Elizabeth Vecchiarelli has just moved to Temescal with a larger version of her popular store, Preserved. (Alix Wall)
Elizabeth Vecchiarelli managed to do a lot with 100 square feet of space. For a year, she sold wares related to food preservation and DIY in a backyard shed called Preserved on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue and taught classes on how to make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, vinegar and kombucha on a bench right outside. But after a year, she has moved into much grander digs in Temescal, on a popular stretch of Telegraph Avenue (her presence next to Bakesale Betty’s guarantees a lot of foot traffic). The second iteration of her store, also called Preserved, had its grand opening March 4.
“This is 500 square feet, but it feels way bigger than five times the size of the last one,” said Vecchiarelli.
While her shed was filled floor to ceiling, the store is as well, with a ladder needed to reach the highest shelves. Vecchiarelli is hoping to fill a niche that didn’t exist in the East Bay before Preserved.
When the fermentation enthusiast first moved here four years ago from Portland, she realized she couldn’t find one-stop shopping to buy all the supplies she might need for various food projects. While Biofuel Oasis had some, their selection was small, and while Rainbow Grocery has an excellent kitchenware section, it required crossing the bridge.
Broken down by section, Preserved carries supplies for making your own: sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables; jams, jellies and vinegars; sourdough and other breads; yogurt, cheese and butter; beer, cider and mead; kombucha, kefir – both milk and water – bitters and tinctures; soap, salves, and then what Vecchiarelli calls “functional kitchen wares,” things like old school food mills, mortars and pestles, and many sizes of strainers.
“I’m trying to bring in things that are affordable, functional and economical,” she said.
Preserved sells fermentation crocks that span a range of prices, from handmade ceramic ones to those that are mass-produced; as well as a wide variety of mason jars.
Then there are the stranger things like a jerky gun (to make beef and other jerkies); a deluxe cherry pitter, which uses suction to excise the stone; and a non-electric dehydrator that hangs from a hook, allowing fruits and vegetables to air-dry.
Less affordable is the food section, as she carries things like South River miso, which can cost up to four times as much as the brands of miso found at the market.
“The misos I carry are aged a minimum of one to two years,” she said. “They are traditionally fermented using old wooden barrels and are unpasteurized. Most miso you get from the grocery store has been fermenting only a couple of weeks. These are not only more healthful, but much more flavorful. The taste of these is unparalleled, and you use much less of it. Once you taste these, you won’t want anything else.”
She says the same about Red Boat fish sauce – she is very choosy about the products she features – and says it’s head and shoulders above most brands.
She also carries other Japanese products, like tamari and umeboshi plum vinegar, both of which are organic and made using traditional methods with no preservatives. She stocks many local producers, like jam from Blue Chair Fruit, shrubs from Inna and spices from Oaktown Spice Shop (she’s working on some custom blends with them, stay tuned). Refrigerated products include: cheeses from local producers like Sierra Nevada Cheese Company, Bellwether Farms and Garden Variety, a producer of sheeps’ milk products in Watsonville. Also stocked are the cultures to make a variety of cheeses at home. While in Portland Vecchiarelli worked at the award-winning Olympia Provisions, so she carries a number of their salamis and other cured meats.
Raised in New Jersey, Vecchiarelli’s entrée into the food world, and specifically the area of fermentation, occurred when she moved to Philadelphia and worked at a wine, cheese and beer bar called Tria.
“Not only were we as a staff required to do weekly trainings on how different cheeses are made, but on the different styles of cheeses,” she said. “We had blind tastings, and we also had a little school there for customers to take classes, which I eventually got involved in.”
Later, Vecchiarelli got into farming, and with that came her introduction to Sandor Katz’s fermentation bible: “Wild Fermentation.”
That book was completely eye-opening for Vecchiarelli, because while she had been already immersed in the world of wine, cheese and beer; she hadn’t considered that foods like yogurt, tempeh and sourdough were all fermented, too.
While Katz’s book led Vecchiarelli to begin experimenting with preserving her own vegetables, she found she wasn’t successful at it right off the bat. But the more she tinkered, the more delicious her ferments became. When she moved to Portland, she began offering classes to friends and then friends of friends.
“Classes are awesome because they’re community-based and give people a direct connection to ask questions. And people feel more comfortable in groups. I had a great experience and that really empowered me to teach,” she said.
When Vecchiarelli began reading up on the health effects of fermented products, she decided to become more educated in nutrition and moved to the East Bay to attend Bauman College. While studying nutrition, she worked in front of the house at the Oakland restaurant Camino for three years.
“They are on message with everything I believe in,” she said. “I familiarized myself with food culture in the Bay. While I had been immersed in the food world for over a decade, this was a great crash course into all the local farms. [Chef Russell Moore] also does a ton of fermentation and preserving, so even though I had quite the repertoire, he introduced me to new things. ‘You’re a fermenter, and you’re not making your own vinegar?’ he asked me.”
(Camino’s vinegar is one that is in stock as well).
Ultimately, Vecchiarelli is hoping to educate the masses about how to make all of these products, and sell the supplies to make them at an affordable price-point while she’s at it.
“A main mission is to make all of this approachable on an economic and educational level,” she said.
Classes are offered twice weekly, both Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, and whether you take a kombucha class or a kimchi and sauerkraut class, you can then buy whatever supplies you need to do-it-yourself at home. Vecchiarelli teaches many of the classes herself, but some are offered by other local experts-- Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit teaches the jam class, and Camino chef Danny Keiser teaches the sausage-making class.
While most supplies can be bought individually, Vecchiarelli makes her own starter kits as well, with more coming soon. She also writes her own recipe cards, which, she believes “make all of these things wholly approachable, so people think, ‘I really can go home and do this right now.’”