“Hey baby, wanna pet my scoby?”

If there’s one event where a pickup line that weird might work, it’s Sunday's Los Angeles Fermentation Festival, where all kinds of food and drink that have gone through the natural, metabolic process will take over the Venice Arts Plaza.

A scoby is the starter used to make kombucha; it resembles, in its best light, a gelatinous, slippery pancake. Every fermented food needs a starter culture of yeast or bacteria, and there will be a bunch (scobies and otherwise) on display at the festival’s Culture Petting Zoo, including those used to make kombucha, kefir and sourdough bread.

“You can touch them, look at them under a microscope and literally pet them if you’d like to,” festival co-founder Katie Hershfelt says. “We are so different than your average festival, where you come in, eat and leave. We really get people involved and engaged in what we’re teaching.”

A spinoff of the Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival, which Hershfelt started in 2011 with her mother, Lynn Hartman, this year’s Venice event is its L.A. debut. There’s a DIY Pickle Station, which walks participants step-by-step through the pickling process — not just of cucumbers but also of carrots, potatoes and squash.

Then there’s the Screamin’ Pickle Contest, open to amateurs and experienced fermenters alike, which covers anything you can put through the fermentation process. Monica Ford, a judge of previous competitions and a speaker at this year’s L.A. fest, remembers an “absolutely delicious” fermented plum ketchup and an Indian-style preserved lime in curry from past competitions.

Credit: Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival

Credit: Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival

Exhibitors run the gamut from bigger, more widely distributed names (Brassica and Brine, Cultured & Saucy) to smaller vendors whose goods are not distributed widely, such as Fermentation Farm in Costa Mesa. They'll be selling a range of products, not all of them normally associated with using bacteria and yeast: sprouted almond pâté, bagels, raw apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, curtido and artisan fermented sausage, to name a few. 

“You get to taste foods that you can’t find anywhere else,” Hershfelt says. “So this is the one place you can come and try fermented chocolate mousse.”

Kids are welcome (and free if they’re under 16) and can participate in most of the interactive sessions and talks, but adults have full rein of the Farm-to-Bar area, where more than a dozen fermented alcoholic beverages (including sour beer) will be poured and sessions will be held on everything from traditional Champagne fermentation to home-brewed mead. (Scotty Evans, beverage director at Gjusta, will talk shrubs.) 

And for those who can’t get enough of that Korean fermented cabbage known as kimchi, there will be a 200-person, hands-on, how-to demonstration by Farmhouse Culture founder Kathryn Lukas.

Chopping up veggies, massaging them, working in bacteria and letting it spoil — it’s all in a day’s fermentation.

Los Angeles Fermentation Festival takes place Sunday, July 12,  11 a.m.-4 p.m.; tickets available here starting at $45; Venice Arts Plaza, 681 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. 

LA Weekly