One clear exception to this is Mighty Bean's Fresh Local Tempeh (which I know I go on about a bit), but I was very excited to discover the other day that, in fact, there's tempeh being made in Brisbane! No way was I missing out on that!
I got into contact with Lara, the owner/tempeh maker behind Totally Tempeh, and arranged to pick up some tempeh but, more importantly, learn a bit more about the process involved.
Lara lived in Indonesia (with her Indonesian husband) for some years, where tempeh is not some obscure item seen only in healthfood aisles, but a street food, consumed and appreciated by all. It was here that Lara learned how to make tempeh, a skill she brought back with her when her family returned to Australia. Though she and her husband made tempeh at home for themselves and friends, they recently decided that it was high time to share their tempeh with the wider world, and Totally Tempeh was born.
Tofu and tempeh are often erroneously lumped in the same basket (along with all other "soyfoods"), but not only did they originate in completely different areas, but the process by which they are made, and the result, are entirely different.
Probably the greatest difference is that tofu is made from soymilk, whereas tempeh is made from whole soybeans. To begin, the beans are boiled for about an hour, then poured into buckets full of water, where they are massaged to hull the beans: the hulls float to the top and can then be washed away. Lara explained that the tempeh starter culture cannot get through the tough hull, so they need to be removed.
The hulled beans are soaked for 12 hours, which removes enzymes in the soybeans that can sometimes result in a bitter taste. After they are soaked, they are boiled again to sterilise them, then laid out on a towel to air-dry. Once dry, the batch is divided into a few mounds, to ensure the starter is evenly distributed, the starter is added. Portions are then weighed off and bagged.
The bagged tempeh blocks are then kept at 30degrees for 36 hours: somewhat incredibly, in the final 12 hours they must be fanned as the culture generates so much heat that the blocks can overheat! (those who have sprouted will recognise the somewhat odd sensation of picking up a sprouting jar to find that it's hot).
After the 36 hours has passed, the process is complete! Lara pops the tempeh in the fridge, where it will last for 5 days (I suspect that some larger producers steam tempeh after the incubation period, which accounts for the longer shelf-life), or it can be stored in the freezer indefinitely (not that it'll last anywhere near that long!)
Yes, it's being kept in the fridge, but fresh tempeh should also not be stacked in the freezer, or it will heat itself up again! Gosh, what a crazy cat.
When we visited, Lara was kind enough to fry up some of her tempeh that she'd frozen. It was absolutely delicious, of course, and I think she's very lucky that there was any left (OK, Matt told me to stop eating it...). But then Lara brought out some of a more recent batch, and by "more recent" I mean "It finished incubating last night and was put in the fridge oh my gosh this tempeh is under 24 hours old". The outside I can only compare to Camembert: a undulating surface of delicate white, only occasionally broken by a cream-coloured soybean. And Lara cut into the block, I couldn't help but smell the block, and sniffed a delicate bouquet that was both familiar and excitingly new. I managed to contain myself and waited until the slices had been fried before having a taste.
I'm just going to say that again so you get what I mean
This is what tempeh is meant to taste like. Not covered in all kinds of sauces or hidden away in casseroles, but just lightly salted and fried, eaten while still piping hot.
Once again, Matt told me to stop eating, as Lara's children ran in and grabbed a few pieces to nibble on (take note: children eating tempeh and loving it!). To be honest, I think Matt was telling himself to stop eating it as much as he was me.
We left with two blocks (one for us, one for Susan (if she's lucky!)), but I guarantee we'll be going back for more very soon.
At the moment, Totally Tempeh is still in the planning stages (check the facebook page: only created on the 16th!), and Lara's only making tempeh for friends, but you can help them get on their feet (and support an amazing local small business!) by contributing to their pozible project (for which you will most certainly be rewarded with amazing tempeh!)
Needless to say, I think I already have the star of my Favourite Things 2013...
You can contact Totally Tempeh through their facebook page, or by contributing to their pozible project (see below: and don't forget to check back on the project as new goals are set!).