Check out this post Oh Happy Day blogger Jordan Ferney did on Snippet & Ink about Paris. Maybe it’s a sign (I believe in them, do you??) that I should go back there early next year. I’m torn between Paris (with an overnight detour to Italy for a few days) and Israel. It’s been too long since I traveled abroad, so here it is in writing, After two years of domestic travel I’m finally trekking back across the Atlantic one way or another in the first quarter of 2014. Has to happen, as much for my mental health as the food.
Archive for the ‘Travel & Maine’ Category
I love to travel. It’s the best way to learn more about the world we live in, about who we are as individuals. Everything about it is special to me. The packing (I’ll pull bags out of the closet and start dropping stuff in them a couple days before departing thinking about where I’ll be when I see those items next), lists (confirm the cat/chicken/house sitter, pack toiletries – because once I left my toiletry bag at home….sometimes things can get frantic trying to get everything crossed off), the voyage (!!), and the destination(s). The rental car experience is in fact the only aspect I loathe. Waiting in train stations means people watching, waiting in an airport equals reading and a drink and a long somewhat thorough exhale. I don’t prepare for trips the way I used to, which was purchasing guide books and creating a list (I love lists) of all the places to visit and things to do. Now I’ll read a couple articles and just go. There’s a bit of adventure in that and room for more extraordinary experiences. At least, that’s what I’ve found. Plus, more often than not I’m going somewhere I know someone and want to be open and available to their suggestions.
My next big trip is to Israel. I have a friend who lives there who’s having a baby (yay A!!) and as well as being someone I care for deeply and want to support (seeing her home), I’m also very much looking forward to having her introduce me to the food there. I’m going to eat anything and everything put in front of me. She’s an amazing baker! I will be surrounded by history as I wind my way through the streets into the markets of Jerusalem.
After that I’m going to fulfill a lifelong dream and rent an Airstream, because now you can!! Hmm, probably should clarify. Until recently, you could rent an Airstream and have it delivered to a campsite or some variation on that experience. What I want to do, and thanks to Airstream2GO now can….is rent one and pull that baby through the great American West. You rent a GMC Yukon Denali (a really nice car to drive) and the Airstream (from their Las Vegas or Los Angeles locations…they do plan to expand) and go. If you haven’t pulled a trailer before, they even have a brief training. During 13 magical days (at approximately $10,660 plus gas, food, airfare it better be “magical”) I’ll cruise from Las Vegas through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah.
For more of what I’m wanderlusting after check out my Pinterest page.
A week ago about this time I was sitting on the back patio at the Lakeview Inn in Greensboro, Vermont reading books on foraging (for an upcoming post on my Portland Press Herald blog The Root) and getting a bit of sun. Cathy and Scott Donnelly, the trusting owners (who I have yet to meet) had left the place and a jar of Gummy Bears (do they know my not so secret obsession with that candy??) in my hands. I’d spent the past day and a half enjoying Hardwick and vicinity and was happy and relaxed.
Last fall, while having coffee with my friend SL we got to talking about bees (my friend A keeps his hives at her home), when an acquaintance of hers leaned over (it’s that kind of friendly coffee shop) and told us about this article he’d read recently on a guy in Vermont making vodka out of honey. My interest peaked I went home and promptly Googled the story. There it was…Caledonia Spirits & Winery, producers of handcrafted spirits including a vodka distilled from honey wine and gin made from local grains and flavored with local honey. I don’t remember exactly how the next few weeks played out, but in a nutshell I decided it would be a good next story for me to write about for the Huffington Post (all things crossed, it will publish in May) so I reached out to the company and somehow got hooked up with Andrew Volk , Owner, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Maine and a semi-official representative for Caledonia Spirits, who met me for coffee (I don’t know about you, but I get more done when drinking coffee) to talk about Caledonia’s unique place in the spirits world. It was then/there that Andrew (who along with his lovely wife Briana, are two of my favorite people in Maine’s food/drink world) and I hatched the idea for what would become the first of the Hush, Hush Parties (see here and here). We’d bring Todd Hardie, the founder of Caledonia Spirits, to Portland, Maine for a house party at which Andrew could work his magic with Todd’s spirits and I could do the first of a couple interviews with Todd.
Todd Hardie is a gentle soul with a brilliant mind and a heck of a lot of energy. He’s an advocate for Vermont agriculture, a lifelong beekeeper, and graduate of Cornell Agriculture School. When we met we talked about bees, sustainable beekeeping practices and the phenomenal amount of information a beekeeper is constantly trying to process to be responsible, Lewis Hill (a mentor to Todd and pioneer in Vermont’s plant nursery business), Hardwick (ag central in Vermont’s Caledonia County, which Todd seeing as a healthy and invigorating community chose as the base of his business), and how vodka is made (yours truly had no idea it could be made with anything other than potatoes).
By the time Todd left, I’d committed to return to Hardwick, VT (my third trip in a little over a year) for a tour of the distillery on the banks of the Lamoille River.
Fast forward to late April, when I pulled into Caledonia Spirits just as Todd and crew were unpacking from the day’s farmers’ market. Todd gave me the basics on the art of distilling and explained the distillation cuts – head (beginning, discarded), heart (what is drinkable), and tail (end, discarded). He explained it’s less chemistry than artistry and intuition. *My upcoming article in the Huffington Post will focus on Caledonia’s distillation process.
After a brief tour of the 10,000 square foot distillery, and look in on his hives, Todd and I climbed in his truck and bounded over to Vermont Soy, an organic soy milk and tofu processing plant run by his good friend Andrew Meyer. This is a person who looks at what his friends and neighbors are producing and if they have a byproduct tries to figure out how it can be turned into a value added product. Andrew’s business partner, Todd Pinkham, was taught how to craft authentic tasting soy foods by food functional Chinese scientist Dr. Guo., at the University of Vermont. Meyer and Pinkham share the noble belief in creating healthy food systems that support local economies and sustainable agriculture. I tasted almost everything and loved the soy puddings (look for “Soyummi” in orange or blue & white containers) and his brand new smoothies made with Coconut Milk so much I borrowed a cooler from Todd to cart some back till I could make sure the local Whole Foods Market carries them (note, Barbara and/or Shannon if you are reading this NUDGE NUDGE get anything/everything Vermont Soy in the cooler section please, pretty please w/ yummy stuff on top).
Since I had arrived late we moved quickly to get me situated at the inn before heading to Todd’s home he shares with Tanya, who should you be fortunate enough to be invited to a meal at her table accept basically just rearrange your entire schedule so you can sit there and eat her food. We ate (because I’m eating pork on very selective occasions now) an Asian inspired pulled pork Tanya made from a pig she and Todd had raised and had slaughtered on their property, along with a fresh salad made up of greens from Hardwick’s amazing Buffalo-Mountain Co-op. I had second helpings of both. Then, they invited me back for breakfast and sent me to the hotel with a large jar of honey.
Back at the ginormous inn (each room opens up to a new room, each worth of a spread in Country Living) I met up with a couple interns from the Cellars at Jasper Hill, who I thankfully found out were staying on the third floor = I would not be all alone in a country inn with all the doors unlocked. Additional bonus of staying with super sweet interns from the place that makes my favorite cheese (Cabot Clothbound), turns out if you are nice one of them will bring you some cheese in the morning. This combined with the eight hours of sleep I’d just gotten for the first time in months officially made it one of my favorite places on earth. p.s. no cell service, yay!!!
Post breakfast (pancakes, maple syrup produced by a family friend served in a gravy pitcher and bacon – my first pork bacon ever wow from their recently dearly departed pig), Todd and I were off. Morning service at a country church in Craftsbury, a couple miles from Pete Johnson’s vegetable/greenhouse operation. The minister paraphrased Kurt Vonnegut, brought up gun violence in our culture, the death of Medgar Evers, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King being imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, and the idea of serving milk and Oreos in communion (hello, I liked this church). From there, a second cup of coffee at a terrific general store (in my opinion Vermont may safely lay claim to having the best general stores) where I found seed packets designed by kids and the entire Ben & Jerry’s ice cream collection of flavors, as well as my second cup of coffee for the day.
Fully caffeinated, we headed to Pete’s. Ben Hewitt, who wrote The Town That Food Saved (in my opinion, as important a read to anyone interested in local food systems as anything Michael Pollan has written), about the great strength’s of Hardwick’s food system (within a 10-mile radius of town you can find High Mowing Organic Seeds, Highfields Center for Composting, Claire’s (started as a community-supported restaurant), Jasper Hill and numerous vegetable farms including Pete’s Greens). Here’s Ben’s first impression of Pete Johnson “He was wearing tall rubber Muck boots, dirty (and when I say “dirty,” I mean dirty) blue jeans, and a similarly soiled Carhartt jacket. His fly was down. His hair (dirty blond, of course) was unruly to an extreme that should have been impossible without the benefit of an open-cockpit airplane.” This is why I love Ben’s writing – it’s so descriptive and intelligently styled. Anyway, my first impression of Pete was after I’d childlike given some thought to grabbing onto one of any of his greenhouses and hanging on for fear someone would remove me. Give me a greenhouse and I’m a happy gal. Had the day not been so beautiful I might have fought harder. His rows of greenhouses – they go and on and on, which is probably a good thing since his farm feeds several hundred people between the farm’s Good Eats CSA and booth at the local farmers’ market. Anyway, he was in his tractor and somehow when Todd first introduced him I didn’t realize who it was (mind full of coffee and greenhouses). A few minutes into conversation the bulb overhead turned on and I figured out who he was. Looking back I can see Ben’s description, but mine was simply of a person with a big passion for growing things and feeding people. It’s very easy for me to understand why someone would want to have his/her person in the dirt day in and out. My happiest days are when I’m filthy, carrying around chickens, gardening, and taking a break by the hives watching the honey bees bring pollen into the hive. Nothing compares.
We left Pete and his brother to deal with tractor issues and headed to Bar Hill, a 256-acre natural area owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and maintained by dedicated volunteers such as Todd Hardie. The vistas inspired novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, who wrote about the view from Bar Hill in his popular novel Crossing to Safety. Barr Hill is also featured on Caledonia Spirits labels.
After a quick drive by of Jasper Hill’s famous facilities I was on my own….to sit in the sun. Life just doesn’t get much better.
When I go back for an event this summer I’m shopping at Pete’s Greens farmstand and hiking Bar Hill. Then I’m going to sip gin and tonics made with Todd’s gin.
For more information on Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom I’d recommend the attractive and informative book Kingdom’s Bounty: A Sustainable, Eclectic, Edible Guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom by Bethany M. Dunbar.
Here’s a link to a nice article in Edible Green Mountains on Caledonia Spirits.
Caledonia Spirits are available in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York (Manhattan, Hudson Valley, and Long Island), New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. You can also purchase them online in 32 states. From May through October, Caledonia Spirits has a booth at several farmers markets including Burlington and Montpelier. The distillery is open for tastings and tours Monday through Saturday 10am to 5pm.
Since Jen, Matt, Joy, Rebecca, Ellen, and Ashley were all such excellent sports about flying all the way to New England to meet up with me for a weekend to learn about maple sugaring (thank you best host ever Arnold Coombs), I figured the least I could do is arrange for them to have a class at King Arthur Flour. What’s say I gush a bit about King Arthur Flour? First, you’ve got Jeffrey Hamelman the man who opened KAF’s bakery and teaching facility, and trained some of the finest bakers in Maine (love those bagels at Scratch in South Portland and the sweets at Standard Bakery in Portland…how about giving a nod his way). Then, there is King Arthur Flour’s longtime support of the local grain economy – KAF’s sponsorship of the Kneading Conference (two days of intensive hands-on workshops covering topics such as sustainable grain cultivation, bread baking and earth-oven construction) ensures it remains an annual event. Finally, on a personal level, there is the Baking Kit donated for the baking classes I’m doing with my friend Ilma (amazing pastry chef at Grace Restaurant in Portland) at two of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine centers.
Susan Miller, the Director of the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center, arranged for our little group to have a pizza making workshop led by super sweet instructor Michelle Kupiec. We learned how to make Semolina Pizza Dough and Pizza Dough. Can we say intimidating?? Put me in a field and I’m in my element, but in a baking center surrounded by professional/semi-professional bakers…um…just being set up to fail. It was such a fun experience I didn’t even mind that my pizzas were not as pretty or likely delicious as everyone else’s…it was not a competition..it was a learning experience. For my part I was psyched just to get to share a table with my friend Rebecca..the uber talented/smart/savvy/sassy/beautiful spirit behind the hugely successful blog Ezra Pound Cake. Let me tell you, that woman knows what to do with flour and water. Darn!
Ashley and her divine looking/tasting pizzas. I kept having not to pinch myself (hello, ouch) that she was there. This is the woman whose beekeeping and raising chicken books helped get my own bee/chicken projects started. She’s an incredibly smart and interesting woman and such a terrific momma. If more mothers were like her this world would be a much healthier, safer, funner place. I am still learning from her…and just you wait till her party and drink books come out next year…oh some fun to be had!!
Matt Armendariz is one of the savviest marketing/branding folks I’ve met in a long while and the maker of G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S photographs. That’s he’s as gifted and generous as he is says a lot of positive things about his mama (again if we had more like her, and him in this world). M.A., you’ll always be Mr. Baby to me, if that’s OK with you.
King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center classes run the gamut from introductory demonstrations to intensive, week-long courses for the professional, along with hands-on classes for children and home bakers. Fore more information visit their website. ox
Upon my return from the Hudson River Valley, I had a couple days to catch up on work/homestead stuff before hitting the road for my next excursion….The Coombs Family Farms Blogger Maple Weekend. I’d assisted with the organizing, and some of my favorite people were going to be there so…with little sleep I essentially tossed stuff into a bag , picked up coffee (aka NASA injected fuel from Starbucks) on the highway and hummed my way to Logan Airport.
Here’s what went down from there…
After a few hugs at the airport….Rebecca (p.s. check out her Flour Bakery’s Coconut Macaroons post), Matt, Joy and I met up with Joanne Chang (she is so nice & I cannot wait for her new cookbook coming out next month) for a tour of the South End location of Flour Bakery and to pickup some yummy baked goods. My special treat was a Homemade Raspberry Seltzer (aka the most delicious thirst quenching drink ever and can anyone say Homemade Oreos…OMG OMG OMG).
Another trip to the airport and Jen (check out her gorgeous, thoughtful post on our trip here) and I were back with the gang plus Ellen at Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop for dinner. By the time Ashley and her family joined us (after a harrowing parking ordeal courtesy of Boston) we had a long table full of boards of sausages, pâtés and terrines made in house. *One of the reasons The Butcher Shop is one of my favorite restaurants, is because of Chef Lynch’s attention to detail and her enthusiasm for producers (to the extent that she’s visited farms, developed relationships w/ certain farmers, fishermen…). The restaurant works with several farms in the surrounding states, and sources much of their raw meat from Brown Boar farm in VT and Burn Shirt Valley farm in MA. *The Pickled Vegetables and Marcona Almonds were lovely with the Parmesan!
Later that evening, after a snowy drive on quiet roads we arrived at the Chesterfield Inn B&B in New Hampshire. In my room I put up my feet and sat by the fire. Toasty!
If you’ve ever been to a sugarhouse and stood by an evaporator you know how wonderful that steam rising up out of it is – sweet, mapley ..comforting. I’d like a machine to reproduce that in my home every night. Ted welcomed us in, engaged us in conversation, talked about building up the fire, his years sugaring. I spend a lot of time with farmers, and what I always focus on are their hands – those beautiful lines, marks, smudges that define their hardworking days in and out for month on end. Ted’s were well worn and spoke of character, history, New England sugaring. He showed me how the evaporator sits up and the back doors to the sugarhouse only go down to about one’s ankles to allow more air in to help get the fire going. I wish everyone who enjoys pure maple syrup could meet people like Ted and Arnold, so they could appreciate how much physical labor and smarts goes into that golden bliss.
Being as we were visiting during the middle of their sugaring season (it was just getting going further north in Canada), we got to tap trees, gather some sap and boil maple syrup. We also got to eat Sugar on Snow!!
Sugar on Snow
Dill pickles are served to cleanse the palate.
Another tradition, donuts…for dipping! Cindy Finck made these, she’s a great cook and baker who works with Arnold. They’ve been family friends for years.
Next up…the Coombs Family Farms Maple Candy Kitchen in Brattleboro, VT. We saw maple candy being made and packaged by hand. (Let me tell you, so we’re clear…chocolate covered maple candy is about the sweetest…nicest…thing anyone could gift you – Cindy had some waiting for each of us in our rooms.) This is one of three (soon to be two) maple candy factories.
Maple candies ready for packaging
The crash course in sugaring took us to Bascom Maple Farm (Arnold is the Director of Sales and Marketing of Bascom, which is run by his childhood friend Bruce Bascom) in Alstead, NH. Bascom boils sap from about 75,000 taps (and purchases a great deal more from producers in New England and Canada), is the leading supplier of bulk maple syrup & bulk maple sugar, and is the largest distributor of sugaring equipment in the country.
As part of Bascom and Coombs commitment to sustainable maple forestry, they maintain and practice a sustainable forest management plan. They use tree-friendly health spouts, and never jeopardize tree health by over-tapping – two taps per average-sized tree is their maximum. They also use energy-saving reverse osmosis that reduces their energy consumption by 75%.
Low impact vacuum tubing helps them protect the fragile root systems of the trees. The vacuum tubes can carry the sap from thousands of trees to one central holding tank, reducing the need for roads to collect sap from buckets, and so minimizing the compacting of soil that can wreak havoc on tree roots and cover vegetation that healthy forests need to thrive.
Our minds full we stopped at L.A. Burdick in Walpole to caffeinate before heading back to the inn. We rested, recharged, and enjoyed a delicious dinner courtesy of Arnold including Maple Walnut Bread and Savory Muffins, Grilled Salmon with Maple Sugar Dry Spice Rub and Cinnamon Maple Butter (delicious!!), and a variety of dessert options.
More on our Sunday adventure at King Arthur Flour to come…. ox
p.s. Books I recommend for those who want to learn more on Sugaring:
Suggestions on serving pure maple syrup from The Official Vermont Maple Cookbook 3rd edition: on hot cereal, on grapefruit or other fruit (I like this when broiled), on plain yogurt, on ice cream, in a milk shake, in coffee or tea (you haven’t lived till you’ve had a maple latte), poured over a butternut or acorn squash, in stir fry dishes (heck, yes), and baked in bread or muffins (don’t have to tell me twice). *Personally, I think it’s also delicious in granola mixes and in sugar form sprinkled on bacon and baked for 10-15 minutes..holy cow!!
Three weeks ago I took a two-day getaway (plus drive time) to the Hudson River Valley’s Kingston, N.Y. One day I learned a lot about pig/pork….and the other day I went on an adventure!
I’ve wanted to visit charming Hudson River Valley for a few years, so once I got there I was determined to make the most of it.
**Note, depending what time of year you go some restaurants will be closed or have limited hours. That is how I discovered these great dining options in nearby Athens (30 minute drive) at Crossroads Brewing Company and in Rhinebeck (20 -25 minutes) at Liberty Public House.
While in Athens (technically, the Village of Athens) for dinner, I was given a tour of the historic district, where there are wonderful examples of residential and commercial properties built during the 19th century, partially as a result of the natural ice industry. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, natural ice cut from the Hudson River provided the New York City metropolitan area with much of its supply. It was pretty cool looking out at the river and thinking this was the source of the Fitzgerald‘s cocktail ice.
9:00 a.m. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
I learned a great deal about tombstone design/details during a personal tour of the cemetery with Director Jim Logan. We visited the Old Dutch Church (above photo) and explored the Old Dutch Burying Ground, where the unfortunate Ichabod Crane sought refuge from a certain headless Hessian. *If you go, I recommend picking up a copy of The Place Names of Historic Sleepy Hollow & Tarrytown by Henry Steiner. It has a number of articles on Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, New York.
10:30 a.m. Lyndhurst Estate
Sitting on a knoll with a lawn that stretches toward the mighty Hudson River, this Gothic Revival mansion was built in an early Gilded Age style. Designed in 1838 and expanded in 1865, its turrets and a four-story tower are a tribute to original architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Narrow hallways lead to rooms with vaulted ceilings and pointed arched windows. Now open to the public, Lyndhurst was originally the country home of William Pauldring, Jr., who was the mayor of New York City in the 1820s. The home was later purchased by merchant George Merritt and eventually by the railroad tycoon Jay Gould. The house was made a National Historic Landmark in 1966. It is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
During my private tour (available upon request), I was permitted to go to the top of the tower. On a clear day I was told you can see Manhattan. The tour was incredibly fun, the 67 park-like acres marvelous, and the collection of preserved items from the home incredible. It’s rare one has the opportunity to see a historic home open to the public with as much original furniture as this one. I would love to go back during the summer and see the gardens in bloom and the nation’s first steel-framed greenhouse in operation.
The Picture Gallery
The Star Bedroom
12:30 p.m. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
Stone Barns is a non-profit farm and education center located in Pocantico Hills, New York. The historic barns and courtyard, were built as a dairy farm in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller,Jr. thus lending to the aesthetic and historical appeal. Stone Barns operates an 80-acre four-season farm and is working on broader initiatives to create a healthy and sustainable food system. Through its Growing Farmers Initiative, children’s education programs and diverse public awareness programs, Stone Barns aims to improve the way America eats and farms. Stone Barns is open to the public year-round, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. *Since 2004, more than 60,000 children have participated in their hands-on-school-year, after-schoo, and summer education programs. That’s pretty incredible!
What excited me most about my visit:
What I want to learn more about – Grains of Truth (because I’m wading into interviews/research for a poston Maine’s local grain economy for The Root later this month)
The 22,000-square-foot (!!) greenhouse is amazing. Oh, and the top can open up!! I had serious grower envy. Recently they harvested Micro Lettuce leaf – Annapolis/Bolsachia, Ficoides, Green Garlic, Mache
4:00 p.m. Vanderbilt Mansion Hyde Park
On the way back up the Valley to Kingston, I stopped to tour the Vanderbilt Mansion. *Note, it is very close to the Culinary Institute of America and FDR’s home in Hyde Park. For all the European influenced aesthetics (Keeping Up with the Jones on the grandest of scales), it was the American technology (buzzer system, heating…) that made the tour so interesting to me. The house, one of several, owned by Frederick William Vanderbilt and his wife Louise, was used primarily in the spring and fall. A staff of 60 or so, drawn mostly from local farm families maintained the house and grounds year-round.
My favorite room, Louise Vanderbilt’s bedroom modeled after Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles. (Frederick’s Spanish style bedroom felt cold and confined to me.)
It was a quick trip, but one during which I saw and learned much. It certainly was only the first of many trips I hope to make to the Hudson River Valley. Everything was so accessible. I hope you’ll go!!
Bottom two photos of Lyndhurst provided by the estate, taken by Jeffrey Sturges. Top photo of Stone Barns used courtesy of Stone Barns, by Annabel Braithwaite. Bottom Vanderbilt Estate photo courtesy of National Park Service.
Here are links to my Portland Press Herald blog The Root Part One (in the field/at the farm) and Part Two (in the classroom, resources including books and upcoming workshops in Maine) I did on the Butchery 101 class I attended at Fleisher’s Grass Fed and Organic Meats shop in Kingston, New York a couple weeks ago.
Two weeks ago I set out for the Hudson River Valley’s Kingston, N.Y., to participate in the third day of a Butchery 101 Workshop at Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats. Jessica Applestone, co-owner of Fleisher’s, had generously invited me to attend, so I could find out how to slaughter and butcher a pig from the best in the business… her husband Joshua. He has earned what Primal Cuts author Marissa Guggiana describes as “a rabbinical role among their growing community of (high-end butcher) peers.” I’d refer to him as a rock star, considering his reputation (I first heard of him in Maine). Heck, Julie Powell of “Julie & Julia” fame wrote a book based on her apprenticeship at Fleisher’s.
As part of my preparation for attending the workshop I attended an informal gathering at Giant’s Belly Farm in Greene, Maine where they broke down a hog (I was unable to attend the first day when they slaughtered the pig). I also read Guggiana’s Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers, Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Mettler Jr., and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu. At the last minute I also spoke with my friend Margaret (rock star mama/goat farmer/writer) about witnessing the death of an animal and whether she thought I could do it (I tend to be overly sensitive with animals). She did and that confidence sealed the deal.
By the time I joined the group in Kingston on Sunday, they had learned knife skills, how to steel a knife (honing the edge, not to be confused with sharpening), how to clean tools and work surfaces, wrapping/Cryovacing (think vacuum-packing), observed the breaking down of a lamb and pig, broken down a pork shoulder, Joshua had demoed sausage and bacon making, and discussed Offal. I didn’t end up meeting Joshua (next time!), but he’d mentored with a master butcher by the name of Hans Sebald, who was described in god-like terms to me, and that was who I was told would be doing the slaughtering and butchering that day.
We piled into cars and traveled out to Meadow View Farm in New Paltz, NY. Along the way we passed orchards and farms. Now we were talking…Hudson River farmland..this was where I wanted to be! We chatted about food, the class, how Meghan..a Fleisher’s apprentice/our guide for the day had come to be with us, and the return of old-fashioned butcher shops. As we approached the road for the farm the seriousness of what we were doing, the purpose of the day, began to sink in for me. I was excited and at peace. *For those who don’t know, I have not eaten pork or beef since I was a small child. For a few years I was a vegetarian. I was in the Hudson River Valley, because I feel obligated to learn about all things connected to eating locally and sustainably as an eater and a writer.
Shortly after arriving, Ryan, the brother of the farmer who had raised the pig, asked myself and a few of my classmates if we had ever seen a pig killed. “No” we answered somewhat in unison, and he responded that 60 years ago we all would have. That set the tone for the day.
Then I met Hans Sebald.
Hans apprenticed for a farmer/butcher in Germany from 15 – 18 years of age, then at some point in the 60s moved to New York, where he worked for a butcher (or small slaughterhouse) in Queens, and eventually made his way into a 20-year teaching stint at the Culinary Institute of America. Now he teaches (almost) monthly butchery workshops for Fleisher’s. At around 70, Hans is a true craftsman, he earned the title master butcher. Hans is part of a generation that can teach from life experience, but because people like Hans are older it’s really important we catch the knowledge now to bring it back.
While we were waiting for the water in the tank to reach 145, Hans gave a brief lecture. He engaged us by asking how many butcher shops we know of in our neighborhood, watch makers, cobblers, or tailors. A few of the folks who were probably a decade or so older than me raised their hands. All I could think was yeah, I live in Maine and there are a few tailors I’d trust in this country, and one cobbler in Maine who pretty much ruined my handmade Italian leather boots. Think about it, do you know any of these craftsmen?
Then, in as not a judgmental way as possible, Hans took us down the path of feedlots and factory processing. As part of his job with the CIA he’d been to the biggest meat processors: #1 Tyson Foods (they do an estimated 5400 cattle/day), #2 Cargill, #3 Smithfield, and #4 ConAgra. He said one slaughterhouse he visited did 18,000 pigs a day. At one he hadn’t been to he heard they did 22,000 a day. Those might be bigger than normal days, but I’ll leave you to get a cup of coffee and let those numbers sink in.
Regarding processed foods, Hans said it was scary if you asked him. Damn right, I don’t care how many health inspectors you have on the floor – that’s not right, safe, humane, or anything remotely healthy sounding.
School lunches, Hans touched on those too (he’s a dad as well).. “I could talk all day long about what should, and shouldn’t be done,” he said. He added these days it’s all about convenience, and who suffers? Kids. Once they are hooked on certain prospect (junk/fast/highly processed foods), it’s hard to get them away from it.
Yes, he went there (conversation wise)…”McDonald’s Angus Burger – what is it? Ask no one knows, you’re given an 800 number no one answers,” Hans said. “Could be anything.”
Without in any way sounding condescending, Hans said it’s up to the people…we have the power to ask, to make change…and we don’t. Not as a population. We are so far removed from the source of our food, most of us don’t even know to ask those questions!
The water was ready, time to begin.*There is a lot of preparation and equipment/tools required for pig slaughtering, and it is definitely a two person job (in this case Ryan assisted Hans).
The pig was in a trailer so it would be calm, and thus easier to handle. We were permitted to sneak a peak so I did when one of the women at the farm, who could tell I was curious, motioned me forward. I love pigs..they have to be about the cutest darn livestock…and at times remind me of myself..yes when I’m hungry I might take out a fence or barn door. Back on track….I leaned over quietly so as not to wake the pig, and there he (she?) was sleeping all cute and sweet with no idea what was going to happen. I thought this is right, this pig has had a great life (foraging, yummy scraps, fresh air) and now he’s being honored by having the best in the business attend to him personally. Everything had been thought out. No one, least of all Hans, wanted this animal to suffer.
Hans said (without any judgement) we could walk away, that we should if we could not handle it. No one did. Me personally, I was going to stand there and take whatever came my way…I was there to do this…fully committed..and to me being there in the moment of death was the best/only way I could honor that pig. He reminded us this animal was raised for food. Somehow him saying that made me more comfortable, and sounded perfectly sensible.
Hans entered the trailer, closed the door, and shot the pig in the head with a .22 single-shot stunning it. The sound got me more than anything I saw that day. I’ll never forget it, and I’d do it again. Ignoring death doesn’t make it go away, or make it more pleasant. For Hans part, he was so calm, so completely focused on that pig and making sure he took its life as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once the pig was stunned, it was dragged out of the trailer where Hans slit the throat (because of the angle I didn’t actually see this part) and bled out. Then the pig was dragged to a tub where Hans and Ryan poured boiling water (temp 145) over it. Hans used a thick rope, wrapped around the pig’s body, to keep it moving and help take the hair off. Using a bell scraper he and Ryan got most of the hair off (think Gillette shave), and using a hook removed the pig’s hoofs and dewclaws. When 90% of the hair was off, Hans noted things were proceeding well.
What I realized then, was that for all the pigs I’ve seen on farms, it was only when the hair was removed that I connected this naked pinkish skinned animal to what is served at restaurants. Farm pig. Restaurant pig. Disconnect.
Using the farmer’s John Deere tractor, the pig was raised the to eye-level view. The remainder of hair was scraped off with knives (think barbershop), and the carcass was rinsed again (Hans was very attentive to the constant cleanliness of the pig and it’s environment). Hans then cut the tongue out so he could get to the intestines, which were oddly beautiful when he pulled them out.
As Hans removed each organ, he placed it on a folding table, then he went through the anatomy. Hans was part butcher, veterinarian, and biologist. He spoke with us about muscle development – softer vs. tougher areas = the more muscular areas are tougher so how/where you cut them makes all the difference.
He removed the head, and using a meat saw split the backbone from the tail to the neck.
Hans and Ryan working the pig in the field took over an hour, but in a slaughterhouse…15 minutes! Try to (not) imagine processing lines 200 feet long with animals being broken down in sections, and a conveyor belt for trimmings, bones…
Never, not ever, no matter how hungry..would I ever eat anything from a factory/industrial slaughterhouse. Me personally, I can say I’m fairly certain I’d rather starve. Man I tell you I was angry, so angry at Tyson, Cargill… and on the other end so full of respect for Hans, Joshua, and people like them.
We departed the farm, took an hour for lunch, and headed back to the shop for step-by-step instructions with Hans on where to cut, how to trim, remove skin, and debone. Note *we did not butcher the pig from the field. It was hung to air dry for somewhere from a day to a week. At Fleisher’s Meghan said they hang the halves in the cooler unwrapped for a week. She said (and this is also in their book in the Pork section) this concentrates the flavor and allows the muscle fibers to soften, break down a little, making them easier to cut and the meat tenderer.
Using butcher paper and a Sharpie as his Power Point Presentation (love that), Hans worked to connect what we had seen earlier in the day with what would end up in the butcher shop, and for most (all) of us our refrigerators. He reminded us there is “no life without death.”
Hans recommended purchasing a copy of the North American Meat Association’s book whether a professional or home cook. It’s $79, so yes a little pricier than most books on your kitchen shelf, but in the long run, could be well worth it considering the extent of meat and poultry identification information (cuts…).
Pork Primals (division of pig carcass): Ham, Picnic, Loin, Butt.
Each cut Hans made was strong and graceful. The way he handled the pig (alive), the carcass, and the cuts was so incredibly graceful.
I left with my head full knowing I have a long road of education ahead, and feeling a sense almost of urgency that I – we – need to be present with people such as Hans so we may learn and preserve arts that are becoming extinct along with etiquette, types of vegetable seeds, certain foods, animals, and vegetation. We must work to use our bodies to do physical work, to learn skills, and to connect with the sources of our food. Being lazy with our bodies and/or minds isn’t going to help anyone other than the medical insurance companies who like to rake up those rates on an annual basis. We, dear readers, are being led to the slaughter..and our end will be nowhere near as humane as the one the pig had with Hans.
Federal law prohibits the sale of pork, beef, and lamb not slaughtered at facilities under federal or state inspection. Therefore, most classes like this with the slaughter component, will do a pig vs. a cow = less money is lost (pig = less meat than a cow = less money). It’s legal to give the food to family and friends.
Two books I did not include in the primary part of this post, but should be noted as excellent resources for learning more about meat and cooking with it, are Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meatby Deborah Krasner (I’ll be digging into my copy later this week) and the Culinary Institute of America’s Kitchen Pro Series: Guide to Meat Identification, Fabrication and Utilization. I saw the latter during my visit to the CIA in Hyde Park (that post is coming), but it was so overpriced I didn’t purchase it (Sam, Don if you are reading this I’ll be coming to you to see about getting a copy new or preferably used.) From what I could tell it’s pretty thorough, no doubt likely because of persons like Hans.
I was recently presented with the challenge of writing a post about Parmigiano Reggiano. A challenge I hope to be able to speak about in some detail in a few weeks.
My first reaction was, you know I’m lactose intolerant ….but I can eat Parmesan (the English/lazier man’s word for Parmigiano Reggiano). My second was I love Parmesan. It has been my gateway back to cheese after being diagnosed (if that’s really what happens) as lactose intolerant my senior year in university (gratefully after the semester abroad in France). Shannon Tallman, local blogger and cheesemonger at the Whole Foods Market in Portland, is actually who helped me realize I could eat some cow cheeses. She started me off on Parmesan and now I’m happily eating aged Cheddars (I even attended a wine and cheese event at Whole Foods recently). Shannon and I became friends because of Parmesan. That’s the kind of cheese it is!
Parmesan is this cheese that stands up and says hey I have a story to tell, I’ve got dignity, history, character…it demands to be noticed. Ever wonder why it usually has its own table in the market?
Parmesan reminds me of the scene in “Dead Poets Society” when Robin Williams first meets his students and takes them into the hall and asks them to recite Robert Herrick’s poem “Virgins, To Make Much of Time” and then step forward and look at faces from the past (old class portraits) and whispers their legacy Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!
When figuring out where to begin writing about Parmesan, I turned to one of my food mentors, Nancy Harmon Jenkins. A terrific human being who inspires those around her to experience the world and eat well (and from the earth). Nancy is an accomplished writer and food historian who has spent a considerable amount of time in Italy. She told me about seeing Parmesan made at the Parma Cheese Factory and shared her photographs of this fantastic process.
Parmesan cheese is produced in five Italian provinces: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. The region boasts more than 1,600 cheese factories (I read this, then asked Nancy and she said that number could well be true!).
Parmesan, Nancy explained is made up like most cheeses of morning (whole) and evening (skimmed) cow’s milk. The evening milk is left overnight to allow for the creation of bacteria, and then combined with morning milk. The starter culture is added and the cheese starts to curdle. Nancy’s pictures showed batches being made in huge copper vats by muscular men who were taught by the generations before them. They make two or three giant cheeses in each batch.
In the morning the workers coax the curds into a form, which will be suspended in a cloth, where the cheese’s form will take shape. They tie it to a bar so it can be lifted out and they drain the whey. The cheese is then put into a brine for several days to encourage the surface to harden. From there it goes into a warehouse that Nancy said looks like a cathedral with stacks of “great golden drums” she said are just beautiful.
The Cathedral of Parmigiano (photo used with permission by Nancy Harmon Jenkins)
For information on visiting the region and touring a factory, I recommend you check out this article in USA Today and Italy for the Gourmet Traveler by Fred Plotkin, which has a chapter on Emilia-Romagna with a short history on Parma.
With any luck and great determination, I hope to find myself back in Italy in the next two or three years (my last visit was to Rome a few years ago). In addition to visiting Nancy (what I can only imagine would be an amazing experience considering her knowledge and appreciation of the sources and taste of food), I would like to stay at the Le Occare Guesthouse after reading about it in Melissa Pellegrino & Matteo Scialabba’s book The Italian Farmer’s Table. For the more adventurous (remember, Carpe Diem!), the book has information on farms with restaurants and guest houses in Emilia-Romagna.
Now that we’ve covered how Parmigiano-Reggiano is made, how about we dig into it’s rich history. Okay, so I kind of really geeked out here and went all the way to Italy (via the Internet) to the Academia Barilla-Gastronomic Library. It was actually on a bit of a whim that I emailed them asking for the history of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and when a day later heard back from a curator was ecstatic.
The History of Parmesan:
Sometime after 27 BC in Roman times – The cheeses produced in Parma were branded with the symbol of the moon. This is the first example of the branding of the cheese
11th century – During the Agrarian Revolution, monks in the Parma area reclaimed areas and began breeding cattle thus increasing the production and distribution of cow’s milk in the area.
14th century – Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries played a key role in the how the cheese was produced. The first official mention of Parmesan in writing is made in Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which yes I purchased and read (the English translation, of course). The book is about seven young women and three young men in Italy who try escape the plague by taking refuge in the countryside and telling each other stories for ten days. Each day each of the ten tells a story.
Elisa, the fourth woman, tells a story on the eighth day about a painter called Calandrino who has a practical joke played on him. Calandrino is told of a wondrous region where there are magical stones and the mountains are made “entirely of grated Parmesan cheese, on whose slopes there were people who spent their whole time making macaroni and ravioli, which they cooked in chicken broth and then cast into the four winds.”
The joke does not end well, as practical jokes most often do not…but history was made.
15th century – The convent of San Giovanni, with four active dairies, two in Parma, and two in Reggio Emilia, was the biggest producer of Parmesan. However, by this time noble families had also begun to invest in the production of the cheese.
17th century – The first official formalization of the name of Parmigiano cheese was made by the Duke of Parma, Ranuccio Farnese, on August 7, 1612 in his essay on the economy.
18th century – Production of the cheese moved from the noble families estates to rural dairies, who sourced milk from various producers.
1898 – 10% of the Parmesan produced in Parma was exported abroad. The cheese was also called “Reggiano”.
1937 – The area of production of Parmesan was defined with the same boundaries that exist today and the term “Parmigiano-Reggiano” was made official in 1938.
1954/55 – The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano protected the name “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” and specified it could only be made in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua.
And, with that let me just say (write) how grateful I am to be able to enjoy something with so much life. I am also grateful for having this post topic proposed to me, so now I may value the cheese so much more. As someone whose best days are spent visiting with producers, I greatly value the roots of our food sources. That this cheese is a product of so many people and years is pretty extraordinary don’t you think?
So, how about we get to eating some…
Parmesan and Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata
3 large eggs
*The whole recipe only uses one pan!
Yield: 2 -3 servings, depending on whether serving with salad.
Eggs from the Great Cluck Egg Farm (of course!)
Parmigiano-Reggiano from Whole Foods Market
So good!! Wishing I could fork some right through the screen.
p.s. Recipes and Storage
One of my favorite comfort foods, the kind you want with a big bowl and spoon and to eat curled up on the comfiest of chairs is risotto. Well, you cannot have risotto without parmesan. Note, you cannot and oh by the way don’t feel obligated to use portion control here. Recipe calls for ½ a cup of parmesan and you want a wee bit more, well I’m certainly not going to tell on you. My favorite rissoto recipes are: Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto by Jamie Oliver from Amanda Hesser’s The New York Times Cook Book and Saffron Risotto from the Diner Journal No. 20 Winter 2012 issue.
Nancy’s book Cucina Del Sole is one of my favorite cookbooks. Her recipes for Pomodori Ripieni di Formaggio and Wintertime Pasta with Sausages and Dried Mushrooms are wonderful ways to nourish one’s self.
Through university one of my primary food groups was popcorn. Oh, you didn’t know it was a food group? Well, in college it was along with tuna melts and bags of Nutter Butters (don’t judge till you’ve pulled as many all-nighters as I did). In those days I blissfully enjoyed M&M’s in my popcorn. They’d melt a little bit and then you’d have that insane chocolate/salt combo. Somehow, perhaps sadly, I’ve outgrown that joy. And! Grown into a whole new one thanks to Joy W., the sweet author of Joy the Baker. Joy has introduced me to incredible combinations such as Parmesan Seaweed Popcorn (should you have made a wee bit too much, don’t dare throw any away as it keeps fine in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours). If you come over to watch a movie at my home, almost certainly I’ll pass you a bowl of this. Thanks Joy. ox
My adventure with Parmigiano-Regiano will continue in a couple weeks with this recipe for Asparagus Ravioli in Parmesan Broth, from one of my coveted issues of the sadly defunct Gourmet Magazine.
Storage: Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is where I learned how to buy and properly store Parmesan. She recommends buying a precut wedge, never in grated form. It should be a dewy pale amber color, without any dry white patches. Wrap tightly in wax paper, then heavy-duty aluminum foil. Store on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. (*While living in France during my university days I learned to store cheese in a plastic container so I wrap and then place the cheese in it…)
p.p.s. For those readers who are also lactose intolerant, I want to introduce you to Scott Rankin, Professor and Chair Department of Food Science University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rankin specializes in dairy and graciously has helped with a few queries over the past few months. He kindly obliged my request for information for the science on how I can digest Parmesan. I hope this reassures those of you who have sadly (unknowingly) held off. Here you go…
In short, milk has about 5% lactose. As milk is fermented, the bacteria use the lactose for energy. However, when a cheese is young, the fermentation process is still continuing and there is still some residual lactose around. After several months of aging, however, even that residual lactose is gone. Most US parm has been aged nearly a year before it is placed on the market. Some of the imported parm is aged for years. With all that aging, the lactose is usually long gone and thus poses no trouble for those with lact intolerance. – Scott Rankin
Molto amore and mangiare bene. ox
My weekly goop fix brought me this gem…a photo and information on the Electric Cinema in London. I would be there all the time if I lived near there. It’s stunning isn’t it. The individual lamps are such a thoughtful touch. Check out what’s playing. I’d see “To the Wonder” and “Stoker” – really want to see both of those!
p.s. the Academy’s screening room in Manhattan is pretty cozy too. ox