January 2, 2015 – Sugar House Creamery-Upper Jay, NY – Asgaard Farm & Dairy-AuSable Forks, NY
If you’ve read my previous post, “Let Them Eat Trees”, you’ll recall that while I’m big on the Lake Placid area, I pull no punches as to the brutality of its weather. With such an inhospitable climate you’ll be surprised to know that the neighboring AuSable valley is seeing the signs of a budding farm movement. Ok, I’m being a bit overly optimistic-maybe the cold cut down the voltage of my neurons- but there are two that my girlfriend and I had the pleasure to visit.
Sugar House Creamery focuses on artisanal cheese and other dairy products. Pull up to the small honor system farm store-kind of restores your faith in mankind for a minute, doesn’t it-where you’ll find a couple of refrigerators. Having read many positive reviews, I was excited to try the cheese even without having the opportunity to sample it first. I choose two. Dutch Knuckle described on the label as “a semi-hard raw milk mountain cheese”. Nutty and creamy with a slightly earthy rind. Great for eating straight and equally as enjoyable melted on your favorite bread. Pound Cake, “a bloomy-rind cheese”. This was decadent, complex, rich and wonderful. A bit runny at room temperature with a faintly spongy texture inside. The palate mixed a touch of brie with some vague overtones of blue. A well balanced bitterness and mushroom came through in the rind. I was also lucky enough to get the last half-gallon of pure unadulterated full-fat raw milk. Rich, clean, grassy and fresh. Return the bottle on your next visit and get credit against the purchase. This place takes sustainability seriously.
After having a local acquaintance suggest a visit to Asgaard Farm & Dairy, the expectations were high. While they officially closed at 2:00 PM that day, they told us to come over since someone would be there….over the river and through the woods-you know how it goes. After traveling on some back country roads and up a very long driveway we arrived at a building that seemed to be a combination tasting room and office. We were greeted by proprietor David Brunner and about thirty minutes later his wife Rhonda Butler. As usual I was in food paradise. This time without the evil eye from the GF about how much time I was taking which was in no small part due to the sample of their excellent homemade Sea Salt Goat Milk Caramel. We quickly proceeded to buy two of the last three boxes-sorry all, you snooze ya’ loose. Yes, goat is the only animal they use for cheese production. After sampling we settled on a few. Barkeater Buche, “A soft-ripened cheese made with pasteurized goat milk, the Barkeater Buche is our Adirondack response to the Loire Valley’s Sainte-Maure de Touraine.” Tart like any good goat cheese, it was at the same time bright, fresh and creamy with a bit of forest floor/mushroom on the vegetable ash coated rind. As this cheese sat in the fridge it developed new depths of rich butter-like flavor and texture. I also recommend adding it to scrambled eggs during the last couple of minutes of cooking for a real boost to the mundane. Gladsheim which is a goat’s milk Gouda aged over sixty days. Very much like an old world Dutch Gouda but with the characteristic sharpness of goat’s milk. A satisfyingly deep firm bite as well. Fresh Chevre flavored with Adirondack Maple Syrup. To be fully transparent this has never been my type of cheese. No, I don’t dislike it but have always found it to be somewhat uninteresting and bland with a texture that reminds me of whipped cream cheese from a bad diner. Just the thought of it brings back joyfully horrible memories of alcohol fueled late night Jersey dinner gluttony- well it tasted good in those heady moments of teenage and early twenties vintage but the almighty Thomas Crapper would exact a most draconian revenge-sorry, thought I’d share the “love”. Why then, you might ask, did I decide to try it especially since they had none available to taste first? The maple syrup of course since everything is better with maple syrup! Not to mention that fresh chevre always takes on new dimensions when slightly melted over a wide array of foods. This was no exception.
From my kitchen: roasted Asgaard Farm Gloucestershire Old Spots pork chop with Hungry Uncle’s own Blueberry Bacon Jam, steamed green beans with Asgaard Fresh Chevre flavored with maple syrup
In addition to the chops Asgaard offers heirloom eggs, ham, a wide array of sausage-the breakfast variety with sage is excellent- as well as goat meat. If you’ve never tried goat meat you should. It is after all the world’s most consumed animal protein.
Why do I seek out places like Sugar House and Asgaard? It’s not just because what they raise and produce tastes better. It’s also an appreciation for people willing to brave harsh climates, long hours and economic uncertainty to embrace traditional methods of farming and food production. It’s better for the earth, for us as human beings and worthy of our support.
January 11, 2015 – Lima Family Farms-Hillsborough
Ah yes the humble chicken. The most mundane of member of the poultry world. It has been roasted, grilled, sauteed, fricasseed, fried ………and bred into a state of mushy dis-proportioned blandness that does no justice to this once tasty representative of the fowl brotherhood. Have no fear, there are options that don’t involve the mass-farmed Cornish Cross which sadly is the only chicken most people ever taste .
Fortunately, Hungry Uncle, resides in an area of the great Garden State that provides access to fine local farms. Some raise the birds themselves while others serve as an outlet for chickens raised by other small family farms. Interestingly enough, while I’ve visited Lima Family Farms to purchase pork and sausage, this was the first time I had the fortune to roast one of their feathered family. If memory serves me, it was the free roaming Red Ranger breed. This is a slower growing variety which is less susceptible to disease and other health issues. The result is a juicy deep flavored bird with a firm bite and skin that crisps nicely when cooked. It’s also a chicken the way nature meant it to be. No overblown breast with scrawny thighs and spindly legs.
From Hungry Uncle’s kitchen- Ok Foghorn Leghorn, you can come out of hiding now…….
*Well a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
A well a bird, bird, b-bird’s the word
A well a ooma mow mow
Papa ooma mow mow
Papa ooma mow mow
Papa ooma mow mow
* The Trashmen “Surfin’ Bird”
October 3, 2014 – Cape May Olive Oil Company-Cape May NJ
Peter Shields Inn- Cape May NJ
Despite being a New Jersey resident for almost my entire life, I have to admit I’ve neglected Cape May which is one of the treasures of the Garden State. This first of America’s seaside resorts is located at the southern end of the Garden State Parkway about three hours from NYC. Beautiful and surprisingly unspoiled beaches, colorful Victorian architecture, and a broad fascinating history are just a few of its draws. Fortunately there are ample culinary options as well- from beach-side bars to fine dining to unique food retailers.
Not knowing much about the town, I had the urge to wander. Pulling my girlfriend through the front door of another specialty food store met with the usual look. I knew all too well what she was thinking…she would find it fun for about ten minutes while her food obsessed boyfriend (aka me) could spend at least an hour with her trying to drag me back out the door every five minutes. In a small victory, it turned out to be as much fun for her as it was for me. No, this was by no means the place to indulge in buying rare and expensive olive oils and vinegars from around the world. In fact the origin of them was scarcely promoted. It seemed to be more focused on a broad range of infused products such as lemon olive oil, chocolate vinegar, specialty salts and the like. After tasting countless items I finally settled on a smoked variety of salt called Durango and the rather pungent full flavored Alea from Hawaii. No oils or vinegars as my pantry is already overflowing with them. It was a fun 45 minutes in the store-well laid out, unfussy with a friendly yet unobtrusive staff.
After spending the next few hours getting well lubricated on samples from a few of New Jersey’s nearly 50 wineries, it was time for a nap as the night’s dinner was approaching with great anticipation. Sorry to all of you in the land of earthquakes, mudslides and fires, there is very good wine made in other states too-yes, shocking and perhaps even inconceivable I know but actually true….quick, alert the media!
Pulling up to the Georgian Revival Peter Shields Inn really sets the stage for what’s inside, a formal yet relaxed, sophisticated yet “beachy” restaurant and small inn. We walked into an entrance parlor complete with live piano music and were greeted by an engaging young lady who asked if should could take our wine and bring it to the table –oh thank you as always New Jersey for your ridiculous and antiquated liquor laws, you have saved me thousands over the years. We were seated in what appears to have originally been a porch but has since been enclosed to create a dining area. After about five minutes our water was poured and we were given menus-you have a choice of selecting your own or going with the chef’s tastings. The variety of options was broad enough no matter what your inclination. Fish, seafood, poultry, meat with many selections being seasonal and local. My girlfriend started with Jumbo Lump Crab Salad, Smoked Salmon, Mache, Almonds, Basil Aioli. Everything worked quite well together. You could clearly taste all the components of the dish without any of them dominating. I had the Cape May Salt Oysters, Champagne Ice, Paddlefish Caviar. The little cubes of champagne combined with just a touch of orange juice was much more interesting than a standard mignonette and really brightened the flavor of the classic briny earthy New Jersey oyster. The entrees were equally as satisfying. Local Golden Tilefish, Cauliflower Puree, Wax Beans, Haricot Verts
Applewood Smoked Bacon, Chanterelles, Potato Gnocchi, Red Wine. It may seem like too much was happening in this dish but it wasn’t. The tile fish was moist and perfectly cooked and its mild flavor was not overshadowed by the other strong flavors on the plate. They complemented each other well. Crispy Duck Breast, Sweet Potato Puree, Braised Kale, Pancetta, Cherry Duck Jus. A classic straight ahead full flavored dish. I’m happy to note that the Cherry Duck Jus was a balanced combination of savory and sweet unlike the overly thick, cloying sauce that often accompanies dishes of this type. To be completely honest, the temperature of the duck was the one small misstep of the dinner. Despite ordering it medium-rare, it was undercooked enough to warrant a return to the kitchen for a few more minutes under the heat. Being thoroughly stuffed we decided to split one desert, Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brûlée, Fresh Berries, Chocolate Twist-creamy, not too sweet and a perfect brûlée. I was really craving the Warm English Date Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramel but calmer heads prevailed. As for the evening’s service, it was everything it should be. Attentive without being overbearing, very professional but relaxed at the same time. All the staff seemed to be enjoying their work and it was reflected by satisfied diners throughout the restaurant. The time at the Peter Shields Inn was memorable. No faults of any significance. Just a smooth completely satisfying experience from an establishment that truly “gets it” on every level.
The next afternoon, our weekend in Cape May was winding down. It was time to leave this place we had both unexpectedly fallen in love with. If you’d like to experience a little piece of America how it used to be, take the time to visit this place affectionately called “Exit Zero”.
February 10, 2015
Those of you who are readers of this forum know that I like to keep things fun, light, informative and a bit irreverent. This writing, however, will serve as a remembrance of my recently deceased mother. Why would I choose to post something here since the more traditional memorials and celebration of her life have already taken place? It was her influence that inspired my love of food, wine and cooking.
Ever since I can remember, I was always a bit obsessed with everything that makes up the food and wine worlds. No, we were never a family who had any professional connection in that regard although growing up my mother would cook dinner for the family three to four times a week. Looking back I now realize how much I enjoyed the aromas of the kitchen and looked forward to each meal. Thanksgiving was always my favorite. I couldn’t help interjecting myself into this multi-day preparation which at its height saw my parents play host to over twenty people, twenty-six pounds of turkey, seven pounds of ham and what seemed like buckets of hard liquor and wine. Not that all this home cooking overshadowed eating out. Restaurants were always a big part of the family’s culinary landscape; from a casual burger joint to the finest formal French dining, at home or on vacation. Even when not eating, somehow the conversation would inevitably turn to food or wine and did so with greater frequency as the years passed. While my mother served as my source, this love of things culinary goes back generations to my grandfather who had no issue driving for hours to find whatever food sparked his interest at that moment-yes, I am equally as guilty- and to my great grandfather who spent decades raising beef cattle which he would then sell in his butcher shops around New York City. I guess it’s truly in the blood.
It’s always sad when anyone passes no matter what the age but if we hold on to the memories and take a minute to focus on how the departed influenced our lives perhaps it will ease the pain and put a smile on our faces.
Let’s raise a glass to mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers and whoever else served as an inspiration to the eater and drinker in each one of us.
September 18, 2014 Tautog – Virginia Beach VA
Sometimes things just all fall into place and everything works correctly. It’s even more pleasing when this happens in an unfamiliar environment. I had occasion to travel to Virginia Beach. I must tell you that the drive from central New Jersey is so boring that even the most sane might be found having a conversation with themselves. There is however, one fun distraction along the way. Tiki Murph is a roadside stop on the northbound side of Route 1 in Milford DE. This homage to Polynesia allows you to outfit yourself with an array of carved Tikis, Tiki Bars and huts-pretty cool stuff …………. …………………………… Sorry my mind wandered, I must have taken a trip to tropics. Back to the subject at hand.
After checking into my hotel and admiring the beach from the balcony I set out to find a place for dinner. Searching the usual online sources I found what seemed like numerous options…hmmm, which one to choose? Actually the decision was quite easy. After six plus hours in the car the last thing I wanted to do was get back behind the wheel. Past the obligatory t- shirt shops, tourist focused eateries and Ben & Jerry-God help us if a tourist town doesn’t have one- I arrived at what looked a simple old beach house. Good, looks like place for the locals . My initial impression was not wrong. Although there was clearly a mix of locals and tourist this was truly an establishment with a sense of place. Comfortable, old and worn but in the best way. It was real. Nothing appeared to be there just to appeal to a preconceived concept of what the place should be. Whether it was the bumper stickers on the ice maker, the pictures on the wall or the semi-cramped space itself, it all worked. After waiting about ten minutes I was able to find a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of Riesling from a reasonably priced wine list with enough selections to keep you happy. On to the menu, fish and seafood focused but offering a few meat and chicken selections as well. The food didn’t disappoint. Nothing unusual but they made the dishes a little more interesting than standard fare-a large Caesar salad and Mahi Mahi over a red pepper coulis with dill sour cream. This was really quite good.
While I left satisfied with my meal, it was the place that left the impression. Friendly and welcoming, good conversation with some regulars- based on the interaction among patrons and staff there seemed to be a lot of them-a restaurant not interested in trends or artificiality. Simply put it all just worked. I’m glad I found Tautog’s. The thought of eating at a themed restaurant with some clown dressed in a fish outfit singing to screaming kids is a nightmare I can’t imagine….kind of like a demonic Charlie the Tuna!