Barry Schwartz honed his tempeh-making skills while working as the nurse at a socialist youth movement camp—"The kids loved eating tempeh," he says—and then as the chef at a yoga ashram in upstate New York. Now he and his two partners work out of a commercial kitchen, using a bicycle-powered grinder to prepare the locally grown beans and grains, and sells at markets and through CSAs in New York City under the name Barry's Tempeh.
Tempeh, a fermented product with a meaty texture, is made by soaking and cooking a mixture of ground beans and grains, drying it thoroughly, and leaving it in an incubator for 24 hours, during which time a probiotic-rich culture takes hold and transforms the mixture into a cohesive product. The incubator is intended to replicate the environment of Indonesia, where tempeh was first developed thousands of years ago.
While tempeh is traditionally made with soybeans, it can be made with just about anything. Schwartz makes a soy, oat, and barley variety regularly, along with an all-soy variety and a white bean tempeh flavored with herbs de Provence, but sometimes will have peanut, lentil, or split pea tempehs available. He says that barbecuing it is probably the easiest way to prepare it, but that it works well in Indian curries and "lends itself to anything you can do with meat."
Barry's Tempeh is sold frozen, since, unlike commercial tempehs that are sold in refrigerated cases, it is not pasteurized. "It's alive," Schwartz explains, "I don't want to kill it." He goes to say that he considers himself "a food scientist/farmer—the things that I make grow." And he has a deep respect and reverence for those growing things. "It's a miracle to leave it in the incubator, come back in 24 hours and have tempeh," he says, "It's a beautiful process."
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