.West Marin Culture Shop: Where tradition and fermentation meet

What do wine, cheese, miso and oh so many more food items along the same vein have in common?

Well, they’re all delicious, all fermented and, most importantly, all sold at the West Marin Culture Shop, conveniently located in Point Reyes Station—in the same building where Cowgirl Creamery once wowed the world with its iconic cheese wheels.

Now, the selfsame structure plays host to what can only be described as a sort of fermented micro food hall, a purveyor of picnic supplies and supplier of pickles and soda pop—the real kind that’s made with fresh fruit and is so authentic it’s only available on tap onsite.

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Married couple, Maggie Levinger and Luke Regalbuto, are the masterminds behind the brews, brines and all-around good times to be had browsing this relatively new yet entirely ancient concept of a culture shop. They also own and operate their own line of fermented goods, Wild West Ferments, and have a sauerkraut so good, it can be eaten with a fork straight from the jar…with the eater in question just standing in front of the ajar fridge door, drinking down the brine in secret at 3am.

But before delving too far into all the details of how Point Reyes became a place of such cultural significance, one should first take a moment to ask the experts…what exactly is fermentation?

“Basically, fermentation is—from a human perspective—the practice of enhancing food by working with microbial populations,” explained Levinger. “It’s changing ingredients through a sort of dance with a microbial population.”

“Often for preservation purposes,” noted Regalbuto. “And I like to think there’s a little bit of magic in there as well.”

“There’s definitely an element of magic and mystery to fermentation,” Levinger said. “It’s almost better to not try to understand it completely.”

The magic and mystery of fermentation are indeed in the intangible, invisible, uncontrollable (or at least unpredictable) and entirely naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or mold, all of which can be harnessed to turn something as humble as a head of cabbage into an absolutely enchanting, peerless elixir—it’s an impressive enough transformation to make anyone wonder if the fermentation experts are at least a little bit magic as well.

“Maggie is a little bit modest, but she really is the origin of all of this,” Regalbuto said. “She studied nutrition and worked in restaurants in the North Bay and was already a food professional by the time she was in her early 20s. Her mom was diagnosed with colon cancer at a young age, which is what got her interested in probiotics and fermented foods before it became this big industry.”

Levinger actually grew up in Inverness and has lived in West Marin for most of her life. And she did in fact leave, first to live in Humboldt, where she met her now-husband, and soon after to travel extensively, exploring the world for its best ferments. But eventually, Levinger returned to Point Reyes with her husband and a whole lot of passion for fermentation in tow.

“[West Marin] is a pretty potent place to have as a homeland,” Levinger said. “And I still have a lot of family out here, my siblings and my dad…and this place just has a strong pull, especially since we felt like we were interested in living as much of land-based life as we could, plus we love to forage wild foods, have a garden and life rich in community involvement.”

As a result of the couple’s extensive travels, the West Marin Culture Shop is well-equipped to provide shoppers with far more than just the classic fare of fermented American foods. In fact, customers can expect to find some truly unique items from across the globe, including imported fermented chocolate, a living juniper berry beverage, umeboshi and even feta that’s been shipped from Greece and packed into a wildly delicious Wild West Ferments brine.

“It would take a lot of hubris, even after 15 years, to say that what we ferment is always good, or that we always get what we’re looking to get,” said Levinger. “But as far as our recipes and ingredients go, we know that those are good.”

What began as a couple’s passion project developed from selling fermented goods from the back of their pickup truck, which then led to a farmers’ market stall and, after a dozen years, has become a storefront and a line of fermented products that is sold in around 200 stores across California.

Wild West Ferments is proudly an all-organic company and can guarantee all of the fermented goods they create are entirely untouched by plastic, from start to finish.

“Our vision was to create a sort of food hall to show off the bounty of West Marin’s food bounty,” explained Regalbuto.

The West Marin Culture Shop itself is open and inviting, and its spacious interior leaves enough elbow room for customers to feel at ease as they browse the specially curated selection of items lining the walls and stalls inside.

“The vision of West Marin Culture Shop is really just to show and display all the amazing things fermentation can create,” Regalbuto said. “We have an incredible cheese selection, wine selection, chocolates, vinegars, misos and other little things that kind of fit in there like cured meats…”

And this fermented goods store doesn’t just offer already-made fermented food products; they also provide a plethora of ferment-it-yourself resources, including an array of books all about how to ferment one’s own food, as well as locally-made items like ceramic fermentation crocks.

“The concept of West Main Culture Shop is a pantry and picnic emporium dedicated to traditional fermented foods,” said Levinger. “And within those categories, we’re really seeking out products and partnering with people who are just as dedicated as we are.”

Those interested in experiencing some fermented magic for themselves may visit the West Marin Culture Shop by stopping by 80 4th St. along Point Reyes Station—where the iconic Cowgirl Creamery once sold its world-class fermented dairy to the Marin-dwelling masses.

“The fact that [West Marin Culture Shop] was formerly a shrine to cheese is amazing,” concluded Regalbuto. “Especially since cheese is an incredible fermented food that our region specializes in, so we still love showcasing what the local farms have to offer.”

To learn more, visit the Wild West Ferments and West Marin Culture Shop website at wildwestferments.com, or stop by the shop Friday through Monday from 11am to 5pm for a briny bite of microbiome-balancing magic.

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