Firefly Kitchens last month won its second consecutive Good Food Awards gold medal, distinguishing itself in a category that seems deceptively simple to master.
As satirized on this season of Portlandia, an increasing number of wannabe artisans are fermenting and pickling, drawn to the technique by extraordinarily low overhead costs. Sauerkraut producers don't need a herd of goats or an expensive German-made copper still: A start-up requires only a bin, cabbage, salt and a sharp knife.
Although there are very few variables with which sauerkraut makers can tinker, Firefly's co-owner Richard Climenhage attributes his company's win to cabbage quality; salt selection and patience. Firefly's Cortido sauerkraut - a blend of cabbage, onions, carrots, jalapenos, salt, oregano and red chili peppers -- was one of eight artisan products honored in a contest which drew more than 900 entries.
"Just using good salt and fermenting at a near-constant temperature, that's what produces decent sauerkraut," Climenhage says. "That's the funny thing about this. There is no secret."
Firefly uses heirloom cabbage from Full Circle Farms, which distributes Firefly products through its CSA service. Scraps from the sauerkraut-making process are picked up Samish Bay Cheese, which feeds the vegetable waste to its pigs.
Climenhage and Julie O'Brien in 2010 launched Firefly so they could share their nutritional message with the masses: Both are passionate believers in the powers of sauerkraut, which they say is a natural sleep aid, arthritis reliever and bowel regulator. But they've had to counter plenty of preconceptions about sauerkraut.
"They may have started with the dead stuff you get at Costco or the ballpark," Climenhage says of sauerkraut skeptics.
"There's sort of this stigma with sauerkraut," O'Brien adds.
The pair recently reworked labels for its product line, which includes carrots, kimchi and kimchi brine, replacing the term "sauerkraut" with "kraut."
"We're going with the new name just because it's hip and cool," Climenhage says. "We're trying to come up with a crossover."