The Kraut King

Craig pounding kraut. Regularly turning the sauerkraut over is necessary for an even fermentation.

Craig pounding kraut. Regularly turning the sauerkraut over is necessary for an even fermentation.

That summer I played farmer

I used to be a teacher. This meant that my summers were free. Knowing that my good friend Craig Lewis owned farmland and given the fact that, at that time, I fantasized about being a farmer, I offered my humble services. I’d work for him in exchange for vegetables and meat.

Peas, potatoes, tomatoes, broiler chickens and pigs. That more or less sums up what I helped tend to that first summer. But this had not been a working farm for quite a while. The meat of the animals and the products of the gardens were primarily for personal consumption. The real magic happened in a red roofed building where the sauerkraut was made.

Real sauerkraut will keep fermenting in the store. Puffy bags are a good sign!

Real sauerkraut will keep fermenting in the store. Puffy bags are a good sign!

The value of value added

After university, Craig worked as a manager for Walmart. It was during that time that Doug, his father, had started making large quantities of sauerkraut according to the family recipe. He was then selling the sauerkraut at the local farmers’ market. Being a businessman with a business mind, Craig saw the opportunity to help scale what his father had started building. That was six years ago.

Today, beyond the farmers’ markets, Lewis Mountain Fresh Farm does one thing: sauerkraut. It’s just salt, water and shredded, local cabbage which is left to ferment into something funky and fabulous. “But most people who sell sauerkraut, kill it,” Craig tells me. “They stabilize it which makes it much easier to ship. Leaving it as a living product like we do wasn’t being done. So we had to solve all of the logistics problems, all of the packaging problems.”

But the bags he sells the sauerkraut in sometimes go puffy. It’s normal. It’s a byproduct of what makes his sauerkraut so good for you: all the beneficial probiotics are still alive, doing their thing. Even if you’re not in it for the health properties, it’s just really great sauerkraut; unlike that simulated stuff made with vinegar.

(See my recipe for Reuben Sandwich here.)

Craig Lewis of Lewis Mountain Fresh Farm. Poor guy. I made him stand outside in the cold with a all this wet sauerkraut in his hands...

Craig Lewis of Lewis Mountain Fresh Farm. Poor guy. I made him stand outside in the cold with a all this wet sauerkraut in his hands...

Scaling up. Always.

I get an update on the world of sauerkraut every time I hang out with Craig. He cares about and is proud of the product he sells but he’s also extremely motivated by the idea of growing a business. In the world of food production, these are indispensable attributes. “A few years ago we faced a choice: expand by buying the equipment we need to grow cabbage or find a local supplier. We ended up going with the second option. They’re just thirty-five minutes down the road.”

Lewis Mountain Fresh Farm now makes hundreds of thousands of pounds of sauerkraut every year which can be found from Boston to Toronto and all throughout the Maritimes either on grocery store shelves, in restaurants or in manufactured food products like perogies.

In all these years, the sauerkraut hasn’t changed. Heck, it’s the same sauerkraut Craig’s grandparents made back in the day up there on Lewis Mountain. What has changed considerably is the scale of the whole operation. Sauerkraut is a value added product which is relatively simple to make. The logistics of business, however, aren’t simple. If they were, we’d all be barons in our own niche, sauerkraut or other.