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Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
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.
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Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
My father taught me to share, and so I will…Recently, I returned from a maple sugaring weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire with a bucket full of maple syrup goodies from Coombs Family Farms. *My friend Rebecca has since beautifully blogged about the weekend here. I did here. Doing a giveaway was actually Rebecca’s idea (she’s a “sharer”). The best comment wins a 12 oz. bottle of Grade B Organic Maple Syrup from Coombs Family Farms…and a couple pure maple/pancake oriented goodies I’m throwing in to be extra nice. I’m in a good mood well, and I’m grateful as heck to have you as a reader!! ox
Contest starts now and runs thru Sunday at 6PM.
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Sunday, April 21st, 2013
I’m a bit shy about these things, so I won’t say much…but if you have the time check out the article on me and my homesteading pursuits in today’s issue of The Boston Globe Magazine. The piece is written by Marni Elyse Katz and photographed by Winky Lewis, one of my favorite “makers of pictures”/Great Cluck Egg CSA pal. Here’s the link. ox
Scans courtesy of Winky’s brother.
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Saturday, April 20th, 2013
Thursday night I took my country mouse self into town for Hush, Hush #5. My favorite bartender Andrew Volk of The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club was making drinks at Eventide Oyster Co., one of my favorite Portland, Maine restaurants, and I wasn’t about to miss it. Sure enough, the drinks, food, and crowd were wonderful. There are only two photos in this post, because I was having such a good time talking to people and trying to balance delicious drinks with delicious bites. Hey, I’ve only got two hands.
Shooter: Aquavit, Worcestershire, Horseradish. Far from your average shot. Not meant for sipping. It’s special, with all the romanticized characteristics of a fisherman at sea…I’d love to hire Andrew to do a lake side party…OMG the idea of his cocktails paired w/ delicious food this summer at a cabin in Maine…I can just see guests draped along the deck, laughter and intelligent (mostly) conversation enjoying the best life has to offer. Yes, I got that from this drink.
Mixing drinks…Oh, and I haven’t even gone into detail about his Winslow Sour (Bourbon, Lemon, Apple Butter, and Egg White). I’d say this would be my go to drink, but really (as I said the last time I wrote about Andrew) I just want to walk into The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and let him make me whatever he wants. That’s trust.
p.s. Only bummer, no photo of his brilliant wife Briana who helps organize and run the Hush, Hush events and does a stellar job at marketing them.
Dear readers I cannot wait for their bar to open so you can go and experience what I have been fortunate to these past few months since I met them. ox
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Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
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!
Breakfast at the inn (oh you know pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit..lots of pure maple syrup), then off to a small sugarhouse in Guilford, VT, that Arnold Coombs cousin Ted operates (they have about 800 taps and a wood fired evaporator). When Arnold was four or five years old he would help Ted’s father tap trees near his house. Arnold’s family’s sugarhouse in Wilmington, VT boiled sap from over 26,000 trees. In the early 1970s, Arnold’s dad moved into a sugarhouse in Jacksonville, VT near Arnold’s childhood home, and they tapped about 800 trees with buckets. Some of those trees were tapped by Arnold’s great and great-great grandfathers (Arnold is the seventh generation in the industry).
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:
Maple Sugar:From Sap to Syrup: The History, Lore, and How-To Behind This Sweet Treat by Tim Herd
Maple Sugarin’ in Vermont: A Sweet History by Betty Ann Lockhart
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!!
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013
I cannot wait to tell you all about The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club once it opens. The owners are doing great, wonderful, delicious, thoughtful things with food and drink. One day, hopefully soon, I can share with you the first Hush, Hush party, which featured spirits from Caledonia Winery & Spirits. *There will be much on that venture combined with a honey bee influenced road trip to Hardwick, VT….oh I can hardly keep the stories in…but must wait, cannot share it all now… SO, to the present…or we should say the past, as it was Friday night I ventured from my country abode into the “big city” for a gathering of palates at head bartender /Hunt & Alpine owner Andrew M Volk’s home (which, it should be noted he shares with his equally wonderful wife Briana) for small plates and original cocktails all devised specifically for this event.
Andrew plied me with a Tryphon Tournesol (Jonge Diep9, Royal Rose Lavendar-Lemon, Lemon, Luxardo) and I sampled guest chef David Levi’s Radish with carrot, ginger and miso. I am not a food critic, nor do I know much about cocktails, but I would consider myself a fairly well traveled individual who has eaten her fair share of food from award-winning chefs and drinks by some of the best in the biz….that said I’m one for comfort and simplicity. Give me fresh, robust ingredients with the dirt wiped off, and I’m a happy gal. Andrew’s cocktail was light and refreshing, it felt storied and social. The opposite of those sugary nightmares shoved in one’s direction at a crowded “hot spot”…you know them… Andrew is a bartender. He is someone who is part chemist part magician part historian. His is a craft and each drink from tradition with spirits that have a place in history. Do yourself the biggest favor – go to his bar and let him make you the drink he wants to not the one you think you want. Trust me, I’ve no reason or interest in leading you, dear reader, astray.
David Levi is someone you’ll be hearing more about – from me, from restaurant reviewers…He is the executive chef of Vinland, a restaurant opening in Portland this summer. His resume includes a stagiaire at Noma (the two Michelin star restaurant in Denmark) and an apprenticeship at the world’s most famous butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Falorni in Tuscany. Yes, really…right here in Portland. His food is innovative and playful, delicious and meaningful…as is shown in the photo below of his Haddock (I’m 99% sure that’s what it was), butter, wakame bites. Oh, and huge cool factor for me…nothing goes to waste in David’s space, as was proof of the portable compost bucket he brought with him for scraps.
I so enjoy meeting people like Andrew, Briana, and David…persons who have seen some of the world and understand the importance of the experience. They don’t wander blindfolded through a Disney Land or stay put thinking life can be learned from books. They learn by opening themselves up to the bigness of this planet and doing. Thank everything for people like that!
p.s. as the party winded down we each ventured to Damian Sansonetti‘s brand new venture Blue Rooster Food Co. at 5 Dana Street in Portland. GO!!! I had the Schooner Tuna (olive oil confit tuna, white beans, kalmatas, pickled onions, herbed fennel for $6.50) and sampled the house made potato chips (garlic dill pickle) and…yes the double chocolate chip brownies (so good I had to ask Damian if his famed pastry chef wife Ilma made them…nope those are in house too and I got to meet the maker/baker). Next time I’m going for the tater tots and maybe Seoul Dog (Maine made natural casing local beef & pork hotdog with house made spicy kimchi, toasted peanuts, and roasted garlic mayo for $3.75)…oh, yes I’m eating a tiny bit of meat here and there…which we’ll get to in the next post.
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013
The first week of Spring where I am is signaled by the start of (wild) turkey mating season, more outside time for the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm, the sorting of clothes that are not needed for these milder days into storage and donation piles, an increase in greens from my winter CSA, and the signing up of a share of John Bunker’s 2013 Out on a Limb (Maine) Heritage Apple CSA.
Turns out Mr. Bunker, who between traveling all over New England cutting scion wood (reportedly he has collected over 2 miles of it when laid end to end!!), has begun climbing around in apple trees and well…that got him thinking about the upcoming apple season. Having just read my friend Rowan Jacobsen’s insightful piece on Bunker in Mother Jones and David Buchanan’s beautiful memoir Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, in which Bunker makes several appearances,I am ready for his apple CSA too (though not fall..not before several weeks of t-shirt weather).
This will be my fourth year as a shareholder and I’ve finally decided to give in to the reality that there is simply no way I can use the 11-12 pounds of apples a member of the CSA receives every other week, from early September to early November. So, this year I’ll be sharing with friends and fellow food bloggers Kate M and Shannon O. I’m sure in addition to cooking up (Kate is a Master Preserver) sauces, doing cheese and apple pairings (Shannon is soon to be a Certified Cheese Professional), and baked goods we’ll be collaborating for some super fun posts. I can already taste the Gray Pearmains and Fameuse.
The Apple CSA will be opened up to the public for shares in coming weeks. Please help support Maine’s Apple Heritage by spending $150 on a share. **Can’t afford that or don’t think you’ll consume that many apples…do what I am and share. We need to protect foods in danger of extinction…and people like John Bunker without whom this world would be a much emptier less joyful space.
My meeting with John, after several email exchanges, was brief but fun last year at MOGFA’s Common Ground Country Fair. No matter how many people he has to see, he takes the time to pull up a stool and listen. A rare breed he is and as sweet as those rare apples he shares.
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Monday, March 4th, 2013
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:
768 BC – 264 BC – The Etruscans raised sheep and goats in the area of Parma
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
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup scallions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup of Whole Foods Sun-dried tomatoes
- Preheat broiler.
- Beat (whole) eggs and egg whites together in a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a large broiler-safe nonstick pan over medium heat. Add green onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking about 1 minute.
- Pour the egg mixture into the pan from step 3 and tilt to distribute it evenly. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, undisturbed, until eggs are set on the bottom but the top is still runny, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over frittata. Place the pan under the broiler. Broil until the top is set and turning golden brown, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
*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
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Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
Rabelais Books in Biddeford is one of my favorite places. The fact that it exists in Maine and not Manhattan is incredible to me. I’d be a little lost without not just the shelves Don and Samantha Lindgren maintain, but their great minds. They continue to expand mine in all the best ways. Here’s a link to my post on The Root from this past week…
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Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
My friend Ellen Kanner is now a published author!! Her fabulous book Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner is very much an extension of this vivacious lady. Ellen and I met a couple years ago when I contacted her about her popular Huffington Post Meatless Mondays blog. In a world where “authentic” is the new “green” all I can say is she’s the real deal. Funny, smart, supportive, generous…and with this book (and I love this about you EK) taking on the project of trying to nurture the masses. Ellen loves to cook (and she’s great at it) and to feed people. Before my meat loving friends get their hackles up against a wall…yes, Ellen is a vegan…no she is not a leaf worshipping my way or the highway spokesperson for veganism. Yes, her book is chocked full of (tasty!) vegan recipes. Last winter when I wanted to lose a few pounds and get healthy (as in hand over the keys to the pastry case in exchange for a place at the salad bar) Ellen shipped me several vegan books and turned me onto Navitas Naturals. That box so thoughtfully prepared and really that company have made my connection to food a much healthier one. This is a have fun, let’s gab and eat something delicious together kind of book. It’s meant to be enjoyed. Here’s what I made out of it and yes EK this is now a favorite. Thinking I should have ordered fennel seeds. Ah, well. ox
Pink Grapefruit and Fennel Salad from Feeding the Hungry Ghost by Ellen Kanner
1 pink grapefruit
1 fennel bulb
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
4 cups arugula
Freshly ground pepper
Peel the grapefruit and cut the sections into bite-size pieces. Remove and discard the seeds and trim away bitter membranes and pith. Place the grapefruit pieces in a large bowl.
Halve the fennel bulb and slice it very thinly. Add it to the grapefruit.
Preheat the oven to 350. Coarsely chop the walnuts and pour into a shallow baking pan. Bake until they’re golden brown and have a wonderful buttery smell, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, mustard, miring, agave nectar or honey, and fennel seeds. Pour the mixture over the grapefruit and fennel, toss gently, and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
Gently toss the arugula with the grapefruit and fennel. Top with the chopped walnuts and a grind or two of pepper.
Photo courtesy of Ellen Kanner.
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