Expert Interview Series: Sean Timberlake of Punk Domestics on Food Preservation

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a community site for DIY and food preservation enthusiasts, and is the Food Preservation Expert for About.com We recently checked in with him to learn more about his passion for punk...

Food preservation

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a community site for DIY and food preservation enthusiasts, and is the Food Preservation Expert for About.com We recently checked in with him to learn more about his passion for punk cooking and food preservation. Here's what he had to say:

Can you tell us the story behind Punk Domestics? When and why did you start your site?

I have a long history in the product development of online content and affinity sites. When I left my last full-time job in 2010, I had an itch to create a new site. The DIY food movement was really growing at the time, and no one was aggregating around that particular niche. I had a clear vision in my mind for the site, and my bet paid off. The site was an instant success, and the community it has sparked has been enormously active and rich.

How did you become so passionate about food preservation?

Interestingly, I did not grow up with food preservation, though my husband, who grew up in rural Kentucky, did. It wasn't until after I began blogging in 2006, exploring more about food in general, that I became aware of home canning. I'm the sort of person who, once I discover that I can do something, I have to do all of it, so it became a real obsession. All the different topics of the site represent something that fascinates me, and which I continue to explore today, from pickling to salumi and more.

How would you describe Punk or DIY cooking?

The origin of punk in the context of the site comes from an antiestablishment sentiment that arose during the upwelling of this movement. There had been an uptick in food safety scares, and people were losing trust in packaged foods. By making our own jams, pickles, condiments and other foods, we were giving the finger to Big Grocery and reclaiming our connection to the roots of our food.

What's one of your favorite Punk/DIY cooking finds?

I'm always awed by the amount of creativity and inspiration I see out there. I often say I learn something new every day just by moderating posts to the site. Lately I'm really taken by innovation in products that enable the process, like Kraut Source and Mason Tops Pickle Pipes for fermentation, and I just backed a Kickstarter for a device you install in a fridge to turn it into a proper curing chamber for salumi and cheeses.

What's one of the most unique or surprising food preparation or preservation techniques you've learned about?

Just last week I read this fascinating article on the Nordic Food Lab where they were waxing entire plums and letting the natural yeasts ferment the fruit within. I mean, who thinks of these things? I would never have, but I'm glad there's always someone out there pushing the boundaries.

How has travel informed your culinary tastes?

In every way imaginable. I was vegetarian for many years; the thing that brought me back to eating meat was my first trip to Italy in 1999. I was in a wine cantina, and they were serving salame they made on premises. I looked at it, and decided I had not flown 7,000 miles not to eat it, so I tried it. Not long after, I was a travel editor for a while, and that was when I realized I approached every culture through the lens of food. In my everyday cooking, I pull in influences from around the world.

You periodically lead culinary tours in Romagna, Italy. How does this region inspire what you do in the kitchen?

Back in 2011, there was a blog phenomenon called Charcutepalooza, helmed by blogger Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow. It was a year of monthly challenges from the book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. During that time, a friend of mine from Romagna approached me, noting that every year her family had a hog slaughtered and hired in a norcino to turn it into multiple kinds of salumi. Would my community be interested in going and doing this? Yes! We also do a bunch of other hands-on stuff in the region, like making hand-rolled pasta, the flatbread known as piadina, and more.

What are some of your favorite food discoveries from Romagna?

In the town of Sogliano al Rubicone, they make a particular cheese that gets aged in limestone pits. This was initially done to hide the cheese from Vatican tax collectors, but they discovered that it imparted a unique, flinty flavor and sharpness. It's called formaggio di fossa - literally, pit cheese. They also make a wintertime conserve called savòr, made with quince, apples, pears, nuts and saba, or reduced grape juice. It's phenomenal. I'm also partial to the sea salt they harvest from Cervia on the coast. The composition of minerals in the sea water makes the salt mild; they call it sal dolce, or sweet salt, and it used to be reserved exclusively for the use at the Vatican.

What's one tool you can't live without in your kitchen?

Truly, there's almost nothing I can't do with a good chef's knife and a pair of tongs.

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