Sandor Katz brought his self-described “sauerkraut road show” to Chicago last week, and while I missed the actual kraut workshop on the 15th, I did manage to hit both his informal talk Wednesday night at Peter Jones Gallery and the superfun cidering party Thursday night.

At Wednesday’s talk Katz held forth for two hours on the wonderful world of fermented foods: wine, beer, mead, sourdough, cheese, kefir, kombucha, kraut, pickles, and fermented veggies of all ranks. (In other words, all the good stuff.) I wish I had taken notes so I could accurately recount tales of such creatures as the probiotic culture so strong that, when added to a full bowl of milk, it grows furiously enough to pull the liquid over the lip of the bowl, emptying it onto the counter overnight.

But what really stuck with me was the way that Katz, speaking without notes, was able to so thoroughly marry the passion of the true believer and the communication skills of a true educator. It’s a rare blend, especially when the subject’s something as fringey and potentially controversial as raw and live culture foods–a subculture that, I’ll admit, attracts its share of wingnuts. But in his measured, chatty way Katz managed to deliver an impressive amount of information clear of the fog of fanaticism. His first book, Wild Fermentation, strikes the same informed note of discovery–anyone interested in this stuff should really pick it up.

Thursday’s cidering workshop was less structured, thanks to the backyard setting and the DELISHOUS cardamom-infused mead being passed around. About ten people showed up to baptize Nance Klehm’s press, which she’d acquired from a friend whose father had recently passed away and had just gotten up and working that afternoon. Cidering’s pretty basic: toss quartered apples into the maw of the press, grind to a pulp, then press out the juice; let it sit a week or so if you want it to have an alcoholic kick. Her press (now named “Larry,” after its former owner) has some leak issues, so the entire enterprise was pretty comic. But we stood gamely in the yard in the dark, slipping bowls and jars under the base plate to catch the juice by the blue LED glow of a bike light and swatting away at platoons of voracious mosquitos, who attacked all exposed flesh in an apple-juice-fueled frenzy. Photos of the good times are below.

(Thanks to Tree Johnson for the pix.)