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2017 Pickled & Fermented Contest Rules

Want to know how you stack up against RVA's picklers and fermenters? Enter the competition!

Want to know how you stack up against RVA's picklers and fermenters? Enter the competition! Judging will take place the Friday before the Pickled & Fermented festival and the winners will be announced during the festival! 

Categories include:

  • Sweet Pickles - fruits, vegetables, bread & butter
  • Savory Pickles - vegetables & dill pickled savory edibles
  • Relishes - Chow-Chow, Piccalilli, Pickle, Chutney
  • Cabbage - kimchi & sauerkraut
  • Drinkable Ferments- kombucha, shrubs, kefir (sorry no alcohol allowed)
  • Sourdough bread
  • COTU Pickles (made with COTU beer)

Contents Rules:

  • All entrants will be given a number once they fill out the registration form. The number must be on your submission. Entries must not include labels or names.

  • All jars must be labeled on the side for content. All products must also be labeled for method (quick pickle, fermented, pressure canner, boiling water bath, or drying method).

  • The pickled or fermented product must be prepared by the contestant submitting the item for judging.

  • No pickled meats, fish, or egg entries will be accepted.

  • One entry in each category is permitted.

  • There is a nonrefundable $10.00 entry fee per applicant that must be submitted with your application.

  • You can enter as many categories as you want for an additional $5 per entry using the code BIGPICKLE.

  • Pickles must be submitted by Thursday, September 21st. Submissions can be taken to the bar during taproom hours.

  • It is the competitor’s responsibility to pick up or dispose of entries after winners have been selected. Any items left after 6pm the day of the festival will be considered abandoned and we will in no way be responsible for them.

Submission sizes:

  • Pickled items - one (1) pint sized jar
  • Relishes - one (1) 1/2 pint jar
  • Cabbages - one (1) pint sized jar
  • Drinkable ferments - either (2) 12 oz. bottles or (1) small growler or (1) 16 oz. easy cap bottle
  • Sourdough bread - one (1) loaf

Sample label:

Item: Dilly Beans

Contents: Green Beans, Dill, Garlic

Method: Pressure Canner

Upon submission of your entry form, you will be given a number - this number will need to be on the lid or label of your jar. The name of the pickler cannot be present on the label - this is a blind tasting.

Pickles and pickled products will be judged on color, taste, appearance, originality, and texture. Here are some notes on the judging.

Category 100: Savory Pickles

Appearance: Cucumber and Mixed Pickle Pieces are firm and plump, completely and evenly saturated with brine. Uniform in size. Free of defective spots on peel. Note: Fermented dills might have slightly cloudy liquid with a tiny bit of sediment on bottom. Visible spices should be pleasant in proportion.

Color: Vegetables should be bright with color characteristic of the product. Cucumbers should be dark green in color. Pieces should not be translucent or dull looking.

Texture: Pickle Pieces are firm, crisp, and plump.

Taste: Are they delicious? Savory pickles should have a good blend of spices to vinegar flavor. Not overly salty, vinegary, or sugary. Brine should not taste watery.

Originality: There’s something to be said for a good, solid, pickled vegetable. That said, this portion of the judging allows for creative picklers to shine.

Category 200: Sweet Pickles

Appearance: Neatly cut edges that hold their shape. Uniform in size. Entries may be slices, spears or chunks. Free of defective spots. Liquid may be thin to a thick syrup. Any visible spices in pleasant proportion. Fruit is translucent or whole fruit (such as peaches) looks cooked with good penetration of syrup.

Color: Vegetables or fruits should have retained their color. For fruit, color is uniform, bright, and glossy.

Texture: Pieces are firm, yet tender, plump and well saturated with the syrup. Syrup is thinner than in preserves but not watery.

Taste: Are they delicious? Sweet pickles should be balanced in flavor: not too sweet, not too briny or vinegary, and not overly spiced.

Originality: This portion of the judging allows for creative picklers to shine.

Category 300: Cabbage

This category includes sauerkraut and kimchi. Overall, the cabbage should be uniform in chop with a nice crunch.

Sauerkraut Color is off-white to light straw. Pieces should be translucent, clear and bright. Free from pink, brown, or other discoloration. Shredded pieces should be uniform in thickness. Texture should be firm, not mushy. Clear liquid sufficient to cover all solids. No air bubbles or trapped air.

Kimchi should have a nice punch of sourness with a memorable burn on your tongue. At the same time, kimchi shouldn't be so foregone in its fermentation that it tastes like mush. It shouldn't feel too soft; it needs to have some crunch.

Category 600: Relishes

This category includes Chow-Chow, Relish, and Chutney. All should be finely chopped. Uniformly firm and crisp, not shriveled from excess salt, acid or sugar.


Relishes should be bright in color, uniform in chop and crisp. No one flavor should be too pronounced.


Chow-Chow is a mixture of finely chopped vegetables that usually has cabbage as one ingredient. Color is often bright, yellowish/green due to cabbage.


Chutneys are chopped fruit pieces or fruit pulp mixed with raisins and chopped vegetables, such as onions and peppers. Chutneys are cooked with sugar and vinegar until thickened. Texture of vegetable pieces is similar to that of relish, but the liquid is thicker. Color is often dark but depends on ingredients and spices used. Free from any signs of scorching (burned flecks).

Category 500: Sourdough Bread

Appearance: Well risen, and slashed appropriately to accommodate oven spring. The moulding of the loaf should be skillful, although not technically perfect. The crust should be well developed and attractive, with bloom (color).

Texture: A thicker crust is desirable, as this is a “crusty” bread. This crust should have good edible texture, and not be leathery from too much steam. Internally, the structure should display bold and adequate fermentation, with irregular alveolation, interspaced with dense crumb. The aeration should not be overly irregular. The mouthfeel of a sourdough must be of creamy softness, it must dissolve after minimal chewing and be easy to swallow and digest.

Color: The internal crumb should have some color, indicating both good flour and possibly a blending of flours to enhance the loaf’s character.

Crumb: The crumb should tear well without easily forming small crumb, or damaging the structure. The crumb should be springy and resilient while still dense, but not damp.

Smell: The development of fruity and floral aromas is characteristic of a good sourdough.

Taste: There should be a balance of “nuttiness” that is underscored by acidity. Lactic is more skillful than acetic, and while maintaining the “twang” of a sourdough is important, attenuating acidity is desirable. The length of flavor is important as well - how long it actually lingers, and how it changes or develops is also an important part of the taste.

Category 400: Drinkable Ferments

This category includes kombucha, kefir, and shrubs. Drinkable ferments will be judged on taste, appearance, and smell.

Category 700: COTU Beer Pickles

This category is a creative one! Make pickles using COTU beer in your brine! Pickles will be judged on texture, appearance and taste by the Center of the Universe Brewing crew. There are special prizes for this category so grab a COTU brew and get pickling!  

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