To me, fermentation is a kind of magic and something I’ve always been curious about. Like many things I find myself fascinated by, there is both an art and a science to it - a world of complex flavours can be created by controlling an invisible world of microorganisms.
In the year 2020, I, along with everyone else, had a lot of spare time on my hands with limited options for things to do and a new understanding of the meaning of patience which, it turns out, are ideal conditions to learn more about the magic of fermentation. My journey began with pickling everything I could. I ate these homemade pickles straight from the jar while watching YouTube videos about fermentation: It’s Alive with Brad Leone and videos by Joshua Weissman. I also bought a copy of The Noma Guide to Fermentation - a fantastic resource for inspiration and methodology that led to my kitchen becoming covered in jars full of bubbling wild ferments, bacteria breaking down sugars and creating lactic acid, and all sorts of weird and wonderful things. A few of those jars may have exploded, but that is one of the risks you face with fermentation.
Coming from a drinks background, most of my experiments focused on making ingredients to use in cocktails: I fermented pineapple and made tepache to mix with rum; I fermented different fruits and made vinegar to turn into shrubs; I even fermented garlic in honey and then used the honey to make a syrup for a cocktail with beeswax-washed rye whiskey and yuzu juice as a twist on a Gold Rush. I then came full circle and made pickles again - not simply because they are delicious but also because a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice (re: pickleback) is simple, tasty and generally, an all-around great time.
Pickles and whiskey is an iconic combination, like peaches and cream or Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson film. This is why I’m so excited about partnering with the lovely folk at Acide and bringing two of my favourite things even closer together.
Ever since I skewered pickles from a barrel in a medieval restaurant in Estonia in 2019, I’ve dreamt of barrel-ageing pickles. When I met Jon, the founder of Acide, his passion for acid was obvious and I knew he’d be open to trying something different with us. So, armed with a barrel, plenty of cucumbers, some vinegar and some rye, we began experimenting. The result is crunchy, sour, sweet and savoury - all the things a perfect pickle should be.
As a part of this limited-release rye whiskey bread & butter pickle collaboration, we had a conversation with Acide Owner Jon Bussell, talking about his passion for acid, sustainability and his journey to where he is today. Check out the interview below.
Interested in trying the pickles? Acide x The Gospel Rye Whiskey Bread & Butter Pickles is available to purchase now in our Hot Sauce & Pickle Kit.
-- What was your first memory of pickles?
Oh, my first pickle memory… My father and I used to shoot pheasants during the hunting season in Ireland. I was probably around 14. After trudging through the fields from the crack of dawn we would normally have lunch which consisted of cold sausage and Branston pickle sandwiches on white bread which I loved (and still do). If you don’t know Branston pickle, it’s made from a variety of diced vegetables including swede, carrots, onions, and cauliflower pickled in a sauce of vinegar, tomato, apple, and spices. It’s the best. I still buy Branston pickle when I see it in Aldi during British week to dip my cold snags in.
-- How did your path lead to becoming a pickling and fermenting expert?
I’ve been cooking in professional kitchens from an early age and have always been interested in the why. Why ingredients change when heat/acid/cold etc is applied. Why does cabbage change into sauerkraut when you add salt and hold it for approx. 3 weeks at around 18C. I’ve always had something on the go, bubbling away in the kitchen - a sourdough starter, raw vinegar, different kombuchas, the list goes on. I wouldn’t dare call myself an expert. In the world of pickling and fermentation there is still so much to learn. I haven’t even touched the iceberg with koji which I am very excited about.
-- How do Acide’s recipes and production styles differ from other pickles and food acid products in the market?
To be honest, I don’t know. We aren’t really watching what anyone else is doing. What I do know is we use good Victorian ingredients. We like to keep a good mix of pickles and ferments, Baechu Kimchi and Caraway Kraut and some a bit more different, Pickled Peanut Chilli Crisp Giardiniera and Sichuan Green Beans.
-- Each recipe includes a combination of creative ingredients that are locally sourced, is this something that is important to you or stumbled across by accident?
Locally sourced is a no brainer for us. We don’t see the point of buying something from the other side of the world when we can use better produce that is in season from Victoria. This also fits in with our no waste goals and reducing our carbon footprint.
Inside Acide's production facility // PHOTO: Acide
-- Acide has a zero-waste goal, what initiatives do you take to get to that goal?
We decided straight of the bat to work towards being a zero-waste business. It’s very important to us. Some initiatives we take include reusing glass jars which are returned to us at the farmers markets we attend. We buy as much as we can in bulk to reduce packaging. Any excess packaging, we use as filler for inside boxes for our online orders. We mostly use all parts of the vegetables. For example, we use the leaves and cauliflower stems for our Cauliflower and Seaweed Kimchi and use the cauliflower flower for our Pickled Curried Cauliflower. Any veg we can’t use, onion skins, tops of carrots etc we compost. Hopefully in time we will have a rich enough compost to grow some vegetables and herbs.
-- There’s a quote on your website, “Waking up drenched in sweat, screaming at the top of his lungs, it needs acid, it needs acccid, it needs acccccid…” Tell us about the story behind this.
Haha, that quote brings back memories! My first head chef, the unforgettable Gerard Anthony Michael Donnelly, may he rest in peace, was quite the character – funny, irreverent, and dripping with sarcasm, yet a master in the kitchen. I distinctly recall an incident when I was innocently boiling corn on the cob. Gerry strolled by and quipped, "Teaching them how to swim, are we?" His cheeky remark caught me off guard, but it carried a nugget of wisdom – a smaller pot indeed boils faster.
Now, circling back to that infamous quote. It was during a crucial breakfast event, with me tasked with perfecting the hollandaise sauce. The kitchen was in full swing when Gerry tasted the sauce and erupted in a tirade, practically shouting that it needed acid – "it needs acccid, it needs acccccid!" The whole operation ground to a halt until we swiftly incorporated more lemon juice into the hollandaise. That incident marked a turning point for me, a revelation of the paramount role acid plays in cooking.
In that moment, the significance of acidity was laid bare. A touch of acid can redefine a dish, elevating it from forgettable to unforgettable. This revelation, sparked by Gerry's insistence, has remained etched in my culinary journey. It's a lesson that encapsulates the delicate balance and bold impact that a hint of acidity brings to the palate.
-- What part of the pickle/fermentation industry are you most passionate about?
What gets me excited about the pickle/fermentation industry is the combination of three key factors:
Firstly, I thrive on experimenting with new flavour combinations. Playing with unexpected ingredients to create unique tastes while staying true to fermentation principles keeps me engaged and inventive.
Secondly, I'm passionate about the health benefits tied to fermentation. The relationship between gut health and the foods we consume is captivating. Knowing that I contribute to people's well-being through tasty and wholesome products is genuinely fulfilling.
Lastly, the sustainability angle really drives me. Fermentation isn't just about preserving flavours; it's about reducing food waste. I'm enthusiastic about finding smart solutions to repurpose surplus produce and contribute to a more sustainable food system.
In essence, my passion is fuelled by the blend of creative experimentation, well-being focus, and the drive to make a positive environmental impact within the pickle/fermentation industry.
Acide x The Gospel brine in the making // PHOTO: IF
-- What is your favourite local place to go?
Before having two beautiful boys we would go to the Valley Cellar Door in Moonee Ponds – it has a great selection of wines and easy simple food. Nowadays, it’s Moondog World in Preston. Kid friendly, amazing selection of beers, great food, waterfalls, rivers and a play area for the boys.
-- Is there anything else besides pickles you are obsessed with?
Yes, definitely! Alongside my passion for pickles, I've built up a collection of around 400 cookbooks. These books span various cuisines and eras, offering me a wide range of culinary insights and ideas.
My approach to curating these cookbooks is all about gathering practical knowledge and diverse inspirations. From traditional family recipes to contemporary takes on cooking, my collection reflects my genuine interest in exploring different culinary approaches.
Each cookbook has become a valuable resource that I often turn to for ideas and techniques, both in my pickling/fermenting pursuits and in creating other dishes. I find that flipping through the pages not only sparks my creativity but also gives me a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of food culture.
MAIN IMAGE: Acide // PHOTO: Jon Bussell
Liked this article? You might also like In the neighbourhood: Fancy Hank's.