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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
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.
- Ham – Options for preparing include roast, sausages, prosciutto, smoked or air dried, boneless.
- The Picnic is, as I understand it, the lower part of the shoulder. It is a lean cut and can be sold boned, rolled, and tied for roast. It can also be cured and smoked as a picnic ham.
- Loin – Options for preparing include roast (top sirloin), Canadian style bacon, baby back ribs…
- Butt – Pulled pork, sausages, ground (least on a return for a butcher), pork steaks, and you can even grind the bones for dog food
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.
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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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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
A few weeks ago I was invited to a cooking demo and book signing with Chef Chad Sarno at Whole Foods Market in Portland. Chef Sarno’s latest project is the New York Times bestseller Crazy Sexy Kitchen, which he co-wrote with Kris Carr (one of my new food heroines). Having met Sarno and read Kris Carr’s blog I can only imagine the fun and adventures these two got into while putting this book together.
Let’s step backward for a second. Carr is a cancer survivor, or as she puts it a cancer thriver. On Valentine’s Day in 2003, she was diagnosed with an incurable (slow-growing) cancer. After a WTF moment (or more likely two) she took-charge of her diet and switched from processed foods to a “plant-passionate diet,” and wrote two successful books – Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips and Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor – about cheerleading one’s way through a cancer diagnosis with little more than goji berries and spunk (a LOT of it). Carr is beautiful (I thought she was a former model till I read about her), funny, likes to cuss, and is the only 41-year-old I know (no, not personally) who can look cool with a streak of hot pink (her trademark) in her otherwise blond dyed hair. She’s made vegan the cool kid in the classroom.
Sarno is currently the senior culinary educator for Whole Foods Market’s healthy eating program, which he helped create and launch in 2009. His accomplishments range from launching a boutique chain of international restaurants in Istanbul, Munich and London to being a featured expert in the documentary film, PLANEAT. Oh, and yes he’s handsome.
The demo was far different and better than most I’ve been to, because Sarno was fun – I mean he engaged the audience. He was fast, conversational, well-spoken, and did I mention fun. He made all the ladies laugh (that’s right, you can see it now can’t you – a room full of ladies who either are vegan or seriously thinking of converting). For my part, I was impressed by all of it and though not a vegan or someone who is considering giving up dairy, I found myself tagging recipe after recipe for smoothies, purees, scrambles.. So far I’ve made Crazy Sexy Goddess Smoothie (who knew avocado and banana could taste so yummy), Avo(cado) Toasts, and Crostini with Artichoke Puree, Garlicky Mushrooms, and Horseradish.
What’s say we kick our nutrient deficient, veggie starved tuckuses into a crazy sexy goddess like frenzie with the following… ox
Crazy Sexy Goddess Smoothie from Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kriss Carr and Chef Chad Sarno
1 cup blueberries (wild, frozen)
A fistful of kale or romaine or spinach
Coconut water (or purified water)
Stevia, to taste, and/or a sprinkle of cinnamon or some cacao (optional)
*If desired, use coconut meat, raw almond butter, or nut milk in place of avocado. You can also add super foods like cacao (to taste) and/or 1 or 2 Tbsp of E3 Live.
In high-speed blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.
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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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Friday, December 28th, 2012
Ask me whose kitchen I would most like to spend a day eating in and that’s easy – Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton’s loft studio in an old redbrick warehouse in Lambertville, New Jersey. They’re best friends, cooking buddies, and the recipes they create are at once completely approachable and utterly filling. They tend to source within season, but are not above hitting the supermarket for some added essentials. When deciding which recipe to share with you from their newest book Canal House Cooks Every Day, I ended up with Avocado Mash on Multigrain Toast because I feel it is the one you are likely to use most frequently. Butternut Squash & Candied Bacon on Fresh Pasta and Buttermilk Love Cakes were the runners-up. Buy the book. Buy the book! Oh, but it’s so simple you say…why not that pasta dish? Well, yes it is so simple…it is the very essence of why I love Hirsheimer and Hamilton. It’s nourishing and takes a few minutes to make. It’s also delicious. I made it for lunch and then again the next day for breakfast and suddenly it was a week of Avocado and Toast. I’ve temporarily hit pause, because I’ve found their Soft Scrambled Eggs & Chanterelles. OK, here we go again…Buy the book!! ox
Avocado Mash on Multigrain Toast from Canal House Cooks Every Day by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
4 slices multigrain bread
Really good EVOO
4 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and peeled
1-2 lemons, preferably Meyers, halved
Aleppo pepper or other crushed red pepper flakes
Salt, preferably flaky sea salt like Maldon
Toast the bread, then drizzle one side with the olive oil while still warm. Put 2 avocado halves on each piece of toast and mash them with a butter knife or fork, spreading the soft fruit to the edges of the toast. Drizzle the avocados with some olive oil. Squeeze some lemon juice over the toasts, sprinkle with a pinch or two of Aleppo pepper, and season with salt. Serve with lemon halves.
Yield: 2-4 servings
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Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
It’d been too long in my mind since I made granola, and with the usual breakfast sundries not doing the trick as of late it seemed time to make Smitten Kitchen’s Almond Date Breakfast Bars. Not just for breakfast, but healthy holiday snacking in the afternoon or a late night snack while up watching Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle.
Almond Date Breakfast Bars from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
1 cup chopped dried pitted dates
1 1/4 quick rolled oats
3 Tbsp barley or whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup EVOO
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1/4 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing sides. Do the same in the opposite direction. This parchment “sling” makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece.
Stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon in the bottom of a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir them together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly onto the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are brown around the edges – don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost under baked when you press into the center of the pan, but do not worry – they’ll set once completely cool.
Cool the bars in their pan placed on a cooling rack or in the fridge.
Once they’re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill them further in the fridge for 30 minutes, which will fully set the “glue,” then cut them cold.
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Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
I know a lot of us don’t feel very jolly right now, but we owe it to ourselves and all the lost innocents to take in every breath of wonder this season has to offer..don’t you think!?
What brings me calm and joy.
My favorite poem, not just of the season, but anytime of the year. May we all know such beauty and peace.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
Snowy mornings at home in Maine.
The Scratch Bakery gingerbread house. WOW!
Giving with others to those in need. Thank you friends and dear readers for stepping forward. May we help create smiles on young faces where there were none.
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