Not Your Ordinary Farm, Farmer or Chef. Now lets make Prosciutto


FARM VISIT.
Not your ordinary Farm in Guilford Vermont on a snowy day.
http://notyourordinaryfarm.com/
 

In small towns, word travels pretty darn fast and farmers talk a great deal to each other about who they are selling to.  After about a year into establishing solid farm partnerships, it was not long before my phone and email were  flooded with messages from growers and producers peddling their respective offerings. I started feeling bad. I wanted to support as many as I could, not realizing that this appease everybody thing is actually counterproductive for both parties. So I sat down and figured out what products I wanted.  Then I tasted samples, and chose the highest quality, and yummiest ingredients  from what I consider to be the best farms in the area.  20 plus farms later I had my beef, lamb, rabbit, chicken, rabbit, veal, game birds and tons of produce.  The only thing missing was duck.  In walks Judy Sopinki of “Not Your Ordinary Farm” in Guilford VT.  
She kindly said she had never raised ducks before. I began to explain to her that there are a number of pork producers in the area as well as lamb, chicken and beef. Great Tasting Ducks however are all coming from upstate New York and are usually the bi-product of Foie gras which is totally a unsustainable modle of raising ducks. She called a few weeks later informing me of  her newest experiment involving cute little ducklings. It was a bit challenging at first and we had some serious feather issues to overcome. I mean the first batch I had to sell skinless duck confit! Now, Judy is my supplier for Muscovy ducks. What is not so ordinary about this farm? I guess it is the dainty ribbon tied bloody bags of dead meat! Or the fact that she is filling a void in the food system in Southern Vermont instead of saturating the market with what the majority of farmers are producing. These types of partnerships add tremendous value to the NEW food system.She is also a Clevlander claiming the polish ghettos of Broadway and Fleet as her stomping grounds. She came in wanting to fill the void of another animal not listed previously and that  is  most “ordinary” chefs’ favorite meat; pork.  Just as this farm, I am not that “ordinary” of a Chef.  I have never eaten pork except by mistake.   My most enjoyable  mess up was when I would eat the  fried chicken livers from Moxie in Beachwood Ohio with Jonathan Bennett’s super yummed out Catalina dressing.  I did not know the ingredients until it was my turn to prep it: eggs, paprika, vinegar, tomatoes, onions, and sugar were emuslsified with bacon fat! Whoops! Until I was a teenager I had never eaten an OREO or a Starburst due to the lard content.  (To my excitement they changed the recipe at the height of  my junk food eating career).  Back to this “Not so ordinary” farmer, Judy…I told her I was not interested in pigs, but a non gavage(d) free range duck line would be awesome.   (Gavaged means force fed).  These ducks would give me my last piece that I needed to have a menu full of local sustainable products from farmers that I know and respect.   Super important and super delicious!
This is a productive C-Town and old school farmer-chef relationship.  Local food is so much more than slapping a farms’ name on a menu. Chefs, visit your farms, it is about the connection. It is about reciprocation. We are now in talks about her growing sustainable Foie http://www.foodista.com/blog/2011/08/16/sustainable-farming-chef-dan-barbers-foie-gras-parable#  for me because I am, and always will be against gavage!  The bird of choice for large production foie facilities such as Hudson Valley Foie, is the moulard, (no spell check, not mallard).  This bird is a genetically manipulated, sterile bird that they have created specifically for human consumption.  The bird is essentially grown as a vegetable for our eating pleasure as opposed to the cute little ducklings that grow up on Judy’s “Not So Ordinary” farm, that have little duck lives.  Even though the birds are super tasty, we as Chefs have to take into account that the production used for the foie bird is unnatural to begin with, even before the invasive feeding begins.  There is the argument that “the ducks enjoy” having a tube shoved down their esophagus because they don’t have an epiglottis to cause a gag reflex.  This argument is null and void if the conception of the bird is genetically modified and unnatural anway from the beginning.  (Not to get into a debate, most chefs/diners by now have chosen their sides on this issue already).   Anyway, on to the prosciutto. 
 
 I learned to cure meats during my time at Aureole  in New York  from Amar Santana.  A super talented Chef. He was doing duck ham and prosciutto, lamb prosciutto and some other cool non pork cured meats. Of course he used nitrates (which I am not a fan of ) and a crap load of pork fat, (the super trendy standard of yumminess nowadays).  I omitted the insta-cure number series which has all of the un needed nitrates, In my opinion, since these are found naturally in fennel seed and other organic ingredients there is no need to add a factory made product. I also ommitted the forbidden swine from my repertoire and have been working on a line of Muslim-Jewish friendly charcuterie, that is (I hope) just as good as its pork counter part.  From rabbit bacon to veal mortadella, it is all possible. I started to realize that what makes ham taste like itself has less to do with the meat, and more to do with it’s cure.  Now a lot of you pork loyalist and fanatics are probably rolling your eyes and perhaps want tell me about myself right about now…but give these a shot, and while you are at it, give me my ignorance, it is bliss! I would like to imagine that when I cure and smoke my turkey leg,  it’s pretty hammy. And when I give nice fatty duck breast a really easy  salt cure followed by a  “set it and forget it” type refrigerator stay it is pretty prosciutto-y but with a character of its own.
Duck Prosciutto Recipe
Ingredients
  • One 6 or 8 ounce duck breast
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
Directions
Don’t buy duck breasts. Buy the whole bird. You will feel more connected with your food when doing this. Breakdown the whole duck, make some soup out of the carcass and wings, confit out of the legs and freeze the liver for pate to be made once enough is accumulated. Rinse and pat dry your breast with good non-dollar store paper towels (trust me on this one). Snag a dish just large enough to hold the duck breast. Make a 1-inch bed of salt on said dish. Place the breast on the salt and cover it with about another inch of salt. Cover the entire situation with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. You can add orange rinds if you like. 
 

Breasts in the cure with fresh ground spices.

In a small bowl, combine the  coriander, fennel, and pepper. This would be the perfect time to make use of  some of those pre ground spices sitting on the counter in one of those spice

Rinsed, spiced and hanging in the walk in.

carousel’s you got as a gift. I would of course not recommend purchasing this antiquated  product, but I for sure don’t condone just throwing it away either unless it is totally rancid. If you ar going to buy spices, you should always purchase whole seed spices, whole pepper corns and fresh herbs. Unwrap the duck breast and, holding it over the sink, rinse it with the vinegar to remove the salt and then rinse it under cold running water. Pat the duck breast completely dry and then rub it all over with the spice mixture.
 

Sliced and ready to serve.

Wrap the breast in cheesecloth and knot the cloth at both ends. Tie a piece of butcher twine on the top of the cheese cloth and tie the
other end to the wire rack in the fridge. If your fridge has glass shelving, duct tape it. I could have done a cheesy little pun  there but I think hinting at it works just as well. Place a small plate or dish beneath it. Let the duck cure until it feels firm but not dry, about 2 weeks. Thinner or smaller breasts will take less time.                                    
 
Start checking after a week or so. Slice it as thin as possible Put this with some melon or on a salad and you are good to go.

Pheseant with duck bacon-sweet potato hash and sherry soubise.

 
 
If you are feeling ambitious, you can of course smoke your cured breast making duck bacon. That is just what i did  with my pheasant from Chip and Carleen Hellis’ Fowl Mountain Farm in Dummerston. 
 
http://www.ismailthechef.com/
 
Advertisements

Are We Foodies or Snooties?


So, I have a question…Since when is good, all natural food reserved for the elite? You don’t believe me? Walk through your local co-op or natural food store with your head on a swivel.   Scope out the not so wide array of vehicles in the parking lot, snag your tiny cart, and tell me that you are not being over charged. We shop blindly, content in the feeling of making the right choice for ourselves and family, but what would we eat if we could not afford it? This type of blind shopping is a contributing factor to the growing debate surrounding the foodie as an elitest.

What is your modern day foodie? I am guessing they will talk a good game about supporting your local farmer, eating grass fed beef and free range chickens, he will probably have an eco bag in is trunk sporting the “I love veggies” inscription. They will be able to tell you all about gmos and hfcs and bpas, and some may even possess a 650 dollar set of cook book written by Nathan Myhrvold. I will talk on this later down the page) They might even have a blog about the wonderful farm to table spots they’ve been frequenting and how they dropped 300 plus down (wine not included) on a beautifully plated somewhat yummy “snout and trotter” tasting at the newest “nose to tail” eatery.

Make no mistake about it, I am all about supporting your farmer, and partaking in yummy foods and yadda yadda yadda. However it seems to me after reading the many blogs and message boards that we are turning our movement into an elite eco system of Chefs and foodies that frown upon those who either 1) CHOOSE to (for whatever reason)  factory farmed agriculture. Or 2) just are not ready to jump all the way in. Lets step back and look at the fact that we as a country are so soiled by the industry we are against that we support it even if we don’t want to. So lets relax a little with the harsh comments because we are all guilty. We all support factory farms and unsustainable farming practices be it knowingly or un-knowingly.  Most of us grew into our mentalities after living a life of crappy eating.  This crappy eating is usually justifiable;  a shoe string budget of Ramen noodles while we are broke in college, or just doing what we can to feed our families.

That’s my rant and here is my take on the Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold… ABSOLUTELY ELITIST!  I heard ramblings of this book coming out and at first I was all about it I even think I posted the Wired magazine article on my Facebook page. You know the story of a guy loving to cook since he was a boy, quits his job as a top researcher for a big company and becomes a chef. But 6 BILLS?!  First off I must say I am judging the book by its cover. But I am hoping you can give me a pass because it cost 600 bucks! I’m sorry, I’m just not throwing that much coin down. I couldn’t stand paying those prices for books in college, and I surely don’t think its cool to ask middle America to swoop it up at that price. I heard in an interview on NPR him say “you can do these things with regular kitchen equipment you can buy at any old store like Sur le Table and William Sanoma. Seriously!? Normal people don’t shop there. It is this type of pretentious attitude (along with the heafty price tag) that keeps the argument going.  I guess what  I am trying to say is I understand it is more of a reference and it probably like most other cookbooks, will just sit on a coffee table. But for that price, It better be hand written in gold leaf with a quill from a rare bird found only in Bolivia, published by Gutenberg, taken off the shelf by the Monastery’s librarian holding a candle on a full moon. If you are interested in a a great approach to food science and have lets say 30 bucks, I suggest you pick up On food and Cooking by Harrold Mcgee. If youn don’t have it already. The approach is definitely different from “Modernist Cuisine”. It’s scientific analysis of food, going into the biology and protein chemistry of grains, eggs, meats, etc, and I don’t think that there’s a single recipe in it other than a few historical examples. That being said, it’s a very revealing view of how food behaves chemically, physically, and culinarily, and has helped me understand a lot my screw-ups in the kitchen. It certainly doesn’t compare to a 2500 page, 5 volume set of lavishly illustrated scientific cookbooks. In all fairness, big reference volumes like this do tend to be expensive. For example, the Oxford unabridged dictionary has always been expensive. These things are expensive to produce and the developer should get a fair compensation for what  it cost and for how much research went into its production.  It is definitely an interesting concept, but totally not for me.  Sad because this is the kind of thing that is super interesting but in my opinion totally alienates Middle America.

DON’T LET THEM HIJACK OUR MOVEMENT!

Fresh wholesome natural food is for everyone.

Me. My Town. And Irene. A summer for the ages.


http://www.wilmingtonvtfloodrelief.com/

http://drvhumanweb.org/  TO DONATE OR FOR EMERGENCY FUNDING CLICK HERE!

I decided to not put pictures of the flood damage on the blog. I’m sure you have scene enough.

The summer draws to a close. and it took a disaster to get me back at the computer screen squinting through my duct taped, faded Ralph Lauren frames to peck away at a measly 15 wpm (tops) in an attempt to regain my self-proclaimed title as a blogger. The disaster of the tropical storm Irene will be forever etched into my memory. There was very little wind, just hours and hours of steady rain. The devastation is immense and will take its actualized toll in the forth coming months. for more information on the floods of Irene or to help the residents and businesses,  Please Click here! I have friends who were affected and I pray things in the town of Wilmington and all over Vermont, get back to a sense of normalcy.

Wait. Dd I just say Wilmington? Last most of you heard I was at the helm of the Putney Inn. Working and gleaning from the bounty of the farms of Wyndham County. I apologize For my lack of updates on my to-ing and fro-ing. I guess I have some filling in to do.

This was to be the year that I made a solid reputation in New England as a respectable Chef providing high quality, world-class grub to locals and travelers alike. I established a wonderful network of farmers to drive my cuisine and the rep was starting. My departure had ABSOLUELY nothing to do with the owners or the property. I was given free rein to develop and create menus according to my whims and  palate. But the property was a large one. Banquets out the wazoo! And busses of tourists flocking to peep out the colorful canvas of de-naturing leaves is totally not my speed. The restaurant is still a great place to grab a bite of yummy food in southern VT and is the perfect spot to hop off of rt 91 at exit 4. www.putneyinn.com. that being said I prefer an ecosystem that caters to the expectations of dinners who are looking for THE SPOT.  So, after three offers, trails, (trying out in the kitchen) mystery baskets and negotiations, I accepted the job at what I see as being THE SPOT for me. Is it a Relais Chateau, on lake Champlain, brand spanking new with shiny never before used appliances and small wares? Absolutely not.  Is it 100 percent committed to the sustainable, farm to table, nose to tail ideology? Yessssss! (Very Important) The Wilmington Inn is in so many ways is a dream come true. The lack of the brand spanking new stuff gives it a few dings in my book but all in all, pretty close to perfect. Since we have been closed off from the rest of the world due to poor roads and mass construction vehicles, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my decision. This reflection has a reoccurring theme; community and farmonomics. Click here for more info on farmonomics. This view of the owners (along with many others) and  their commitment  mirrors my outlook super eerily. The fact that John kicked the shiny silver truck off the property with the purchase of the Inn and wants to ink the menu with “SYSCO free since 2010” is pretty slick.

These times of crisis it is important to realize our role in our communities and how we spend our money seriously affects our neighbors. In Vermont the slinging around of terminology like “buy local” is for the most part not a marketing ploy, it’s the real deal. (I can name some posers in a private convo off the record if you like) When we put a face to the producer of our product and put a face to the consumer it is more than just a business transaction, we now have a connection. When we know that Westminster Organics is Paul Harlow and family and they stand to lose a nice amount of coin in crops (250,000 in crop damage) we should  do all that we can to help.  That amount does not include property damage, loss of jobs to employees, and the fact that they have to wait four months before planting again. Buying local is the least we can doand it directly effects helps the Harlow family and all of their employees. What about Jonathan Wright of Taylor farms? in Londonderry? It is a baig chain grocer  or sysco telling you that they are discontinuing an item and you keep shopping blindly. It is painful to know that after baling hay for his grass-fed cows the flood washes a huge chunk of food for his livestock. This is the reality. when we buy Taylor Farms Gouda from the store, we are helping Jonathan Wright.

I am stoked to hear about all of the people helping get the Brattleboro farmers market up and running within a week! After first the first reports said a new location may be necessary? AMAZING! I wish I were there this saturday to see the swarm of like-minded community based folks (some a little weird) helping support the ever so needed local economy. I was helping along with a host of other residents (and non) rebuild the tourist economy based center of Wilmington which was decimated by the flood. It is a site to see. People working together is a beautiful site. There are many things going on in the valley to assist the businesses affected. I even here murmurs of a star-studded benefit concert for those without flood insurance being in the works. The Wilmington Inn is putting up five bucks from every entre to the flood relief, Chris and Steve of Apres Vous are looking to open next week and open for breakfast and lunch to give some of the folks of DOTs Dinner (a darn near monument) employment. It is nice to see a community at work.

The craziness of starting a new job has kept me away from my blog. The craziness of this storm has just revealed to me how relaxing and a release it is to share my thoughts. My unplanned time of reflection has totally fortified my ideology and commitment to the support of the small farms and producers and has given me more incentive to work at my craft and offer some of the best cuisine in Vermont. I must admit, I was not too fond of the touristy feel of the town of when I first arrived. However, the spirit of  community is in the air and I welcome all of you to Wilmington!

Next up is my garden, my foraging and some new farm visits!

Their name is on our menus… Do we know them?


I am sure you have seen menus laden with citations, bibliographies, indexes, appendixes if you will, all in an attempt to give credit to the farms that inspire our ever changing menus. I have went from listing my farms after each dish, a tallied list at the end of my menu under the name of producers to most recently coining them contributors.  I am here to tell my fellow chefs out there that a name without a face leaves one wondering who “who are these people”. Have you met them? Do you haggle the crap out of them to get your profit margins just right while leaving the farmer with change to pay for the rising costs of feed, waste management, oil for machinery and fees for organic certifications and FDA stickers? The tag line for the Windham farm and food network is, Make the connection. Buy local. Know your farmer. I DIG IT! And, this by far sums up our responsibility as food producers, educators, chefs and consumers to truly become sustainable.

So when you hear advertisements of an aluminum foil wrapped 2 pound burrito slinging  establishment waving the we are committed to local blah blah blah card, don’t believe the hype!  Trust me on this, they are duping you! Does this sicken anyone else? Are companies really taking advantage of consumers who want to eat responsibly? Of course they are and I would expect this type of exploitation from these no scruple having corps.  But when chefs irresponsibly floss the “local” card with absolutely no intention of contributing to the ever so important food awareness and sustainability movement, it saddens me. It actually ticks me off a bit. This exploitation is of course is the hottest marketing trend and restaraunteurs and Chefs are sucking it right up. What are the main issues with the food system? There is no way I can fully answer this rhetorical question in my measly little quick read posts, so watch a documentary or read the omnivores dilemma. Or for first hand experience with our food system issues you could; support your child’s soy, salt, sugar and corn addiction and send them to the school cafeteria, take a drive through a food dessert, grab a five pound “Bryson” all natural chicken breast at your local grocery, purchase a pseudo organic product from “Mole Foods”, plant a garden using new and improved GMO”Franken-Seeds” or try to get sold on buying pre-fabricated microwaveable foods while learning to cook fabulously food via the “Fooey Network”.

When you "make the Connection" you might get some seeds to grow your own micro greens. Sure beets 20 bucks a pop!

Remember, the “stand up guy” card is an easy one to throw down. What’s not easy is backing it up.  It takes commitment, true passion and in my case a lot of trial and error. I for one was extremely apprehensive about butchering. So I would request from my farmers certain cuts of meat. Now of course I see butchering as one of the most important pieces to running a TRUE

An aged veal mid-section ready for butchering.

Farm to table restaurant that truly sustains the farming community. My initial willy nilly hatchet man cuts of meat were almost as embarrassing as me taking forty plus minutes splitting an underwhelming amount of wood, or wearing kitchen clogs to a farm in mud season. (I won’t even get into my countless homesteading blunders).

The small meat producers (not talking meat factories here) biggest problem is of course the food system. It is set up to leave an enormous amount of not so popular cuts of meat. This is what it breaks down to: two of each of the following; rib loins, strip loins, tenderloin and sirloin. Not to mention, of course, the ever popular beef hanger steak.  This cut of meat could feed maybe twelve people. Thats right, twelve people from 1000 pounds! We chase after trendy cuts to keep a consistent menu and remain relevant in todays  ever-changing landscape of foodie satisfaction. Totally un-sustainable.   If you have some rump in your kitchen, some people may get try tips, (again maybe 10 servings out of the whole steer), and of course some short ribs, and a few other cuts of interest. But the fact remains that out of a steer that weighs in at 1000 plus pounds, the majority is left as un favorable cuts of beef to the consumer after all the highly preferred ones are swooped up by Chefs that don’t want to do the work of making as many menu items as possible out of the whole animal. And this is happening across the country at self-proclaimed sustainable/Farm to table restaurants. Again, pretty un-sustainable.  This lack of commitment from chefs and in some cases lack of support from money hungry owners leaves the farmer making sub-par sausage (in most cases) to sell at farmers markets and many a compromise from chefs (use your imagination here). Don’t believe me? Ask a farmer. I am finding them to be some of the coolest people around!

The Garden Shots Have nothing to do with this post. I am just super psyched!

It is super beneficial to both parties involved in the whole animal purchase. Number one. When a farmer has a bunch of leftover meat for grind and unfavorable cuts sitting in their deep freezer (if they have one), this makes the price of a 100% grass-fed prime cut on average 4 dollars more per pound and of course this gets passed on to the consumer which then keeps only the well to do partaking in the joys of true all natural eats. And adds to the notion that some have (I’m on the fence) about the totally clueless foodie elitists out there zipping around in their Priuses. Which still have 7 gallons of oil in each tire, the body of the car is made of oil and they are shipped here on tankers using a bunch of oil and are shipped on semis using crazy amounts of oil and…and… and….  Where are our post oil solutions? This charade and bamboozlement adds nothing to sustainability movement either.

My Award!

The local movement does not end at just having local food. It doesn’t even start at it. Making the connection is the key component. At least that is what the Windham Farm and Food network believes and I for one am all about it. Don’t know how to say this without saying it so…. I WAS GIVEN AN AWARD!  And no it’s not the James Beared or a Rising Star Award or anything like that. Trust me. Not taking anything away from the insanely talented chefs who totally deserve the recognition especially all the great chefs in C-town who get slighted every year. But any way… Mine is the highly touted Farm and Food Chef All-stars award! When Hanz Estrin (he runs the organization) called me up and informed me I was a recipient, I couldn’t wait to put it on my fridge! I even took a picture of it to share with you guys.

One last thought. And I want you guys to help me on this one. As I said earlier, I give credit to my farmers on my menu. Is this necessary as a Chef? Shouldn’t a diner spending hard-earned loot EXPECT the best? And we all know there is NOTHING better than an in season heirloom tomato or an over wintered parsnip! I’m leaning towards the belief that if I run my kitchen with integrity, I will get the respect of the farmer. That farmer/producer will then tell a customer of theirs they can get the goods at my establishment. Once this cycle repeats itself amongst the community enough times, my kitchen would be recognized as a stalwart operation with integrity and commitment to as many farms it takes to sustain my establishment. What do you guys think? I would love to hear from you!

Just want to show you guys what we are up to. Kale, artichokes, peppers, tomatoes, onions and of course herbs.

For more information on the Windham Farm and Food Network supported by the UVM extension Click here! I can attest to its successes (and ease of use) and it continues to make my life easier as a chef striving to support my farming neighbors.