Saturday, June 28, 2014

Farm Bulletin: The Season Begins!

Once again I will ponder the utter idiocy of growing soft, early season fruit in the Willamette Valley as I wind my way up Bald Peak on the way to our first Hillsdale Farmers Market of the summer. Fortunately, we have a competent and kind staff, which removes some of the anxiety that the last few days of rain generated. Still, it is a foolish business.

The always-edifying Ramble.

We have rescheduled our annual Farm Ramble for the 12th of October. If you plan on attending, please note the change in your calendars.

Despite some bumps along the way, we are very happy with outlook for the farm this year. We have about 30% more ground in cultivation, which is a huge jump for us and our staff. We hit our stride and it made sense to keep planting. Our manic seeding spree meant we had to buy 4,000 more seven-foot poles for the beans, as well as more of all the other essential inputs. We start parching the frikeh on Monday, and it should be ready two weeks later. By August, things will be tearing along if the weather cooperates.

Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have.

Many of you are familiar with our charming customer Ellis—as farmers with two Allis Chalmers machines, we valiantly resist, mostly, calling him Ellis Charmer. His whole life he has brought his parents to the market, and is fully engaged in the process. The secret to his enthusiasm is, no doubt, his mother's talent for preparing the food they have collected at the market. We have enjoyed the food at Katherine Deumling's table and understand why Ellis approaches market day with such gusto.

For several years, Deumling has used her talent to write custom recipes for farms offering CSA boxes, and now she is ready to extend this service to the general farmers' market community. Deumling's recipes are simple, adaptable and free of the dreadful suggestion that food needs to be medicine, i.e. no post-neo-Adelle-Davis preaching. Just a good mix of influences. For $25 a year, less than most cookbooks, you can receive her Seasonal Recipe Collection and eat like Ellis.

Ayers Creek Amish Butter corn.

A relationship that frays after more than a decade and ends up in a separation exacts its financial toll, the alimony. As you will notice on Sunday, we have gone through that recently. After 14 years of using Oregon Tilth as our certifier, our differences led us to an uncontested separation, the surrender of our certificate, and now we are certified as organic by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Because of the new certifier, we have all new labels and signs. A snappy yellow banner will greet you all on Sunday, as well as more legible labels on the popcorn, cayenne and cornmeal. We are happy with the change on all accounts.

This year, Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene's and his staff will host an Outstanding in the Field dinner on the 12th of July. The brave lad has to impress a table of 180 guests. The venue is at Ayers Creek and, if you want to see how they fit a table with 180 into our landscape, there may be some tickets still available. Like most of the chefs we work with, Joshua and his staff know the farm on the ground, not just as a delivery service. He has taken the time to understand the process of growing food, not just preparing it. It makes a difference when you are a farmer.

Note: The fact that some of this note is in the first person has nothing to do with the aforementioned separation. Carol's foot is on the mend, but standing on the hard pavement for seven hours is not a good idea at the moment. So she will remain on the farm for the first three markets. Be nice to this poor old man, who picked up a few more grey hairs with this week's rain, as he brings you our hard-earned fruits.

Burle Rosé In The House

I'm generally not the sort to post so-called "haul videos," but this is one I'm particularly excited about, considering it's time for rosés to appear in the wine rotation. It's from my favorite French winery, Vignoble Edmond Burle, in Gigondas, France, known for their rustic Côtes de Rhone wines.

The box rosé is brought into the Northwest in very limited supply, and it has the deep pink color and richness of body that goes so well with smoky, grilled meats (and paella), while remaining dry enough to enjoy with snacks in the back yard. All that's needed now is for the sun to come back and I'll be all set for summer!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Quick Hits: Oso Market

In case you hadn't noticed, the latest thing on Portland's dining scene isn't spherification—using sodium alginate and calcium chloride to make balls of flavored liquid—or making bacon-flavored ice cream or even adding a surcharge to your tab to provide health care for a restaurant's employees (as worthy a cause as that is). Walk into a recently opened eatery in this town, particularly one that caters to a younger demographic, and you'll find shelves stocked not with the usual logo-ed t-shirts and shot glasses, but wines, beers and foodstuffs.

Luce opened with one wall loaded with hand-picked Italian dry goods. Laurelhurst Market boasted a full-blown butcher shop and deli sandwiches. Old Salt Marketplace integrated a meat case stocked with pork, chicken and aged grass-fed beef, along with house-made sausages and charcuterie into its whole animal meat program, as well as offering packages of the flours, beans and other products from local farms used on its menus.

Oso Market is just the latest bistro showcasing this trend, with wines, beers, ciders, honey, cheeses and bread stocked along two walls of its wood-raftered space at the east end of the Morrison bridge. Light pours in from the large windows on Southeast Grand Avenue and stop sign-red metal chairs glow against the clean, neutral-toned walls. But of course it's the food, served on mix-and-match vintage plates, that make this place worth checking out.

After a couple of lunch visits, along with a thumbs-up review of their by-the-glass wine pours from my brother, I'm ready to put this spot on my regulars list, especially after Sasha Davies decided to pull the plug on lunch at Cyril's (sob) my most recent mid-day go-to. Reasonably priced, with super-fresh seasonal offerings like sardines, wild boar brats and beautifully composed salads populating its menus, it's open for lunch, happy hour, casual dinners and weekend brunches.

Details: Oso Market and Bar, 726 SE Grand Ave. 503-232-6400.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quick One-Dish Dining with Cauliflower and Chicken

I don't mean to break out the violins or start wailing "Woe is me!" here, because, when you get right down to it, we're pretty darn lucky to have the bounty of seasonal produce that is coming into the farmers' markets and to have terrific local supermarkets that fill in the gaps. But sometimes I envy those who can reach into their cupboards and break out a box of macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper for those nights when you need to get dinner on the table pronto.

But really, even those "instant" dinners require at least a half hour of prep and cooking, especially if you're adding a salad or vegetables to the mix. Fortunately—or unfortunately, if you think about it—I don't actually like the bland, dusty, overly salty taste of most of these convenience foods, so my solution has been to come up with quick, one-dish dinners that I can throw on the table in short order, not to mention actually feeling good about feeding them to my family.

This one was a what-do-I-have-on-hand solution when I'd just hit "send" on my story about Ben Meyer and looked up to see Dave walking in the door after a hard day at work. Oops. So I rummaged through the freezer, found some chicken thighs I'd stashed in there, opened the veg bin to find a head of cauliflower and pulled a can of tomatoes out of the pantry.

Just about 45 minutes later we were sitting down to what turned out to be a dish we'll be having again* even when I'm not in a rush!

Spanish-style Cauliflower, Chicken and Tomatoes

1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. chicken thighs, cut in 1” pieces
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
2 bay leaves
1 28-oz. can tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, separated into small florets
10-12 green olives, sliced crosswise into 1/8” slices  (I used Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives)

Place saffron threads and salt in the bowl of a mortar and pestle and grind the saffron threads into the salt with the pestle. There’s no need to pound it…the sharp edges of the salt crystals will do most of the work for you.

Pour oil into a deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken and brown, turning pieces occasionally. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to keep it at a steady simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice.

* Next time, assuming I'm not pulling this together at the last minute, I'm going to add chopped Spanish-style chorizo to the sauté. Even more delicious and totally company-worthy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oregon Cheese Maker Comments on FDA Ruling Regarding Use of Wood Shelves

This essay by Oregon cheese maker Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm was prompted by a Food and Drug Administration executive order that came to light last week in a letter to the New York State Agriculture Dept. from Monica Metz, Branch Chief of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's (CFSAN) Dairy and Egg Branch. She stated that "wooden shelves or boards cannot be adequately cleaned and sanitized" and would no longer be allowed in American aging rooms. This prompted an outcry from artisan cheese makers around the country and within days the FDA rescinded its order.

Aging Cheese on Wood Shelves and Food Safety: A Non-Issue

As a person who tends to want to follow rules, it is sad to be reminded that a good portion of food production regulations have little to do with actual food safety. Rather they are the result of a ponderous, rigid system that steamrolls forward, sometimes based more on the ease of generalizing rather than the complexity of reality. The FDA has never liked wood shelves, especially when you set food, in this case naturally rinded cheese, directly on its porous surface. Wood does not fit their Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) model for a cleanable surface.

Wood shelving is used worldwide. These are in Argentina.

While wood aging shelves have technically never been okay with the FDA, they have until now been mostly ignored and the decision to allow them been left to individual states. In many "big cheese" states, the regulators defer to the scientific knowledge of the leading expert within each state. For example, in both Oregon and Wisconsin (where at least 30 million pounds of cheese is aged on wood each year) the departments of agriculture have an official stance of "no wood shelves." But in both states, if a cheesemaker gets a thumbs-up from an academic expert regarding their maintenance protocol for the shelves, then [wood shelves] have been allowed.

Isn’t that sensible? Did you hear me mention the words “scientific knowledge”? Let’s review what is well researched and known about wood shelves [list of citations here]. Guess how many outbreaks of food-borne illness they have been implicated in since the dawn of cheesemaking? Zero. This doesn’t mean that pathogens can’t exist on a wood shelf. If a cheese is contaminated and the shelf is poorly cared for, it will pass it to the shelf, no matter what material it is made from. Contamination of any aging shelf can happen when poor practices occur at any stage of cheese production, but it is not any more likely when wood is used. Bottom line.

Pros and Cons

So why do cheesemakers and affineurs (the folks that age cheese) love wood shelving? Tradition? Romance? Practicality? In the days before the invention of plastic, that ubiquitous, malleable material that we now take so for granted, wood was the logical and singular option. But fortunately it was also perfect. Like naturally aging cheese, wood "breathes," holding moisture without being wet, pulling it both out of the cheese and also helping keep the aging space at a steady level of humidity, not unlike the natural stone walls and bricks of the pre-modern aging space. Wood shelves used in aging rooms also take on the same family of fantastically helpful microflora—yeasts, molds, and especially bacteria—that help create distinctive, out-of-this-world cheeses. The usefulness of these microbes has not only to do with flavor, but also with the final safety of the cheese.

Twig Farm, Vermont.

Given what I have just told you about how awesome wood shelving is, why isn’t everyone using it?  Or at least trying to use it? (At least 60% of American Cheese Society cheesemaker members do.) First it is, not surprisingly, highly discouraged thanks to the stance of our federal friends. Second, the knowledge of how to properly care for wood is tucked away in the minds of a few and only available in a smattering of books and papers. Third, many make only fresh cheeses where aging is not used. And, finally, it is more work. More work is not what most cheesemakers need or can even contemplate.

Let me tell you about our experience with wood shelves in our own aging room.

Wood Shelves at Pholia Farm

A few years ago we got permission from our inspectors to use wood shelves as long as we consulted with Dr. Lisbeth Goddik, Oregon State University’s Dairy Extension Specialist—a darned amazing woman. She suggested routine cleaning of the shelves with mild soap and warm water, then after rinsing with plain water either wiping the boards down with vinegar or a lactic acid bacteria wash. We did both. We marked which side of each shelf was treated with vinegar and which with bacteria. After aging the cheeses for many months, and before selling them, we swabbed the shelves and sent samples of the cheese to Agri-mark lab. All results, for cheese and shelves, whether vinegar or lactic acid bacteria washed, were free from pathogens.

So why did we stop? Ironically enough, it was another aging room reality that is on the FDA’s hit list (not recent hits list…) cheese mites. I won’t go into too much detail about these little buggers (see one of my most popular posts for all of the itchy details), but what is pertinent is that the dark underside of the cheese sitting on the board was very desirable real estate for the mites. This required more frequent cheese rind labor, something that we were not prepared to do at that time. But I am now.

So Why the Ruling?

Consider for a moment that the FDA is tasked with an enormous responsibility. As that responsibility grows and food systems expand it becomes more expeditious to simplify. This means generalized rules that apply to everyone—versus thoughtful, logical exceptions. Think about it: before a couple of decades ago, you would be hard-pressed (like one of those fabulous wood-aged European Comtes) to find any U.S.-made cheese that was aged in a cellar type situation with a natural rind. Consequently, the paradigm for aging became a squeaky clean walk-in cooler. The regulations that developed reflected that reality. With the looming burden of the Food Safety Modernization Act, it’s not surprising that they are now seeking to streamline and enforce existing regulations, rather than allow states to take the responsibility of allowing exceptions.

As we move forward as cheesemakers, I think we need to nurture a new paradigm, one in which the aging room is not treated as a processing room, but as a separate type of space in which a different set of GMP’s apply. When I was at a cheese science conference in England, it was repeatedly said that “The dairy/cheese plant is NOT A HOSPITAL.” Nothing could be more true in a room in which you are counting on microbes to flourish.

What Can We Do?

I am a member of the American Cheese Society’s Regulatory and Academic committee. This morning (June 10th) we finalized the press release and position of the largest body of cheese professionals in the United States.

So support ACS (join if you are not a member), contact your congressional representatives, let the FDA know how you feel, and most importantly keep buying and making great cheese! Now, I am going to go put those beautiful Pacific maple shelves back in the aging room. Watch out cheese mites, I’m watching you!

Top photo of Tumalo Farms cheese courtesy Tami Parr of the Pacific NW Cheese Project. Photo of cheese from Argentina courtesy Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm.

Gianaclis Caldwell is also the author of three books on dairying, including Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

With Mushrooms, It's All About the Hunt

When the caller ID on my phone says Jack Czarnecki, I don't wait for the second ring before I pick up. When he says to show up at his home in Dundee at 7 a.m. the next morning, I don't whine about having to leave our place at six in order to get there on time.

One of many mountain backroads.

When the mushrooms are calling from the places known among mushroom cognoscenti as The Green Gate or The Ditch in the Three Sisters Wilderness, part of the Deschutes National Forest in the Cascade mountains of Central Oregon, Jack will be there to answer. He and a couple of friends will climb into the Subaru wagon, dubbed the Trufflemobile, with its customized shelves to hold the baskets he hopes to fill. Then he'll drive for hours on winding tracks through the mountains to hunt them—it's called "hunting," not "picking," for a reason, he says—in the locations he's been checking for years.

Butter boletes, Boletus regius.

Some are little backwoods campgrounds—our prey, the boletes, particularly love to cluster around the outhouses, he notes—and others are simply stops on the single-lane, rock-strewn Forest Service roads, places that have proved their worth over the years. New spots, like one we happened upon on this trip, are found by "road hunting," creeping along in the car scanning likely-looking banks or pine groves for signs of mycelial activity. It could be a bump in the needle-strewn duff, or a dark crack in the dirt or even a suspicious rock, but each one will be stopped for, evaluated and poked to see if it relinquishes a prize.

Side benefits? Beautiful woods.

The hunting this spring has been sparse, and compared with previous trips there was very little fungal activity in the form of other mushroom species, not even "blow-outs" or old, decomposed patches. Even the much-grumbled-about "commercials," the mushroom hunters who swarm over the mountains and eke out a living selling their harvests to middle men who in turn sell to chefs and markets all over the country, have all but (temporarily) given up the area to pursue more plentiful "flushes" of mushrooms elsewhere.

After several hours of hiking up and down steep banks and through shaded groves we managed to find a couple of porcinis and a decent basket of the red-capped butter boletes, but the season hasn't yet revealed its full potential, if it ever will. But a chance to spend a day in the woods with Jack and his friends, with gorgeous weather and stunning views of my beloved Cascades? Priceless.

Read about previous mushrooming trips with Jack.

For more information on the commercial mushroom business, read Langdon Cook's excellent book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Ben Meyer: Making Sustainable Meat Accessible

Ever since the first time I met Ben Meyer, I've wanted to write a story about his passion for local food systems. Today you can read my story about him in The Oregonian.

The first thing to note about Ben Meyer is not his polite Midwestern manners, his oh-so-Portland uniform of stocking cap, flannel shirt and scruffy beard or that he's opened two restaurants in what were then—and still are, to some extent—underserved areas of the city. It's not even that he's been interviewed by the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal wanting to hear about the local pasture-raised beef and pork he features on his menus and in the butcher case.

The key to Meyer is that this evangelist for whole animal butchery, whose walk-in is chock-full of large cuts of dry-aged beef, some as old as 80 days, spent 10 years as a vegan. Growing up in northern Indiana, he said all he knew was industrial agriculture.

"I grew up surrounded by hogs and soy and corn in the Midwest—northeastern Indiana—and basically saw nothing but factory farms, never thought there was anything different," he said.

Already politically active, he became a vegan because he didn't want to support a food system he saw as intrinsically unhealthy for himself, the environment or society. A move to an organic farm on the lush agricultural land of Washington's Vashon Island was eye-opening, and his preconceived notion of what a healthy food system looked like was blown out of the water.

Read the rest of the article, titled "At Old Salt Marketplace, chef Ben Meyer makes whole animal butchery his primary mission," to find out what turned Meyer from a full-time vegan to an evangelist for sustainable, accessible local food systems.

Rhubarb Gimlet: Two, Two, Two Treats in One

Okay, okay, calm down. Rhubarb season is almost over so this will (probably) be the last post on the subject for this year—unless Dave makes that rhubarb sorbet he's been talking about. We'll see.

Chopped and heating for syrup.

I've been making batches of rhubarb syrup and squirreling it away in the freezer so there will be beverage fixin's to last through the summer, fingers crossed, if I can restrain myself from having a sip of soda on these warm afternoons. (What happened with our usual rainy Rose Festival weather? This is disturbing.)

Delicious and refreshing, darn it!

Another hitch in my clever plan is that the other day I was inspired to combine some of that carefully stashed syrup with one of my favorite cocktails, the gimlet. Yes, you've got it: uh-oh. Even more uh-oh was that it was not only delicious but crazy refreshing.

Sure hope I can score some more rhubarb at the farmers' market, or I'm in, as they say, big-big trub-trub.

Rhubarb Syrup

Several rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2" pieces (redder rhubarb makes a more intensely colored syrup)

Place chopped rhubarb in saucepan and add just enough water to barely cover the pieces. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook over low heat until rhubarb is tender, 20 min. Strain through fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth, pressing gently to release the liquid. If you want a completely clear syrup it might take more than one filtering. Discard the solids. Measure or weigh the remaining liquid and add an equal amount of sugar. Heat the syrup in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Chill. Will keep for at least a week in the fridge. Alternately, pour syrup into glass or plastic containers and freeze for later use.


2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. rhubarb syrup

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Lots more recipes and suggestions for rhubarb.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Gussy Up Baked Beans: Add an Italian Accent

Quick: Name the most ubiquitous foods at summer picnics.

Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Potato salad. Baked beans. Extra points if you envision them on a picnic table covered with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Maybe some smoke from the barbecue wafting by.

They're all-American classics for a reason, of course. Generations have grown up putting yellow mustard and ketchup—spelling it catsup, apparently, has gone the way of the dodo—pickles and onions on their burgers. But sometimes it's fun to mess with the classics once in awhile, especially if the tweaks, if not a paradigm-shifting improvement over the original, at least offer a delicious alternative.

I was musing over contributor Jim Dixon's potato salad recipe that called for green garlic and capers, then remembered a post he'd done a few years ago about baked beans. He'd baked them in the oven and then, to finish them off, added a version of an Italian agrodulce or sweet-and-sour preparation that mimicked good old American baked beans.

I'd soaked a pound of dried purgatorio beans from Ayers Creek Farm overnight and was planning to serve them with a roasted chicken for dinner. Baked beans, I thought, would be the perfect accompaniment and give me the chance to try out Jim's method. A little tweaking was done to his original recipe, of course, but my family liked the new twist on this classic, evidenced by the scraped-clean serving dish. I hope you'll like it as much!

Baked Beans Italian Style

2 c. dried beans (I used borlotto, but pretty much any dried bean would do)
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. bacon
1 large onion, chopped fine
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. sage leaves, chopped fine

Put dried beans in a pot and add water to cover by at least 2”. Cover and soak overnight on the counter.

Preheat oven to 250°.

Drain water from beans and add fresh water to cover by 1”. Add bacon, bay leaves, salt and olive oil. Cover, place in oven and bake 5 to 7 hours until beans are tender (a slow cooker would work well, too).

One hour before the end of the cooking time for the beans, combine the onions, honey, vinegar and sage in a small saucepan and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add onion mixture to them and combine, then bake for an additional hour. Remove the bay leaves. Remove the piece of bacon and slice it into pieces or shred it, then stir it back into the beans. Taste for salt and adjust as desired. This is great served right out of the oven but is also spectacular made a day ahead for dinner or a picnic the next day.