We love our local products and we want to share why we love them so much. That said, we’re excited to introduce Local Spotlight, a little feature where we ask some of the folks who create the great local Western New York products we carry at Feel Rite, why they do what they do. We’re thrilled that our first Local Spotlight vendor is Buffalo’s own RJ and Lindsey from Barrel + Brine.
Local Spotlight: Barrel + Brine, Buffalo NY
Can you share your history, how did you get started?
We both grew up in Sicilian homes and have fond memories of canning, curing meats and preserving. I (Rj) have always been a bit of a collector and find the idea of taking something fresh and preserving it for later use to be therapeutic. It touches on something very primal. I think the idea of preservation, fermenting or otherwise is embedded in our DNA. Our ancestors did it to survive, and it wasn’t until the modern family launched off and made simpler choices that the connection began to break away. Working at Elm Street Bakery in East Aurora so many people would tell me that something reminded them of their grandparents, or their parents and the connection was made again. That’s when I realized that people we’re ready for it. Plus western NY has some of the greatest produce I’ve encountered so it would be a shame to not try to take that at its peak and put it in a jar.”
What was your first fermentation experience like?
“My first experiment with fermentation was rather strange. I was young and I knew that, as simple as it was, grapes = wine. So I gathered as many grapes as I could find from a local vineyard brought them home and smashed them in my hands. I took all the residual liquid and seeds and skins and shoved them into a bottle. I tossed it into a cupboard and left it there. Typical for a kid I forgot about it, but when I eventually came back to it I didn’t have wine. I had a messy, cloudy vinegar. Strangely enough when I make vinegars now I typically follow that same process. Fruit into wine, wine into vinegar. I was a weird kid.”
Why pickles/fermented foods?
“It just consistently hits on something in me. Plus, if there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow I would be able to live off of the 200 gallons of sauerkraut for a while. Fermentation is something that, like butchery, charcuterie, farming, brewing is very old. Very very old. The history still completely boggles my mind and it still excites me. It’s fun.”
What makes your pickles/products different?
“I like to think that I approach everything from a cooks point of view. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, I don’t live on a commune in the middle of the woods. I try to make it approachable. I try to make it about taste first, and I try to make it functional but most importantly I try to make it universal. I might make a sauerkraut or a pickle based on the fact that I want a steak sandwich on Friday night and I know that I want pickle on it.”
If there was one thing you’d want people to know about fermentation what would it be?
“How vast it is. Chocolate is fermented, cheese is fermented, beer, wine and sausages are fermented. Bread is fermented. How old fermentation is. Fermentation was happening well before written history. How different it is from the modernized quick stuff you can find in grocery stores. We have a lot of guests who are afraid to try our sauerkraut because they are so used to that canned, watery, vinegary mushy stuff. Ours is nothing like that. Its raw, and crunchy and delicious. We usually change minds.”
What is your favorite item (or favorite recipe/way to eat your favorite item)?
“Kimchi is probably my favorite item that we make. It’s a Korean condiment and in Korea its eaten at almost every meal so its a pretty versatile dish. I prefer mine on soft scrambled eggs with scallions.”
Anything new we might see from Barrel + Brine in the near future?
“We are releasing a line of products with our good friends at Leonard Oakes winery who make steampunk. We’re taking their Steampunk hard cider and secondary fermenting it into vinegar. Like Braggs. Raw, probiotic rich and really really good. They use a special blend of apples that really lends a complexity to it. Its great with salads, or just as a shot in the morning. With that vinegar we’re also making Fire Tonic which is the vinegar steeped with a proprietary blend of roots and chilies for an energy booster, immunity defense and all around feel good tonic. Lindsey has been crafting kombucha and its some of the best I’ve had. It might be one of the most refreshing things I’ve drank. She makes a Blueberry Lavender with fresh blueberries from Awald Farms and with lavender we grow ourselves, she also makes a Ginger-Lemon, and an Elderflower Tonic. The elderflower has this really nice honey characteristic without being overly sweet. Its floral and its a bit of a mood boost for me, personally.”
Where do you see Barrel + Brine in 5 years?
“Hard to say. Honestly the feed back and the love and support we’ve received from the community just keeps us inspired to do more. Hopefully in 5 years we’ll be able to stock stores all over New York and few spots in North Carolina. A winter shop in Vermont would be cool.”