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Meat Alternative Appeals to Mainstream Consumers


By Lorrie Baumann


Chilli_Quorn_TacosMeat alternative Quorn, the market leader in the U.S. natural foods channel, is quickly gaining mainstream acceptance for a product line whose protein comes from fungi. “The specific type of fungi allows the mimicking of the taste of real meat with much better health benefits,” says Sanjay Panchal, General Manager of Quorn Foods USA. The Mycoprotein in Quorn products is a complete protein that’s naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber, according to Panchal. “It has as much protein as an egg, as much fiber as broccoli,” he said.

The products contain no soy or GMOs, and the protein source is also environmentally friendly, with a carbon and water footprint that’s about 90 percent less than beef and 75 percent less than chicken, Panchal said. “In addition to the great health benefits and environmental benefits, our food just tastes amazing,” he said. “I’ve got three sons, age 9, 7 and 3, and we, probably once or twice a week, we replace their chicken nuggets with Quorn nuggets, and they Hoover them.”

Five products in the Quorn line are gluten free: Grounds, a product that substitutes for crumbled ground meat; Chik’n Tenders; Chik’n Cutlet, Turk’y Roast and Bacon Style Slices. “It gives folks looking for a gluten-free option another opportunity to use a food like ours in their recipes to satisfy their specific dietary restrictions,” Panchal said.

Quorn appeals to consumers who want to eat less meat but also want both convenience and the flexibility to adapt recipes that already work for them. “Our food doesn’t just attract vegetarians,” he added. “What you’ll find is people like our family who are complete carnivores, but if they’re looking for a way to reduce the meat in their diet, for whatever reason, this appeals. The appeal of a meat alternative, and Quorn specifically, is very broad and broadening…. Our growth rate year to date is 29 percent in sales versus a year ago and growing across all channels. We’re really pleased with our performance.”

The product line includes options like Grounds that will work for the consumer who has the time and the desire to cook meals like spaghetti Bolognese from scratch but also includes heat and eat options like Jalapeno and Three Cheese Stuffed Chik’n Cutlets for the consumer who values speed and convenience. “It’s really easy to prepare on weeknights. It’s basically straight out of the freezer and into the pan or the oven,” Panchal said. “With the nuggets, it’s 10 minutes to eating it…. With the Grounds, you mix it with a little water, taco seasoning and cheese and make it into a quesadilla. It’s a really simple food to make, and that’s why we like it as a family.”

Quorn products retail for $3.69 to $4.99 every day, depending on the retailer, for a package that serves four people. Quorn is distributed nationally.


Cheesemongers with Passion and Panache


By Lorrie Baumann

Conner Pelcher

I met Connor Pelcher, a Wholesale Account Manager for Murray’s Cheese, one morning over breakfast during the American Cheese Society’s Cheese Camp, after my attention was drawn to him by one of his co-workers who asked him if he was wearing his flamingo socks. He reared back in his chair and raised his leg above the table to demonstrate that, yes, the flamingo socks were sur les pieds.

I missed seeing the matching flamingo shirt that he’d also bought after he’d run out of shirts during his stay at Cheese Camp. “I went to the mall, saw a flamingo shirt, and then I saw the flamingo socks,” he says. “As a salesperson, I like to dress in a way that people will remember. The better dressed you are, the more visually impactful you are. That might help people think about me when they have a question about cheese.”

Pelcher started his career in the food industry as an escape from the reality that a college graduate with a degree in English has when realizing the limited options for turning that degree into a well-paid career. “Anyone who has a degree in English can tell you the feeling of fear you get when you get handed that diploma,” he says. “That fear led me back to Vermont, where I grew up.”

Back in Vermont, he began exploring a passion for cooking and applied to the New England Culinary Institute. “I got a call the same week to say they loved my essay and were looking for people who were passionate and who were looking for a second career,” he says. After graduation from culinary school, he moved to New York and began moving up the ladder in white-tablecloth restaurants until he found himself the general manager of a restaurant and two bars in the East Village, and it dawned on him that he was having more to do with spreadsheets and personnel rosters than with actual food. “I took a step away from that and thought about where I could focus myself,” he says. “I had always been obsessed about beer and wine and cheese, so I sent a resume to Murray’s. I went in and got myself hired as a junior sales person.”

He still remembers what he said in that interview, he says. He mentioned “that cheese with the ash.” Humboldt Fog? the interviewer asked, and he agreed that, yes, that’s the one he had in mind. “It was laughable. Now I could talk to you for an hour about my favorite cheeses.”

He’s now been at Murray’s for two years, has become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and he’s now teaching some of the classes he attended to learn about cheese. Pelcher says he’s more excited now than he was when he started the job. “At Cheese Camp, I got to meet some cheese celebrities. I got to taste a million things that I never even would have known about,” he says. “The panels were incredible – some of the brightest minds, a confluence of some of the best thinkers that the cheese world has to offer. To be allowed to ask questions of them, to have four people that you deeply respect and that you read about answering a question for you…. Someday I’d like to be on one of those panels and to have people look up at me and applaud.”

Chad Farmer-Davis

Chad Farmer Davis, a Kroger Enterprise Set-up Specialist who opens Murray’s Cheese Shops inside partner stores across the country, also remembers the job interview that led to his career in cheese. He’s from Illinois, and he’d never even seen a cheese shop when he applied six years ago for what was supposed to be just a summer job. “I said I was an expert. I ate Kraft every day,” he says. “That was my entire cheese knowledge six years ago – Kraft and Velveeta.”

Much as he loves eating good cheeses now, his favorite part of his job is working with the people he meets as he travels the country, “training new cheese people and spreading the word on curd.” “There are literally so many crazy people in cheese culture. These are people that you tend to be attracted to,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was so focused on Star Wars. When I grew up, it transferred to cheese.”

When he trains new cheesemongers who aren’t yet as obsessed as he is with cheese, he likes to point out that talking about cheese is an easy way to start a conversation with a stranger. “There are so many kinds of people, but most people love cheese, and you can definitely bond with people over cheese. You can start a conversation about cheese, and it leads to, oh, I made a new friend,” he says. “You can meet a lot of new and interesting people, and it makes you a better person because you’re learning so much about other people.”

Like Pelcher, Farmer-Davis’ was once one of those liberal arts graduates willing to think for food. Now, he’s become one willing to spend the rest of his career thinking about food. “This is now a permanent career – one I thought I’d never have,” he says. “It was something that took me by surprise. I fell in love with it the very first day. I’m definitely not going to walk away from it, ever. It’s something that I love to do, and it makes my life extremely interesting.”

Jill Davis

Like Pelcher, Cheesemaster and ACS Certified-Cheese Professional Jill Davis started out as a chef. She now works for Kroger at a new Murray’s Cheese Shop inside a Decatur, Georgia store, but before she joined Kroger, she was working for KitchenAid, teaching cooking classes and offering demonstrations to show kitchenware retailers how to use KitchenAid appliances. Before that, she’d worked at Sur Le Table teaching classes in cooking and knife skills, and she’s spent five years as a chocolatier. She intends for Kroger to be her last employer before she retires.

She came to work for Kroger after KitchenAid closed its Atlanta facility. “I’d been a long-time customer of Murray’s and got an email that said, ‘Coming Soon to Atlanta,” she says. “I called directly to New York.”

A Murray’s staffer in New York put her in touch with the Kroger hiring manager in Atlanta, who interviewed her for five minutes and then handed her an airline ticket to leave the next day for training in New York. “I got the whole Murray’s tour and then came back here and directly became a cheesemonger and in charge of the shop,” she says.

Murray’s is extremely thorough in training, not only about cheese, but about merchandising and the product itself. There are product sheets on every single thing you sell: name of the farmer, name of the cheesemaker, nutritional information, some factoids to help you remember it. You need to have all of this information before you even begin a demo, plus all of this information is on every single sign, which also contains pairings and information on pronunciation,” she continues. “They also bring in their people to teach you the proper way, the Murray’s way, of cutting each cheese within each family of cheeses and how they’re merchandised and displayed.”

Her new shop has about 100 different cheeses, an olive and antipasti bar, a case of charcuterie, pickles, jams and chocolates. Crackers sit on top of he cheese cases. While most of the cheese is cut to order, there are also some grab-and-go precuts because many of the Kroger stores are open 24 hours a day and some customers choose not to interact with the cheesemonger.

For me, it’s all about the cheese. I like talking to my customers every day. I want to have customers, people who come in and ask for me and say they’re having people over and want to know what to serve,” she says. “Everything – the bottom line – is customer service. It’s not all about the cheese; it’s all about the customer.”


Discover the Magic of Miso

If there’s one “secret” ingredient that can enhance your favorite recipes, miso just might be it. It’s a soybean paste fermented with rice, barley or other grains. Miso adds umami or savory notes to food, and is a staple ingredient in Japan. In Japanese cooking, miso has long been prized for its salty, complex flavor as well as its nutrition benefits. Miso includes probiotics (naturally occurring live bacteria in cultured and fermented foods) that are good for the digestive system, and is a high-protein food (approximately 2 grams of protein per 1 tablespoon). It’s also versatile, not only because of the way it enhances other ingredients, but also because it comes in a variety of colors, flavors and textures, each with its own uses in cooking.

White (shiro) miso has the sweetest flavor of the miso types and is made with soybeans and rice. Of the three types, it is fermented for the shortest length of time. Despite its name, the color is actually pale yellow. The mild flavor makes it a natural choice for salad dressings, and it adds salty and savory notes to soup.

Yellow (shinshu) miso is darker than white miso, and is fermented longer. It is made by fermenting soybeans with barley and adds a nutty flavor to foods. It’s often used in soups, and works well for light marinades. Use instead of butter when mashing potatoes to achieve a richer flavor and to reduce the need for added salt. Whisk or blend yellow miso with sesame oil and mirin (rice wine) for an Asian-inspired tofu marinade.

Red (aka) miso, is the saltiest version, and has the most depth and boldness of flavor because it has been fermented the longest time. Its flavor complements meats and other robust foods.

Miso is made by combining cooked soybeans, sea salt, grains and a starter culture. It is fermented for a few months, or up to a few years. Depending on how long the soybeans are fermented and which grains are used, the flavor and color vary. In general, the darker the miso paste, the more intense the flavor. Here are some ways you can discover the magic of miso for yourself:

Mix miso with condiments such as butter or mayonnaise to add depth and dimension to the flavor of sandwiches and snacks. Enhance the flavor of soups (prepared or homemade) by adding a little white or yellow miso. Add a small dab of red miso to meat glazes. Experiment with desserts by stirring a teaspoon or two of miso into chocolate cake batter.

The Soyfoods Council offers recipes for salads, soups, and entrees that demonstrate the flavor range and versatility of miso. Entrée ideas include Miso-Marinated Salmon with Edamame Soy Stir Fry and Sirloin Steak with Black Soybean Salsa and Miso Orange Sauce.  The orange sauce recipe combines raw sugar, rice vinegar, orange juice, white miso, mirin (rice wine), butter and achiote powder. The miso marinade for salmon features white miso, mirin, tamari (similar to soy sauce) and cayenne pepper. Other recipe suggestions include soups such as Creamy Kale Miso Soup, featuring yellow miso, tofu and low sodium vegetable broth, and Miso Chicken Soup with Snow Peas and Tofu with ginger and miso paste flavoring the stock.

Talenti Gelato Celebrates the Season with Traditional Flavors

Talenti Gelato is bringing back three seasonal favorites:

  • For the pumpkin flavor fanatic, Pumpkin Pie blends brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin and then adds real pie crust pieces for a delicious take on a holiday treat.
  • Want a beverage and dessert in one? Meet Old World Eggnog, which is a rich and creamy interpretation of the traditional holiday drink, with fresh egg yolks, pure vanilla extract and fragrant nutmeg.
  • And last but certainly not least is Peppermint Bark, an indulgent gelato that combines semisweet Belgian Callebaut chocolate with a smooth and refreshing peppermint base.

The flavors are available nationwide for a limited time only starting mid-October at a suggested retail price of $4.99-$5.99, so consumers can enjoy and indulge while supplies last.

Kontos Foods Launches Kontos Rustics Collection Tandoori-Style Naan

Kontos Foods, Inc., a U.S.-based manufacturer and distributor of traditional Greek and Mediterranean foods, announced the launch of Kontos Rustics Collection™, Tandoori-style naan bread in original and garlic flavors.

“Kontos Rustics Collection Tandoori Naan breads are light and fluffy, providing a great accompaniment to virtually any meal,” said Steve Kontos, Vice President of Kontos Foods. “Restaurants and home cooks can use the Rustics Collection to create new and exciting fusion cuisine offerings. They offer all the goodness and functionality of breads and wraps, with great taste and authentic Tandoori taste and texture.”

Tandoori Naan Original 300 PPI(1)The new oblong-shaped naan bread, targeted at retail outlets, restaurants and food service establishments, contains no added preservatives. The naan come two to a pack in a re-sealable bag with a zipper-style closure, in packaging that allows retailers to stack them on a shelf or hang them from a peg.

Within the coming months, Kontos Foods will be introducing two additional Rustics Collection flavors: Whole Wheat and Onion. The Rustics Collection extends Kontos’ current line of over 50 ethnic-style breads, including Massala Nan, Kulcha Nan, Roghani Nan, Missy Roti, and Pan Planos.

Naan bread, one of the world’s first flatbreads, originated around 2600 BC in Tandoor ovens in India. Naan became a staple of ancient India, evoking delicious flavor, versatility and portability – the world’s first flatbread. The word “naan” is derived from the Persian word “non” which refers to “bread.”

Kontos Rustics Collection Naan breads can be used for sandwiches, personal pizzas, toasted, or eaten right out of the package to accompany dips such as hummus, baba ghanoush, tzatziki sauce, salsas, onion, or vegetable dip. The breads are ideal paired with soups or stews, or as a base for Mexican dishes such as huevos rancheros. Served with a dipping dish of extra virgin olive oil, the Rustics Collection also works well in a breadbasket. The naan can even be used as satisfying breakfast bread, providing fiber in every serving.

“U.S. retail outlets are embracing the Kontos Rustics Collection because of their authentic flavor, texture, shape and versatility. We’re also receiving a very positive response from our retailers in Canada and the Caribbean, showing that this bread has widespread appeal,” said Warren Stoll, Marketing Director of Kontos Foods. “This naan bread is re-invigorating the Indian and South Asian bread category.”

Kontos sells its products to retailers and foodservice establishments across North America and globally. Find Kontos Foods on Facebook at and follow the company on Twitter @KontosFoods.

Fisher Goes Nuts to Feed Hungry Texans

Fisher® nuts announced a statewide campaign to bring Texas communities together to help feed families in need this holiday season. In its fourth year partnering with Feeding Texas for the Fisher Shares & Cares campaign, Fisher is donating $40,000 that will be used to help feed 400,000 Texas residents throughout the holidays.

Texans from across the state can help Fisher package meals for families in need by participating in one of five Fisher Shares & Cares Volunteer Day events on November 18, 2015. Events will be held at the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank, Food Bank of West Central Texas in Abilene and the High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo. Those interested in helping make a positive impact in their communities can sign up to volunteer on November 18 by contacting the nearest participating local Feeding Texas food bank. In San AntonioFisher employees from the Selma plant will join their community at the San Antonio Food Bank. Fisher will provide snacks, refreshments and t-shirts at the volunteer events.

“There are so many families in Texas that have to make difficult choices between affording food and other needs,” said Neeraj Sharma, the Selma, Texas Plant Operations Manager for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., the manufacturer and distributor of Fisher nuts products. “With the holidays approaching, we’re eager to join together with the community to help make an impact across the state.”

Feeding Texas member food banks distributed enough food for 284 million meals in 2014 nourishing over 3 million Texans through a statewide network of 3,000 soup kitchens, food pantries and local agencies. The organization also helps food banks build the capacity to end hunger by managing statewide food sourcing and purchasing programs, offering expert technical assistance and training, and spreading food bank innovations and best practices statewide.

“There are over 1.7 million Texas families living in food insecure homes, so we are very grateful for the ongoing support from Fisher,” said Celia Cole, Chief Executive Officer at Feeding Texas. “This contribution will help provide meals to thousands of deserving families right in time for Thanksgiving.”

Quinoa with a Conscience


By Richard Thompson

A southern California quinoa company is bringing about social reform in Bolivia as it works with the indigenous community to provide award-winning products to American tables. Andean Dream is a Fair Trade certified quinoa pasta, soup and cookie company that makes non-GMO, allergen-friendly products that range from Organic Fusilli and Organic Orzo to Coconut and Cocoa-Orange Cookies. The entire line is made from Royal Quinoa – the most nutrient-dense quinoa – and the products are free from hydrogenated oils and gluten along with being allergen-friendly, with no chance of cross contamination since they are made in a dedicated facility free of gluten, eggs, soy, corn and nuts. “Free-from was what everyone was talking about, and we were the first to really do it,” says Andean Dream Founder and President, Ingrid Hirstin-Lazcano.

The cookies, which launched in 2006, are offered in Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Cocoa-Orange and Cafe Mocha varieties. Each contains only 2.5 grams of sugar, says Hirstin-Lazcano. “My personal favorite goes between the Cafe Mocha and Coconut, but the best seller in the line is Chocolate Chip.”

The pasta line includes Organic Fusilli, Organic Macaroni, Organic Shells, Organic Orzo and Organic Spaghetti. Each is made gluten- and corn-free, is vegan friendly, organic- and kosher-certified, is non-GMO and is produced in an allergen-friendly facility. Each 8-ounce box of pasta contains 24 grams of protein. “Our Organic Vegetarian Quinoa Noodle Soup was originally seasonal, but we’re bringing it back to the marketplace,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

Andean Dream started out as an ordinary cookie company in 2006 but quickly blossomed into a specialty food/social justice project under the leadership of Hirstin-Lazcano, who was inspired to practice conscientious capitalism to help bring jobs, medical benefits and retirement pensions to single mothers and disabled individuals throughout the poorest regions of Bolivia. “I wanted to create a value-added product that could aid indigenous farmers and workers in Bolivia,” she says. Already involved with the Bolivian community in Los Angeles, she learned of the circumstances regarding the poverty stricken regions in Bolivia from her husband, Fernando Lazcano Dunn, a 25-year diplomat who worked as Consul General of Bolivia in Los Angeles at the time, and sought out a solution that aligned with her personal convictions.“They are close to my heart and I wanted to see everyone have an equal opportunity,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “I wanted to help raise their standard of living.”

According to 2015 Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, 45 percent of Bolivia’s population lives under the poverty line (based on the international standard of two dollars a day) with three out of four people in rural areas living in poverty. The Rural Poverty Portal, a forum that discusses the difficulties of rural life in Bolivian regions, notes that women and young people are particularly vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity.

I wanted to bring attention to the situation over there and provide single mothers that don’t have jobs – or are working menial labor – and help give them a regular respectable job,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

Hirstin-Lazcano spent two weeks traveling through Bolivia in 2006 to find the right co-packer that could provide large scale manufacturing at a local level, offer jobs and provide advancement to native farmers. Hirstin-Lazcano says that she was able to find a co-packer that would work with locals as well as provide benefits such as medical care and retirement pensions that they wouldn’t have ever gotten before. Currently, the co-packer that works with Andean Dream is employing between 20 to 25 indigenous people for Andean’ Dream’s manufacturing, many of whom have received promotions to higher management positions. “There are always new opportunities as we grow, and as we grow our facility for production, many others will be hired for satellite locations,” says Hirstin-Lazcano.

One particular story that stands out for Hirstin-Lazcano is that of a deaf and mute woman who had been resigned to harsh janitorial work and would have been stuck there had it not been for Andean Dream’s project. Edith was hired and was eventually promoted into a supervisor position. “She would’ve never been able to do that before,” says Hirstin-Lazcano, “Because of her employment, both of her sons are able to go to university. One is studying to be a dentist, and the other an architect.”

In addition to the company’s social activism in Bolivia, Andean Dream was the Official Cookie Sponsor in the Special Olympic World Games, providing 48,000 cookies to athletes as well as regularly giving away products to local charitable foundations, food-banks and organizations focused on inner-city kids with economic challenges.

When asked about how her work makes her feel, Hirstin-Lazcano isn’t shy about answering: “We’re socially minded … and helping to provide opportunities to individuals who need a better life is our Andean Dream.”

This story was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Gourmet News.


Eating Cheese is an Agricultural Act


By Lorrie Baumann

Catalina bleats insistently from her pen in the Toluma Farms nursery barn as farmer Tamara Hicks approaches. Slender and long-haired, Hicks has the sun-kissed complexion of a woman who spends much of her time outdoors, and she doesn’t have the bottle that Catalina, a pure white Saanen kid born several weeks ago, is hoping for.

DSCN1261Like the other lambs and kids born this year at Toluma Farms, a 160-acre farm in west Marin County, California, Catalina is named after an island. There are also Kokomo, the island of the Beach Boys song; Floriana; and Manhattan – all bodies of land surrounded by water, a topic that’s very much on Californians’ minds. “We have often discussed the irony of being surrounded by water, being a coastal farm and dairy and worrying constantly about water,” Hicks says. “Hence, the islands seemed comical in a depressing sort of way.”

She and her husband, David Jablons, bought this farm in the rolling hills near Point Reyes in 2003 with the idea that they could become agents of change in the local food production system and in the debate about climate change. “We made a conscious decision that we could be part of the conversation about restoring the land,” Hicks says. They’ve sunk most of their children’s potential inheritance into this property, and now California is giving them a practical lesson in what the state’s climate means to the future of local food.

California is in its fourth year of a drought that’s setting records even for a state with a long history of concern for whether it has enough water to supply a burgeoning population and an agriculture industry that supplies most of the country’s fruits and vegetables. The period from 2012 through 2014 was the driest three-year period ever in terms of statewide precipitation; exacerbated by record warmth, with the highest statewide average temperatures ever recorded in 2014. Every California county has been included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drought designations at various times between the beginning of 2012 and the end of 2014.

Unlike most other natural disasters, drought is a gradual crisis, occurring slowly over a period of time. There’s no sudden event that announces it, and it’s not usually ended by any one rain storm. The impacts of drought get worse the longer the drought continues, as reservoirs are depleted and water levels decline in groundwater basins.

Even though some parts of northern California did get a little rain last December and again in February of this year, the cumulative effect of four critically dry years has created a crisis that is expected to cost California’s agriculture industry $1.8 billion this year, with a total statewide economic cost of $2.7 billion. More than 18,000 jobs in the state’s agriculture industry are likely to be lost to the drought this year, according to agricultural economists studying the effects of the drought for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

DSCN1093Marin and Sonoma Counties have been the heart of northern California’s dairy industry since 1856, when Clara Steele made the first known batch of cheese in this part of the country from a recipe she found in a book. These are not the state’s most drought-stricken counties, but even here there’s a pervasive air of crisis. Marin County has declared a state of emergency so that farmers can qualify for any aid that becomes available. Local radio stations advertise water conservation tips and the availability of financial aid for water-saving devices. Farmers and gardeners hold evening meetings to share advice, offer each other fellowship and discuss the chances that this year’s drought might be California’s new normal, as Governor Jerry Brown said it is in April, as he imposed mandatory water use restrictions. Across California, the message is being passed that, “Brown is the new green,” as the state’s residents are urged to save water, save water, save water.

Hicks and Jablons take some solace in the knowledge that this property has a long history of having sufficient water. California’s most significant historical droughts have been a six-year drought in 1929-1934 – the Dust Bowl years, the two year-drought of 1976-77 – a comparatively short drought that nevertheless had very serious effects on the state’s groundwater, and another six-year drought in 1987-1992. The 1929-1934 drought was comparable to the most severe dry periods in more than a millennium of reconstructed climate data, but its effects were small by present-day standards because the state’s urban population and agricultural development are much greater now. In the 1970s drought, the family that owned Toluma Farms then had enough water to allow friends and neighbors to come and fill up tanks to truck back to their own farms. This time around, Hicks doesn’t feel secure enough to make that offer.

When they found this property, 18 miles west of Petaluma, in an area where they’d been coming for weekend camping excursions for years, it was a dilapidated farm with a history of dairy production that had been abandoned and the pastures neglected. Ten thousand old tires had been piled on a hillside in an ill-advised attempt to prevent the slope from eroding and were spilling down into the road. Other discarded junk had been dumped around the house or buried in backhoed pits.

Neither Hicks nor Jablons had any experience in farming – Hicks is a clinical psychologist and Jablons is a surgeon, both with busy practices in San Francisco – but they felt that their financial resources, their skills in forming and maintaining helpful relationships with other people and their commitment to their values could see them through the challenges of returning the farm to its historic use as a productive dairy farm. “It’s a good thing that we are both equally committed to the idea of restoring the farm to health and making a statement about the value of sustainable agriculture and a healthy food system,” Hicks says. Otherwise, she adds, their marriage might not have survived the challenges of figuring out how to turn derelict pastures and an ad hoc landfill into a financially and ecologically sustainable family farm. After more than a decade of work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to rehabilitate the pastures, hauling away the tires and other garbage, building a guesthouse that’s rented out for in-depth educational farm stays and meeting space, and opening a creamery for making cheese, the farm hasn’t yet fulfilled that dream of sustainability. Hicks is hopeful that the artisan cheeses from the Tomales Farmstead Creamery she opened on the property in 2013 will be the final piece in a patchwork of enterprises the couple operates to support the farm, but returning the land to health will probably take a few more decades, she estimates. “We’re not profitable yet,” she says. “I’m not sure if it’s possible to make a living as farmstead cheese producers.”

Toluma Farms gets its water from sidehill wells that just have to last until the drought ends because the farm can’t support the costs of trucking in water, even if the water was available at all, which it probably wouldn’t be. “We kind of hope and pray,” Hicks says. “The city [of Petaluma, the nearest municipal water system] has pulled way back in prioritizing water for agriculture. Houses out here can’t even get water.”

Coming to terms with the drought has meant cutting back the milking schedule to once per day instead of the usual twice-daily milkings at 12-hour intervals, which saves half the water normally used to clean the milking parlor but reduces milk production by 25 percent. State and federal regulations require that the equipment used in milking must be sanitized before every milking and then washed immediately after use, both to protect the milk from contamination and to protect the health of the animals, and all of this cleaning is a major use of water on dairy farms.

Tomales Farmstead Creamery makes and sells five cheeses made from the milk of its herd of 200 goats and more than 100 East Friesian sheep. The cheeses all have names that reflect the heritage of the coastal Miwok Indians who lived here before the Europeans arrived. Kenne is a soft-ripened goat cheese with a wrinkly Geotrichum rind that’s aged for three weeks. Teleeka is a soft-ripened cheese made with goat, sheep and Jersey cow milk – the only one in the collection that’s not a farmstead cheese, since the Jersey milk comes from Marissa Thornton’s dairy farm just down the road. Assa, a word that means “female” is an aged goat cheese with a chardonnay-washed rind. The name is a tribute to the many women who work on the farm as well as the female animals that produce the milk. Liwa is a fresh goat cheese aged just three days – the name means “water.” “We pray for water,” Hicks says. Atika is an aged sheep and goat cheese with a McEvoy Olive Oil rind. Atika won a second-place award from the American Cheese Society in 2014, in the creamery’s first time to enter the awards contest.

All five cheeses are made with pasteurized milk, since the creamery doesn’t have the space to isolate pasteurized milk cheeses from raw milk varieties. Hicks is glad now that the couple made an early decision not to make raw milk cheeses because she’s noticed that the makers of raw milk cheeses are getting extra scrutiny this year from food safety inspectors. While there are raw milk cheesemakers who believe that pasteurization could compromise the complexity of the flavors in their cheeses, Hicks is satisfied that the production method she has chosen produces an excellent product. “We think it’s delicious cheese, or we wouldn’t do what we do,” she says.

Two years ago, Jablons and Hicks started growing their own hay using dry-land farming techniques, by planting 40 acres with a mixture of oats, rye and barley that yielded one cutting last year and a second cutting this year. That’s easing some of the effects of the drought on the farm, since it insulates the couple from the extra costs of buying hay in a market in which the supply/demand ratio has been affected by decreased production from farmers who haven’t had enough water to irrigate their hay fields. “We still have to supplement some, but not nearly what we had had to do,” Hicks says. “With the drought, we’re paying twice as much now as we did 10 years ago. It’s now $300 a ton, and the quality is not as good…. We know people who’ve had to get rid of their cattle. Fortunately, sheep and goats don’t drink as much water.”

She’s grateful for the coastal fog that blankets the hillsides of her farm in the mornings and shelters the fields from the evaporative power of the sun’s heat. “I don’t know how the farmers around Modesto are doing it,” she says. “The weather is so much hotter there.”

Next: Drought Adds to the Pain of a Bleating Heart Continue reading

Joel Salatin on Defying Food Myths


By Lorrie Baumann


Every society has its orthodoxies, and some of them look foolish later. One of today’s is that cheap food and high quality can happen at the same time, says Joel Salatin, a full-time farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and a leader in the American sustainable farming movement. “Five hundred fifty years ago, you would have been laughed out of the room if you’d dared to suggest that the Earth was round. The flat Earth idea was quite ubiquitous in the world and that was the orthodoxy of the day. We look back and laugh,” he told an enthusiastic audience during a keynote speech in Baltimore at this year’s Natural Products Expo East.

Americans spend a smaller percentage of their total consumer expenditures on food than do the residents of any other country in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are countries where residents spend less per capita on their food, but they’re the likes of Colombia, Bulgaria and South Africa. On the other hand, Americans spend more on health care than do the citizens of the vast majority of other countries, according to the Global Health Observatory Data Repository. “We suggest, the weirdos, the heretics of our culture, dare to suggest that maybe we would be a healthier culture if we spent more on food,” Salatin said. “Think about how the experts told us to eat hydrogenated margarines instead of butter and lard. It should not be a surprise to us that we would be a healthier culture if the government had never told us how to eat.”

As a nation, American farmers have decided to invest in drugs, capital expenditures and energy intensity rather than farm management strategies that require people on the ground, and that has resulted in declines in the number of farmers and in their economic and cultural status in our society as well as in increasing pollution. What Americans should be doing instead of reducing food costs through these strategies is to manage their food expenditures by buying high-quality fresh foods and cooking them at home rather than buying processed foods, according to Salatin. “You don’t need to pay $3.99 a pound for potato chips,” he said. “Just go home and slice it up and fry it, and then you’ve got real nutrition – especially if you fried in lard,” he said.

Another way to reduce food cost is to move food supplies more efficiently from farms to consumers, Salatin said. He predicted that brick and mortar grocery stores are becoming obsolete, and electronic aggregation and distribution like that practiced by Amazon will become the way of the future. Already, he’s selling 40 percent of his farm produce through an electronic shopping cart maintained by a metropolitan buying club that’s able to drop the price of that produce below that offered by local warehouse stores because the buying club doesn’t have to pay for the brick and mortar infrastructure of a retail store.

Another myth that will seem foolish in the future is that organically and naturally produced food can’t actually feed the world’s population. That’s not a new myth, according to Salatin.

In 1910, the world had run out of unexplored regions, and what happened was a worldwide fear that the planet was overpopulated and would run out of food, he said. Experts thought that we were running out of soil, and that meant that we were going to starve to death, he said. Out of this developed two parallel schools of thought about how to deal with the situation. One school of thought said that all of life was a reconfiguration of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Then there was another school, the naturalist, who said that life was not fundamentally mechanical, it was fundamentally biological, according to Salatin. “Both sides moved forward with their approaches,” he said. The process for describing aerobic composting was described in 1943 by Sir Albert Howard, but by then, the world was distracted by World War II. “What the world was wanting at that time was not compost; they needed explosives,” Salatin said.

Then, after World War II, the factories that had been using nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to make explosives turned to making cheap chemical fertilizer that farmers could use instead of composting animal manure. “Sir Albert Howard had another idea, but we were tired of shoveling,” Salatin said. “It took a while for our side to develop all of the infrastructure necessary to come up to speed with the requirements of Sir Albert Howard’s gift of compost.”

“Life is fundamentally biological not mechanical. The soil is not lifeless, inert material. The soil is the most amazing foundation of life – the foundation being invisible. When do we think about that in our lives? Nobody ever thinks about it,” he said. “The orthodoxy out there is that Nature is a reluctant partner that we must subdue. What we have learned is that Nature is a benevolent lover that responds to caresses and wants to bless us with abundance beyond anything we could imagine.”


Dry-Age Beef, Charcuterie and Salumi at Home with UMAi Dry


By Lorrie Baumann

UMAi Dry® Artisan Meat KitUMAi Dry offers consumers the means of dry-aging or dry-curing their meats at home. Originally targeted for foodservice professionals when UMAi Dry was launched in 2009, the product has attracted the attention of culinary consumers who are using it successfully to dry-age steaks and dry-cure charcuterie and salumi at home.

Fundamentally, UMAi Dry is a moisture-permeable membrane for dry-aging meat in the refrigerator. It functions as a combination of the traditional dry-aging method and the modern wet-aging method. It allows meat to be exposed to enzymatic activity, which enhances its rich texture and buttery flavor, just like old-fashioned dry-aging methods, but it does so with modern technology, to provide the food safety protection and ease that people need,” said Thea Lopatka, President of Drybag Steak LLC, which produces UMAi Dry. The company was founded by Lopatka, who then brought on college classmate Igor Pilko as CEO in 2013.

To cure a prosciutto, a pancetta or bresaola with UMAi Dry, the user rubs the cut of meat with curing salt and spices, refrigerates it for a couple of weeks to absorb flavor and draw out moisture, then rinses off the salt and spices and vacuum-seals it into an UMAi Dry bag. The meat then goes back into the refrigerator for six to eight weeks until it’s lost 35 to 40 percent of its weight. The company includes recipes with the kits and demonstration videos online for a wide range of salumi and charcuterie projects, as well as a wealth of information regarding how to dry age steak.

We’ve noticed an increasing interest in capicola and in creating dishes like pancetta, which is rather simple to make because pork belly is now available everywhere,” Lopatka said.

Dry-aging a steak cut is even simpler: a whole subprimal ribeye will go into a large UMAi Dry bag that’s vacuum-sealed and placed in the refrigerator to age for four to six weeks.

UMAi Dry® Artisan Meat Pack - Dry Aged SteakAt a butcher or a warehouse club store, you can find the full subprimal piece in the processor packaging, so that it has all the fat attached and the muscle is intact. Whenever possible, try to transfer from processor packaging directly into the UMAi Dry. During the aging process, the meat will develop a mahogany brown bark, and when that is trimmed off, it is best to strip the parts that would be cut off anyway. You want to leave on the fat because that will develop the nutty, earthy taste that’s characteristic of dry-aged beef,” Lopatka said. “After you’ve dry-aged the meat, trimmed off the bark and cut it into steaks, they can be individually sealed and frozen. They freeze beautifully.”

The secret to the process is the UMAi Dry bag, which is made of a special membrane that’s moisture-permeable and oxygen-permeable. This allows moisture to flow out of the meat and into the refrigerated atmosphere around it, and the result is the kind of product that’s usually only available from a specialty meat shop.

The products designed for the retail market have been selling well online since the brand launched them through a Kickstarter campaign that began in April. Those commitments have now been fulfilled, and the company is ready to expand distribution into retail stores.

There are currently three products for the retail shelf: the Artisan Meat Kit, the Charcuterie Pack and the Dry-Aged Steak Pack. The Artisan Meat Kit, which retails for $170, includes a small appropriately designed vacuum sealer, a charcuterie pack for five items and a dry-aged steak pack that allows the user to dry age three full boneless ribeyes or strip loin subprimals (14-20 pounds).

The Charcuterie Pack retails for $30 and includes two large and three smaller UMAi Dry bags, enough curing salt to cure 30 pounds of meat, some juniper berries and VacMouse adapter strips that allow the UMAi Dry membranes to be sealed with the vacuum sealer. (Consumers can use basic model vacuum sealers or the one UMAi Dry offers). The Dry-Aged Steak Pack retails for $28 and includes enough supplies to dry-age three 14-20-pound strip loin or ribeye subprimals.

The kits are available online now, through Amazon and at Visit to learn more.


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