Monday, December 12, 2016

The Golden Rule of Farming

Creekside Farm

Over the river and through the woods to a 90-acre homestead in Athens, Ohio I went. What I found waiting for me was a dairy farm unlike any other, one where the owners’ main objective is to treat their animals with the upmost respect, in turn enabling them to produce the highest quality of products for their local community to enjoy.

In 2010, Paul Tomcho and Krista Duval purchased their picturesque parcel nestled in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with the hopes of starting a micro dairy farm. Tomcho, who was previously employed at a well-known local creamery, initially envisioned owning a few dairy cows. It didn’t take long for the couple to realize that their property was too hilly to raise cattle, and after clearing some land to build a few structures, they switched gears and bought a couple dairy goats who were more suited for the rocky terrain. Creekside Farm was officially established in 2012 and today is home to 40 goats, all of which the owners know by name. As we made our way to the barn where the animals were taking shelter from the falling rain, the couple pointed out two of their girls, Naomi and Josephine, and explained the different natural characteristics of the breeds they raise; the bearded Swiss Toggenburg, the Alpines with a variety of color patterns, and the floppy eared Nubians. I was surprised to see each doe (female) and kid (baby goat) stood or laid side by side, but what was even more amazing was what I learned about the care and attention the owners of this quaint establishment take in ensuring their animals are as happy as possible.

The differences between Creekside Farm and traditional dairy farms are vast. Tomcho explained how goats are seasonal breeders, similar to deer, and that several times a year they initiate pre-arranged dates between specific does and bucks. This invited interaction helps control the genetics of their animals and results in the passing on of the superior traits they are looking for. In a typical farm environment, after the female gives birth, her babies are taken away in order to collect her milk. Tomcho was never a fan of this practice, so at his farm he opts to leave one kid with each doe. He said the doe, which otherwise shows signs of depression minus her kids, seems satisfied and happy. This low-stress environment is just one reason Creekside Farm landed the designation of being Animal Welfare Approved. If you are unfamiliar with this title, it’s most likely because Creekside is the one and only farm in Ohio and its surrounding states that hold it. In order to earn the Animal Welfare Approved credential, an independent not-for-profit agency audits the farm based on a set of rigorous standards. They monitor the welfare of each animal and review the meticulous logs that note rarities such as an animal that becomes sick or injured, and what specific actions were put in place to remedy these situations. The agency also regulates the environmental impact of the farm. Keeping the number of animals at a population which suits the land ensures Creekside Farm remains manageable and that the welfare of their land remains intact. Daily, the goats are rotated to a new pasture to graze and the farm’s chickens do their part by spreading nutrient rich droppings. Creekside voluntarily subjects itself to the requirements which accompany being Animal Welfare approved because they want to raise the bar beyond just being a local farm. Their practices result in fewer diseases and injuries, create a more enjoyable, stress-free environment, and fosters animals that ultimately produce a higher quality end product. They hope by educating others as to why this designation is important, other animal centric farms will follow suit and their model will become the future of farming.

Currently, Creekside Farm produces fresh varieties of goat cheese with the minimum amount of pasteurization and processing the law allows. The couple laughed that they have eaten their fair share of cheese “mistakes”, but one of the many beauties of the community in which they reside is that people are very supportive of local, and are always willing to try their next experimental product such as their new-to-market goat’s milk caramel sauce. The process by which they make their products is exactly what you would expect from a place that treats their animals like their own children. At Creekside, fresh milk is ladled by hand because pumping can break up the fat and have a negative effect the creaminess of the final product. Tomcho pointed out that they have had customers who said they don’t like the “goaty” flavor of traditionally produced cheeses made from goat’s milk, and he urges them to try their products. Because of the freshness, there isn’t as strong of an earthy aftertaste as in traditionally produced goat’s cheeses. You can purchase their cheese as well as their drinkable yogurt, eggs, seasonal berries and cut flowers, mushroom logs, and goat’s milk soap at the Athens Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well a variety of restaurant’s and retailers in Athens.


The Creekside Farm Chevre (pictured left) traveled 80 miles to Columbus, while the chevre (pictured right) traveled over 742 miles to Columbus.

Goat cheese is commonly used synonymously to describe chevre when in fact chevre is a specific French style cheese made with goat’s milk that is known for creamy texture, soft spreadable consistency, and tangy bite.

Chevre & Apple Crostini

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ice Cream Dreams

Velvet Ice Cream

Recently my nephew, a self-proclaimed expert in the field of ice cream, accompanied me on a trip to historic Ye Olde Mill and the Velvet Ice Cream facility in Utica, Ohio. A short drive northeast of Columbus lands you at this 26 acre property where you can not only view your favorite ice cream flavors being made right before your very eyes, but after you work up an appetite touring the scenic grounds and learning the deep rooted history of the company, you can visit the full service restaurant and adjacent ice cream parlor where you are encouraged to eat your dessert first.

My visit began by meeting with a member of the Velvet marketing team, whose job comes with the most delicious of perks - free ice cream! As the story behind one of the oldest family owned and operated ice cream companies in the country was shared, my mind began to fill with thoughts of towering scoops of Raspberry Fudge Cordial, Buckeye Classic, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Cookie Dough Extreme. In 1903 founder Joseph Dager emigrated through Ellis Island from Lebanon in search of the American dream. As other family members went to work in the Cleveland steel mills, Dager realized the city life wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, instead meeting up with a relative who was making chocolates in the rural city of Utica. Dager decided to focus his future on something much sweeter 1914 Velvet Ice Cream began offering the first of what would grow to be a myriad of flavors - Original Vanilla. With a company name derived from the velvety texture of their product, Dager soon expanded Velvet’s flavors to include chocolate and strawberry, as well as producing their own ice to combat a lack of refrigeration. As the years passed, the 2nd and 3rd generation of Dagers grew the business beyond the state of Ohio. In the 1960s, the family purchased the current property including the original grist and lumber mill which date back to 1817! Two centuries ago, the old mill used the power of the Licking River to turn its massive wheel in order to grind wheat into flour and later cut lumber. Although the mill is no longer operational its photogenic appeal adds to the charm of the property.

With my history lesson complete, I was taken to the viewing gallery where I was able to watch a handful of loyal workers mix up the latest flavor of Velvet Ice Cream. Each year thousands of students take the same tour and learn exactly where their food comes. As they peer through the plate glass wall, following the process from start to finish, it is explained how many ice cream companies purchase their ice cream mix or base from external suppliers, but at Velvet they not only make their own vanilla or chocolate mix from scratch, but they create the mix used by many well-known brands. The two main ingredients, cream and milk, are sourced from Ohio dairy cows, and the remainder of their ingredients are, whenever possible, are from US based partners. After the mix is made and the desired flavor or mix-ins are added, the finished product, which is between 10-12% butterfat, is more of a soft-serve consistency. It is then dispensed into its container and makes its way to the negative 100 degree freezer. Thanks to the minimal amount of time it takes for the ice cream to reach its ideal freezing temperature (negative 10 degrees), the freshness is locked in, further separating Velvet brand ice creams apart from the rest.

Joseph Dager launched Velvet Ice Cream by making a mere 5 gallons of product a day. Today, the 4th generation of Dagers are pumping out nearly 2,500 gallons an hour or over 6 million gallons each year! This family owned business stays busy by constantly developing new flavors while still producing old classics for you to enjoy year round. Typically rotating between three and five seasonal flavors, the lineup for summer included Summertime Peach, Campfire S’mores, Blueberry Cheesecake, Elephant Ear, and the official ice cream flavor of the Ohio State Fair, Banana Cream Pie. Velvet Ice Creams is currently producing 60-70 flavors within their Premium, All Natural, Churned, No Sugar Added, and newest addition Gelato lines of ice cream. Although you can find their ice creams in many retail locations around Central Ohio, I encourage you to make the trip Utica and take your time soaking in the beautiful landscape, viewing the process, and definitely eating the obscene amount of ice cream that you dreamed about as a child.

Ice Cream

The Velvet Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream (pictured left) traveled 41 miles to Columbus, while the ice cream (pictured right) traveled over 540 miles to Columbus.

Strawberry Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

All in the (Italian) Family

Brier Hill Sausage Co.

If you’re from Youngstown, Ohio, chances are your last name ends with a vowel…at least one of your parents is of Italian decent, you’ve eaten your weight in Wedgewood Pizza, attended a wedding or two at Mr. Anthony’s, shopped for groceries at Rulli Bros., played bocce at the MVR, visited Lanterman’s Mill during the holidays, ordered peppers in oil as an appetizer, consumed dozens of blueberry donuts from Whitehouse Fruit Farm, viewed a concert at the Covelli Center, devoured bowls of cavatelli at the annual Canfield Fair, were a fan of Jim Tressel before his days at The Ohio State University, and know of the neighborhood referred to as Brier Hill.

This post is unlike the fifty-four that precede it, as the focus of this Destination, Ingredient, and Recipe is Brier Hill Sausage Co., a new business started by my husband, Jerry Pallante III and his father Jerry Jr. Although I was feeling a slight amount of anxiety due to the personal nature of this story, I sat down with the father-son duo in the multipurpose cookbook/cake pan library at The Commissary, a shared commercial kitchen space where they are producing their fourth generation family recipe sausages, to discuss how their new company came about. Brier Hill Sausage Co. pays homage to the Italian neighborhood on the north side of Youngstown where the Pallante ancestors settled. Jerry Jr. shared how many that lived in Brier Hill, his paternal grandparents included, produced an all pork Italian-style sausage that was preserved with smoke and cured until it was ready to consume. Referred to in the neighborhood as “black gold”, most likely a play on the words black coal, which was abundant in the once thriving steel town, he recalled how his parents only made the smoky delicacy once a year before the winter ground thawed and spring officially began. The temperature outside needed to be cold enough so the meat wouldn’t spoil, but not too frigid that it would freeze the links while they were smoked in the family garage and then hung in the attic to cure. Stored in a ceramic crock of oil, the sausages were reserved for special occasions and typically lasted the family all year until the weather was right to produce another batch.

As with many old world recipes, exact measurements and directions weren’t written down, and as family members passed and years flew by the art of making sausage in the Pallante household ceased, with the recipe for their smoked and cured sausage in danger of being lost. Around 20 years ago, Jerry Jr. answered a call from his cousin Charlie Papagna, who was interested in making his own batch of black gold. He jumped at the chance to once again make the beloved sausage and brought his son, Jerry III, along to learn the process and be the additional man power they needed to turn the crank of the sausage stuffer. The three, along with a few other family members and neighbors, would painstakingly grind cuts of pork, mix in the secret blend of spices by hand, crank the mixture out of the stuffer into natural casings, hand tie each link, and prick them to release any air pockets. Making sausage became an event near the end of winter that everyone involved looked forward to, not only because they were carrying out a family tradition, but when the work was complete Charlie’s wife Rosanne treated the group to her famous chicken noodle soup and, not surprisingly, fresh-made sausage sandwiches. Word began to spread about the production of this treasured charcuterie, and before they knew it the enlisted crew was stuffing 400-500 pounds of pork into imperfectly sized links and smoking it in Charlie’s shed. After getting its proper dose of smoke for both curing and flavor purposes, the sausage would take a trip back to Jerry and Charlie’s grandfather’s house, located off of Dearborn St. in Brier Hill and still owned by the family, to cure in the attic for about two months. The sausage making continued until the early 2000’s when the city demolished a number of houses in Brier Hill to make way for a connector to Highway 680, at which time annual production came to a screeching halt.

In April 2012, a few years after Jerry III and I moved to Columbus, he suggested to his Dad that they should yet again start up the meat making tradition. Jerry Jr. agreed, and the two mixed up their inaugural, modest ten pound batch in our kitchen in Columbus, cold smoked it over the grill, and dried it in our basement. The next year they upped the operation, and since the larger batch needed more space, this time it was smoked in Jerry Jr’s shed in Youngstown and then hung in his attic to dry. After multiple attempts to fill our garages, sheds, attics, and basements with wafting fumes of smoke and links upon links of sausage, my mother-in-law and I persistently suggested they turn their hobby into a business and move into a commercial space. Brier Hill Sausage Co. officially began in 2014 and their first test batch of Smoked & Cured Italian Sausage was produced in January 2016. Even though it isn’t smoked in a garage or hung in an attic to cure, it’s still made in the same time honored tradition as it was by the residents of Brier Hill. Also, it’s worth noting that there isn’t anything to hide about the making of this sausage; they use whole pork shoulder, no filler, scraps, or mystery ingredients. It’s a small batch, quality, handmade product that is worth the several months wait it takes to produce. For now, the men have zero intentions of scaling up and prefer to run their operation in a stress-free manner in which they can enjoy each other’s company and do what they love best, cook and eat. And just like that, with Jerry III’s great grandfather’s sausage stuffer in tow, the two are yet again making sausage; solidifying and preserving a family tradition for future generations of Central Ohioans to enjoy.


The Brier Hill Sausage Co. sausage (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus, while the sausage (pictured right) traveled over 481 miles to Columbus.

Brier Hill Sausage Co. offers four types of sausage, one smoked and cured version and three fresh varieties:

  • Smoked & Cured Italian Sausage: A recipe made the same way today that it has been made by our family for four generations. Our Brier Hill Sausage Co. Hot Italian Sausage is cold smoked over fruit wood and then hung to slowly cure to perfection. Known simply as "black gold" in the old neighborhood, each small batch of this meticulously handcrafted sausage takes over a month to produce.

  • Hot Italian: Brier Hill Sausage Co. makes our Hot Italian Sausage with premium shoulder cuts of fresh pork that are coarse ground, seasoned in the traditional Brier Hill style, and stuffed into a natural casing.

  • Sweet Italian: A milder version of Brier Hill Sausage Co.'s Italian sausage, made from coarse ground premium shoulder cuts of fresh pork and stuffed into a natural casing.

  • Polpetta: This unique Brier Hill Sausage Co. creation features a pork and beef sausage made with our family's meatball seasoning. Stuffed into a natural casing, our Polpetta offers a unique twist on the meatball sandwich.

Pasta Carbonara

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