Herb Pesto Starter

This does not look like much in the jar, but I can assure you it is divine. I made my first small batch with basil, garlic, and brine. I fermented it for 7 days.

Here is the magical part. If you make fresh pesto you know what I am about to say. Pesto oxidizes in the fridge. After about a week you are discarding enough off the top that you feel guilty.

Pesto made with this starter does not oxidize! After the ferment, you pack it in a jar and store it in the fridge. When you run out of pesto, you use your starter, fresh parmesan, olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste. I usually prepare pesto in 4 oz batches. I spread it on bagels, english muffins or toast in the morning and sometimes make a creamy pesto sauce for pasta.

A four oz batch will last about two weeks in our house and I have never seen it discolor, much less oxidize. The color of the prepared condiment is vibrant — the aroma and flavor are too.

Because pine nuts are expensive and hard to find, I use scoured almonds. Another alternative is walnuts but I suspect the skins are too bitter.

My favorite discovery about Pesto is that the familiar basil pesto is only one of many options. I noticed that many pesto recipes add parsley. You can make pesto with whatever savory herbs are overtaking your garden. If it tastes good it is your pesto.

The fermented starter will last for a year or more in the fridge. Just cut a disk of parchment paper to cover in order to reduce the risk of mold.

For the Ferment

  • 4 cups of fresh basil (or any combination of basil, oregano, and/or parsley)

  • 4 or five cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped

  • Natural Salt

In a mixing bowl, layer herbs, garlic, and sprinkle salt. Let the mixture sweat for a hour or several. Once you pack this into your jar, make up some brine if needed, to cover the mixture. Place a fermentation weight on top and ferment at 72° f for 7 to 10 days.


I do not have specific measurements for the ratio of starter, nuts, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. It all goes into the food processor to be pureed. It all depends on how much you are preparing. Try:

  • 5 tbsp of starter

  • 4 tbsp of nuts (pinion, pine, shaved almonds)

  • ½+ cup of shredded parmesan cheese

  • Olive oil drizzled into the pesto as you puree in the food processor to emulsify the paste into a creamy spread.

  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

I am not Italian so what do I know? This tastes amazing and I use it all the time. You may have other ideas about the ideal mix.