One of the greatest parts of writing the blogs for the Saxapahaw General Store is having the opportunity to meet so many local purveyors and learning about the paths they followed to end up where they are now.
Beth May earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and then went on to earn her master’s degree in biological and agricultural engineering. While in grad school she began working in a fungal fermentation lab where she practiced growing fungus on solid substrates. When she left her work at the lab, Beth needed to carve a new path as she did not see herself working in the biotech field. Luckily, she stumbled upon the controlled fermentation of soybeans which results in a product called tempeh. At this point in time Beth had never heard of, nor eaten tempeh. She decided to try to cook some; it turned out terribly, and tasted awful, however the scientist in her was determined to continue experimentation and make a good tempeh.
Beth uses the traditional Indonesian method of tempeh production which utilizes two separate fermentation processes. She studied extensively and gathered much knowledge from The Book of Tempeh by William Shurtleff, finally perfected the process, and launched a business called Tempeh Girl.
Maddie and I had the opportunity to visit Beth at her production facility in Hillsborough, NC. The space where Tempeh Girl produces her tempeh is shared with other local food producers including YAWP bars, Luna Pops popsicles, Napoli Pizza, Dining Wisely catering service, and Seal the Seasons frozen local produce.
Beth greeted us with a bright smile and energetic demeanor. She reminded me oddly of Helena Bonham Carter, with a similar quirkiness, but much less manic than the characters I’ve associated with the actress. Beth gave us the grand tour of the facility, and the step-by-step process for her tempeh. She is a “pusher of the local agenda” and sources all of her soybeans from an organic farmer in Rocky Mount, NC. As a mother of two sons, ages 9 and 12, it was extremely important for her business to grow gradually, and sustainably in order to maintain the balance of parent and business owner. Currently Beth receives just over two tons of soybeans per year and she uses about 200 pounds of beans on production days which occur every other week.
Since her first attempts, Beth has become a much better tempeh chef. Though Beth and her family are not vegetarians, they enjoy tempeh tacos weekly on “Taco Tuesday” night.
You can find Tempeh Girl tempeh at the Saxapahaw General Store in our Smoked Tempeh Reuben sandwich and available for retail sales. You’ll also find this product at North Carolina restaurants like Sage Cafe, The Pig, The Spotted Dog, The Refectory Cafe, Fiction Kitchen, Tir Na Nog, and Raleigh Times. Additional retail sources for Tempeh Girl are Weaver Street Co-op, Durham Co-op, and Harmony Farms.