Fermented food and drink: Good for your gut

Jenna Empey with Gut Shot, an innovative digestive aid packed with probiotics.

Jenna Empey and Alex Currie make a fitting partnership both in business and in life: they started a band mere days after they began dating and eventually ran a record label together. In 2012, they launched a new business venture when they founded Pyramid Ferments in Prince Edward County, producing handcrafted fermented food and beverages using local ingredients sourced from County farmers.

Pyramid Ferments will be one of about 50—Yes, 50!—vendors offering specialty foods for sampling and purchase at fast-approaching #TGCCF. That’s on top of cheese, cheese and more cheese! Order your tickets here: https://cheesefestival.ca/tickets/

Jenna has always been passionate about working in the food and agriculture industry. She began working with local farms in the County in 2003, but took a break to move to Nova Scotia for a few years on a whim. Relocating to the city made her miss that connection to the local food scene and so she began experimenting at home with new kitchen techniques to retain a relationship with food. That’s where she discovered her love of fermenting.

“I started fermenting because it was a technique I’d never tried before and I just really got into it,” Jenna said. “Fermenting creates such complex, deep flavours from really simple ingredients and it’s such a neat experience to watch the fermenting process happen.”

It was in Nova Scotia that Jenna began selling her fermented products, beginning with local farmers’ markets and a specialty food store.

Jenna and Alex began growing their own food and making ferments to sell on a farm in Prince Edward County five years ago.

In 2012, Jenna, 33, moved home to Prince Edward County and Alex, 34, joined her. They settled on a farm and began growing all their own food and making ferments to sell, launching Pyramid Ferments.

The early days of the business were challenging, as they lived in an unheated trailer and spent their days farming the land and building up the business. Pyramid Ferments began with a variety of saurkrauts and kimchi and expanded to include kombucha shortly after. Jenna and Alex split the work; she focuses on the vegetable ferments, while he oversees the kombucha operation.

Pyramid Ferments has grown rapidly and their line of tasty and gut-healthy products has expanded. They developed Gut Shot, an innovative, potent digestive aid packed with probiotics; Beet Kvass, a traditional Eastern European probiotic drink; and a small-batch series of products that draws from what’s in season on the farm and what they can harvest through foraging.

Pyramid Ferments has earned a devoted customer base and widespread recognition for its devotion to revitalizing the fermented food movement. The company has been honoured with two Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

For Jenna, the most rewarding part of running her business is to be back in the Prince Edward County community, working alongside a supportive local food community.

“We love our lifestyle here. We work really hard and we’ve grown this business in a community that we love and that is very supportive. It’s great to live in such a nice, warm, welcoming place and to be able to grow our family and our business here,” Jenna said.

But running Pyramid Ferments hasn’t been without its challenges. As innovators in the fermented food space, Jenna and Alex have had to adapt and invent their business model as they go. They’ve learned important lessons in their first five years of business and are proud of the success they’ve earned.

“There’s no model for fermentation businesses,” Jenna said. “It’s an old technique of preserving food but it’s one that people don’t really do on a large scale anymore. There’s no book to read or mentors to turn to; we’ve had to figure everything out on our own.”

Pyramid Ferments brings its line of tasty and gut-healthy products to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival on June 3-4.

Pyramid Ferments will bring its full range of handcrafted fermented products to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival at Picton’s Crystal Palace on June 3-4. They’re also planning to bring some prepared foods, like tangy, spicy kimchi rice. This will be their third year taking part in the Festival and Jenna is looking forward to meeting with like-minded artisan producers from across the country.

“It’s a fantastic festival and it’s inspiring to see so many high-quality artisan food producers from all over and to have them here locally in our own backyard.,” Jenna said. “We get to represent what Prince Edward County has to offer and meet a lot of really interesting food producers.”

This year, Jenna is also busy planning the first Ontario Fermentation Festival, taking place in the County in August. She and the vendors are eager to showcase the full range of fermented goods, like pickles, miso, beer, sourdough bread, chocolate and coffee.

—Phoebe Powell, senior roving reporter at CheeseLover.ca, is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her last blog post was on Kennedy boys to serve their father’s famed braised-beef poutine at #TGCCF.