May 25, 2012

Hudson Valley Farms

Hudson Valley Farms
Hudson Valley Farms

Any chef will tell you the importance of fresh, great-tasting ingredients. Our students are lucky to have many area farms where they can sample and learn more about the products they work with. Let CIA Chef-Instructor Frederick Brash ’76 take you on a quick tour of three of them…

I am an advocate of the farm-to-table concept, but I have so much to learn in that field. Yet, as a Chef, I know that good quality ingredients make the most flavorful food. Today, I will share with you these experiences.

My first farm journey in the state was to Sky Farms in Millerton, New York, way out on route 22, west of The Culinary Institute.

The owner’s name is Chris and I found him on his tractor tilling his land when I first arrived. Sky Farms is known for mesclun greens, better known as “spring mix”, a variety of salad greens that cooks use as a base salad mix. They also grow some of the best arugula that I have ever tasted (tender and peppery)!

As I walked around, every couple of feet, Chris would give me tastings of what was being grown.
The first tasting was of a Japanese red mustard green. The taste was pleasant with a hint of spice, not too overpowering. As we came to a conclusion of our tour, Chris loaded up my car with samples of greens. I am happy to say that there are now twenty cases of Sky Farms spring mix in the walk-in at the C.I.A.

My next farm stop was Prospect Hills Orchard in Milton, New York, where pears, apples, peaches, strawberries and cherries could be found. My mission was to have Steve, the grower, teach me about apples and pears. Growing stone fruit has been in Steve’s family for centuries. Steve’s orchard looks over a valley of many other orchards. Apples are not grown by seed, they are grown by rootstock where a branch of a young budding tree is grafted into the trunk of an existing apple tree trunk. It takes around six to eight years to taste some nice, juicy Macintosh apples.

We toured his pear orchard and I learned the expression, “pick them hard and eat them ripe.” Steve explained that pears do not ripen on the tree itself. Here, he grows Asian, Bosc and Bartlett pears.

With all the local talk about raw milk and cheese, I hopped in my Honda CRV and headed west on Route 44 to Millbrook’s Shunpike Dairy to be educated about cows and milk. Liz is the owner, processor and cow caretaker; she does it all. The twenty-five cows were in pasture, so we decided to visit them. Liz has Jersey’s, mainly Brown Swiss and Holstein breeds. In the barn, there is always a calf that was born that week; sometimes their coats are still wet from birth.

I have never milked a cow before, but I had no fear! I bent down beside that Holstein cow, grabbed those udders, and the milk came out like a dream. Of course, the machine takes over from there.

You can buy the raw milk right at the farm and it is delicious (neither pasteurized nor homogenized). Personally, I think that raw milk is sweeter and thicker than the pasteurized version. If it’s spring and the cows are in the pasture, this also plays into the flavor of the milk. I sometimes buy the milk then make cheese in class on the days we do a dairy and cheese lecture.

To all you future chefs, it’s so important to visit our local producers of the food we use to create our meals. Sustainability; it’s the circle of life.

Article from the student newspaper, La Papillote.