Supporter of the Season: Carl Etnier

Carl and I met at the Capital City Farmers’ Market, back in the fall of 2020. His bright smile—eventually visible when we could be at the outdoor market without masks—and interesting conversation fueled our visits on his many trips to the market. I soon learned that he’s a radio show host and quite an avid fermenter himself. He’s also a member of his local selectboard, the town’s dog catcher, and a marathon runner.

Carl is part of a faithful band of farmers’ market supporters who attend the market almost weekly and year-round, regardless of the weather. It certainly warms my heart, and sometimes my toes, to see his friendly face at the winter market when the air is sharp, the sky is gray, and the thermometer is in the single digits, or less. As a way to thank Carl for his continued support, I asked him to become VFA’s second Supporter of the Season. Check out his interesting tales below!

A little about Carl

Is there a business or non-profit you’d like to lift up?
Yes. The non-profit Central Vermont Community Radio (wgdr.org) formed in 2021 to purchase the licenses for WGDR Plainfield and WGDH Hardwick from Goddard College, which had run WGDR since 1973. A few years ago, the stations had financial support both from Goddard and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Now, the Central Vermont Community Radio is trying to carry out a similar mission* almost entirely with listener contributions, local fundraising, and volunteers. Community radio is a way to help the community keep local conversations going and build stronger connections. *"To provide a community radio station which serves the people of north central VT and beyond; to provide a forum for cultivating social change that re-harmonizes human communities with the natural world, supports the independent arts and celebrates diversity, creativity, and freedom. We inform, entertain and educate through the presentation of alternative news, artistic expression, and public affairs programming."
Tell us about your interest in live-cultured food and drinks.
Back when almost all beer available in this country was some type of American lager like Budweiser, a friend (and Charlie Papazian's book) introduced me to home brewing. I was blown away by the delicious variety of styles it was possible to make with simple equipment and kitchen-level sanitation. Rocky Raccoon Honey Lager was the first beer recipe I made, and it was a gateway drug that led eventually to making full-on mead, or honey wine. When I moved to Sweden in 1990, it was legal to make beer and wine at home but not mead. As a result, I shared the recipe with friends, wrote up a flyer on how to make it, and entered my mead in the competition at the first Stockholm Beer Festival in 1992. Since mead was illegal, I called mine "Busy Bee Beer;" it won amazement from the judges but no award. The mead also opened doors and brought forth smiles from Belgian brewers and lambic blenders when some friends and I took a week-long beer safari to sample the wares and meet the people of the Low Countries. Home-brewed mead is now legal in Sweden, I've read, and I like to think I played some small part in the movement to make Sweden safe for mead home brewers. These days my primary home fermentation adventures are yogurt from local raw milk, hard cider, and bread.
So, you make fermented foods and drinks at home. Right?
Yes!
Fermentation is always an adventure. Have you ever created a fermentation flop? If yes, tell us a little about it.
Oh sure. I've let cider stay too long in the carboy and develop all sorts of off flavors. Nothing so bad I won't drink it, but I don't serve it to friends. (Or even enemies, as it would give them something to mock me about...) And though I've made plenty of good cottage cheese and ricotta cheese, my attempts at hard cheese have always ended up too salty or otherwise off. I've also repeatedly tried to induce flops in beer brewing, with no success. I typically have enough beer to fill just half a bottle towards the end of bottling a batch. Curious about the importance of hygiene at this stage, for years I spit into many of those half bottles of beer before capping them. I knew not to serve the half bottles to anyone else, and so I tested them for any difference from the rest of the batch. They were always just as tasty as the rest of the batch. A better story is the serendipitous creation of something different than what I'd set out to make. For example, I once made a batch of brown ale that I left unsampled for several years. When I opened it, I found it had developed a delicious, far more complex flavor profile than typical brown ale--something more like a Rodenbach or other beer made with wild yeast.
Please describe your biggest fermentation success.
The best alcoholic beverage I've made is pyment, which I've made from honey plus the concentrated grape juice from a kit for red wine. Somehow it came out like a combination, equal parts intoxicating and inexplicable, of dry red wine and honey sweetness.
Which one of our products is your favorite?
What else would you like readers to know about you?
I suppose I'm not alone among readers of this newsletter in loving local farmers' markets, for the support of the local food economy, the chance to visit with the people who make or grow wonderful food for us, and socializing with neighbors.
How else can VFA help you with your health, happiness or success?
Keep on connecting us with tasty fermentations, knowledge of how to make our own, and with each other.
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