Miso

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Sandor prepares to open my 2 year old miso at our 2008 Fermentation Workshop

|By Megan Spencer|

I’ve been in love with fermented foods for years. This love affair began with a book recommended by a friend, Sandor Katz’s ‘Wild Fermentation‘,  which has become a well thumbed book in our home. I had been making kefir and  sourdough bread regularly, but was ready to try making a longer ferment, one that i loved dearly;  Miso.

I made our first batch of miso the winter of 2007, based on the recipe in “Wild Fermentation“. I checked in on it periodically, but had no idea what to expect. I was nervous about the things growing on top, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it. This first batch waited through it’s first year (one summer is considered a year for miso), and then the next. I was unsure as to whether or not it was good to eat. I had emailed Sandor to tell him that i was in love with and deeply inspired by his book, and it ended up that we planned to have him come to the farm as part of a tour of Ontario in 2008. I asked for his expertise, and we  planned to open up the miso as part of our food preservation workshop that fall.

Such an exciting moment to have such an inspiring soul arrive at my home, I admit, I was a little star struck. After some mead making, Sauerkraut making and a through discussion and information session from Sandor, I hauled my miso upstairs from the cool darkness of our root cellar (very pregnant with our first, not recommended) and presented it to Sandor, who sat in the midst of the group of 20 people gathered in our living room. Sandor ceremoniously unwrapped the tied string and towel that covered the miso and peeked inside. I was convinced he would say it was inedible, but he was unfazed by the large amount of mold that grew on top of the plate that covered  the miso, which i’ve come to know as normal. He scraped off the top, pulled off the plate, and scooped out any bits of mold that made their way down the sides of the plate. He stuck his (clean!) finger in it, tasted it, and pronounced it delicious! We all had a taste, and described the myriad of flavours that this creation was bursting with.  I was so relieved and thankful for his insight. I was thrilled that I had successfully make my first batch of miso, and with our own beans!  Such an empowering, breakthrough moment, for which I will be ever grateful. Thank you, Sandor!

koji rice- the spore grows on rice, then is mixed with beans to ferment into miso
koji rice- the spore grows on rice, then is mixed with beans to ferment into miso

So now, in our seventh year of miso making, I am pleased to say I am no longer squeamish. I wait in anticipation to taste my creations.  I know when my miso’s done well. It gives me great pleasure as well,  to see the transformation in perspective of those attending the fermentation workshop of when food is ‘good’. I’ve found this to be such a simple but powerful thing,  to learn from someone who’s gotten over the hump of being worried about food ‘safety’. We need to retrain our noses and palettes to know what fermented food goodness is. This is in our being to know, it’s innate. Sometimes it needs a little push, though. Having someone in front of you, who’s been eating their own fermented creations for years, and has learned to trust their gut, in the deepest sense, is invaluable.

This year, I was inspired to try adding some of my favourite spring plants to the mix; wild leeks, nettles and dandelion, having seen that South River Miso makes a product with these plants. brilliant! I had to try it. We’ll open it up for the fermentation workshop this year in september. can’t wait!