Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nature’s bling: An artisan’s ‘fermented life’

Sacha Laurin is making jewelry from dried kombucha cultures. The 
culture is dried and colored with beets, carrots, teas, flowers and painters pigments, then turned into necklaces, and earrings which will be sold at next weekend’s 44th annual Whole Earth Festival. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | May 05, 2013 | Leave Comment

Check it out
What: 44th annual Whole Earth Festival hosts an average of 55,000 attendees and artists ranging from musicians and dancers to carpenters and painters. Vendors, food and entertainment abound.
When: Friday, 1 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, May 12, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: UC Davis Quad

Many health-conscious people have indulged in kombucha tea, a fermented drink with reported benefits to digestion, the immune system and liver function, among others.

But how many people are wearing kombucha?

“I can only find one other person in the whole world making kombucha jewelry,” said creative wonder Sacha Laurin, a local cheesemaker who has turned her love of all things fermented into wearable art.

Laurin, a native of Australia, began her journey into this new venture about four months ago. Having made her own kombucha for years — with yeast and beneficial bacteria — she started thinking about the “mother culture” that forms when the tea is brewing.

Let’s be clear here: Thinking of lovely jewelry when seeing this culture floating on top of a pungent bucket of brown liquid would be a stretch for most people. The culture, well-described by, “resembles a light brown, tough, gelatinous disk — and because it’s a living, growing entity, it can regenerate and create new cultures with every batch.”

Upon viewing the fermenting flattened jellyfish-like creature, you get the distinct impression you might be Seymour about to face the man-eating plant Audrey 2 from “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“I love to make something from nothing,” Laurin said. “Making something beautiful out of what looks like snot or placenta,” is very rewarding.

And beautiful it is. As hard as it might be to imagine dried, fermented bacteria and yeast becoming jewelry that makes people stop her on the street and ask “Where did you get that?!”, Laurin is regularly approached by interested potential customers.

In fact, Laurin will have a booth at this year’s Whole Earth Festival, under the name of her new business, Love your Mother Jewelry. She has been busily making earrings and necklaces for the past few months — “My goal is 1,000 pieces … so I’m working hard in every spare minute!” — turning her home into a “fermentation farm.”

For those still having a difficult time imagining how you get from stinky, thick, pond-scum to wearable art, here’s a brief science lesson.

Using a six-gallon bucket for a big batch of kombucha — Laurin admires the blob on top as “a very healthy mother” — the yeast and bacteria form a sort of pancake with layers on top of the liquid. She takes pieces of the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and uses it sort of like sourdough starter in smaller containers, such as beakers and vials.

A white “baby” grows on top of the little containers. Next, Laurin uses a skewer to pull the SCOBY off the top, and lays the culture on parchment paper to dry in the sun. “You know it’s ready when it turns white,” Laurin explained.

By using containers of different sizes and shapes, such as heart boxes, or square Tupperware containers, she can shape her creations. The culture grows on top to the shape of whatever container is used.

When dried, the SCOBYs become dry and translucent, and from there, Laurin’s imagination takes over. She uses beets for coloring, either by grating them into the kombucha liquid or letting pieces of beet dry onto the SCOBYs.

A golden color comes through when she uses carrot juice, and black and white teas are good tints. She also uses painters’ pigments for coloring.

As for decorating the SCOBYs, beads and other bling come new from A Better to Place to Bead in Davis, but also from recycled jewelry she finds at the SPCA Thrift Store.

And fresh flowers are often Laurin’s go-to ornaments for her jewelry. “A chemical reaction mummifies the flowers,” she said. To feature the flowers in the dried SCOBYs, which have a pliable nature, she simply folds them into the culture, then crimps the edges.

Along the way, Laurin stumbled onto using dandelions as SCOBY ornamentation — dandelions, as in those “weeds” that kids pick up to make a wish. A friend who saw one of these creations thought Laurin was referring to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which inspired her decision to donate all the proceeds of the dandelion jewelry to that charity. Laurin has a personal connection to the charity because her cousin died of leukemia at the age of 21 and was able to benefit from a Make-A-Wish adventure.

Laurin expects to sell her jewelry at Whole Earth for $20 each; pieces from the dandelion collection will sell for $40.

Notes: Laurin is a renowned cheesemaker in the area. Her cheesemaking came from an interest in winemaking, where she “fell in love with the fermentation process” as an assistant cheesemaker for Winters Cheese. Native to Australia — in general, “Australians have a go-getter personality,” Laurin explained — Davis is now her home and she teaches artisan cheesemaking classes in the Sacramento area and studies the science of cheesemaking and affinage at every opportunity, from Cal Poly to University of Vermont programs to UC Davis certificate courses.

— Reach Tanya Perez at or 530-747-8082. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya


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