With the holiday season upon us, D.C. Foodies and those who love us are looking far and wide for the perfect gifts. But some of the best gifts for cheese lovers can be found closer to home, at local cheese shops and home furnishings stores. Here are a few gift ideas I've found recently in and around the District:
Apartment Zero in Penn Quarter has been a go-to spot for trendy and stylish furniture and home accessories since it opened in 1999, and their spacious store allows them to carry a wider range of goods than most local independent shops. Their eye for design goes all the way down to kitchen implements, and they carry a variety of high-end implements for cheese lovers. The stainless steel "Collective Tools" line from Iittala of Finland includes a cheese knife (pictured top) for $55 and a slicer for $45. For those with even more expensive tastes, Pott of Germany has a line of stylized cheese knives and planes with names like Picado ($138), Formado ($172) and Raspado ($137, pictured bottom). Apartment Zero is located at 406 7th Street, NW. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 AM to 6 PM and Sundays from 12 to 5 PM, but they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
homebody, located across from the Marine Corps barracks that give Capitol Hill's Barracks Row its name, carries an assortment of furnishings and gift items sourced by owners Erin Mara and Henriette Fourcade. They run the gamut from high-end furniture and home decor to smaller accessories and gift ideas. One such idea immediately caught my eye as a great gift for cheese-lovers who enjoy serving their favorites to friends and family: a set of 6 cheese markers and a washable felt pen. I own a similar set of markers (mine are shaped like cows, sheep and goats) and I frequently use them when serving new or unfamiliar cheeses to help people keep track of what they're eating. This set offers two distinct advantages - a larger writing space (so you don't have to struggle to fit the full name of the cheese) and a generic shape that allows all six tags to be used with any kind of cheese. The set retails for $22.50 at homebody, which is located at 715 8th Street, SE. They are open Tuesday through Saturday 11 AM to 7 PM and Sunday 12 to 6 PM, and they are closed on Mondays.
Home Rule is another independently-owned and operated shop that specializes in "goods that are distinct, well-made, useful, well-priced." They focus on well-known product lines like Simplehuman and Umbra, but they also feature a wide range of fun and playful products for the kitchen and bath. A few of their products are even available online through their website. That's where I found these mouse-shaped cheese graters from Christopher Raia Studio. I couldn't help but smile when I saw the simple (but fun) design, and I was impressed that the mouse doubles as a serving bowl once you've finished grating the cheese. At $9.99, this would make a great stocking stuffer for fun-loving cheese lovers young and old. If you'd rather buy in store, Home Rule is located at 1807 14th Street, NW, just a few blocks south of U Street. They are open from 11 AM to 7 PM Monday through Saturday, and 12 to 6 PM on Sundays.
Of course the most obvious gift for cheese lovers is - wait for it - cheese. Both Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery offer tasting classes in their stores covering a wide range of topics. Cheesetique tends to offer a single class on multiple evenings each month, while Cowgirl offers numerous one-shot classes. Recent classes at Cheesetique have dealt with blues, local cheeses and "stinky" washed-rind varieties. Their current tasting focuses on "holiday" cheeses (their writeup encourages you to "Think cranberries. Think truffles."). At Cowgirl Creamery, recent offerings have focused on artisan cheeses from Ireland, France and American farmsteads. Prices can vary, so your best bet is to contact the stores directly to inquire about upcoming tastings.
Local cheese shops also offer holiday cheese trays for entertaining and "cheese collections" to give as gifts. Bowers Fancy Dairy Products recommends a tray of red port-soaked cheddar and green sage derby for a festive plate. Cheesetique is happy to help you build your own cheese platter with 4, 5, or 6 cheeses in a variety of styles. Naturally, prices vary depending on the cheeses you select. And Cowgirl Creamery's website offers a "Holiday Cheese Board" featuring three American artisan cheeses: Uplands Farm Pleasant Ridge, Cowgirl Creamery's own MT TAM, and Colston Bassett Stilton (pictured). This collection of cheeses, which retails for $68 online, makes a great gift or a ready-made cheese board for entertaining.
If you're stuck for a specific gift idea (or if you're just tired of giving a bottle of wine every time you visit a friend's house), consider a gift certificate to a local cheese shop. They are available in a range of denominations, and they allow the recipient to treat himself or herself to something they might not otherwise buy. Were it not for a gift certificate to Cheesetique, my wife and I might never have tried Cassina Rossa's Truffle & Salt, a decadent blend of sea salt and black truffles that adds an earthy richness to risotto and pasta dishes.
Whenever possible, we like to shop local, independent businesses like these (with the exception of Cowgirl Creamery, though its founders ARE locals). They offer interesting and eclectic selections that frequently reflect the personal taste and style of the store owner, and they are a great way to learn about designers and product lines that may not be carried in larger chains.
I've tried to include suggestions for a range of budgets and tastes, but the best advice I can give you is to go out and look for yourself - take advantage of the opportunities that living in and around Washington provides and keep an eye out for something unique.
I always love hearing about different families' Thanksgiving traditions. My family is small and scattered around the country, so it's usually just my brother, parents and me at their home in Connecticut. I'm tempted to say that the holiday is low-key for us, because the day starts out with a road race, sweat pants and football watching time and involves lots of time for reading, napping, and lounging, before we gather around the dining room table and feast. I realize, though that most people wouldn't consider a full day of cooking, including two desserts for only four people to be "low-key."
We're dessert people, and I'm in charge of picking and making the desserts we'll have each year. This year, my mom requested a red velvet cake after seeing the recipe in November's Veranda magazine, and I decided that even though I have a family of pumpkin pie-haters, I had to do something Fall-ish for the occasion, and...well, who doesn't like cheesecake? I made this pumpkin cheesecake with ginger-graham crust from the Joy of Baking.
When I bake dessert for myself alone, I'm kind of haphazard, I rush through any measurements involving the word "spoon" and I make round desserts in square pans. Since my parents have an amazing kitchen with all the proper-shaped pans, I tried to hold myself to higher standards and produce something that would look as good as it tasted.
Both desserts definitely looked homemade (HOW do bakeries get frosting to so thoroughly cover the sides of layer cakes? HOW, I ask?!) and I was a little disappointed with how short the pumpkin cheesecake was, but both tasted good enough for me to go way beyond comfortably full and try finish a slice of each.
The red velvet cake recipe caught me off guard, because it uses vegetable oil rather than butter as fat--TWO CUPS of olive oil went into it (and 1/4 cup of red food coloring comes out to two entire bottles!) and the batter looked really thin going into the pans. It baked out dense and moist, though, and I'll be happy to use vast quantities of vegetable oil in any and all desserts I make in the future.
My motto is “I want to inspire you with food for thought and food for your table”. I get much of my inspiration from local producers, markets and restaurants. I tend to stroll through farmers markets and let what looks good and what’s in season inspire me. Last week, Cedar Farm scrapple caught my eye and brought great memories of my childhood; eating a big Sunday breakfast before we all headed off to church. Other times it’s reading what other people are making on sites like Don Rockwell and Chowhound.
On Saturday I went to the Del Ray farmers Market in Alexandria, knowing that shortly they will the shutting down for the winter. It’s a market that has grown on me as I’ve gotten to know some of the vendors. There’s the wonderful gentleman who’s farm is in Riva, VA and Tom the cheese guy from whom I’ve enjoyed wonderful herbed chevres. Other faces are more familiar such as Toigo Orchards.
Well, just like last year, most of the vendors cleared out early leaving only the hearty to proffer their goods during the last Saturdays of the season. With only a pear, a half gallon of apple cider and a log of chevre; where was inspiration to come from today?
All I needed to do was turn around and walk about 100 feet to the doors of Cheesetique. I wanted to get a small piece of gorgonzola since I’ve heard so much about how the cheese pairs well with pears. As I walked into Cheesetique, with the mélange of cheese smells wafting up my nose, I knew I was in good hands.
“I just bought a nice pear from Toigo Orchards and was thinking of pairing it up with a gorgonzola, perhaps a gorgonzola dolce”, I said. “Hmmm”, I don’t thing we have dolce. Are you sure you want gorgonzola? We have lots of blue cheeses which would work very well”, a helpful woman said.
“Sure anything moldy will do”, I replied. She laughed and had a look of “this one will try anything…..just my kind of customer”. And I was. I sampled 2 cheeses before I put into my mouth this blue cheese called ba ba blue. From the Carr Valley of Wisconsin, it is sheep’s milk blue which is piquant, salty and subtle with blue veins. It pops in the mouth, bringing an immense bang for the buck. I loved it. I bought it. I paired both the pear and ba ba blue cheese in a risotto which will knock your socks off. I served this with a roasted chicken and asparagus. Enjoy!
Risotto with Ba Ba Blue Cheese And Caramelized Pears
1 large shallot
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cup risotto
¼ cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken broth
¼ lb. blue cheese or gorgonzola
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. butter
2 pears, peeled and sliced and coated with sugar
Place chicken broth in a stock pot and heat to a gently simmer. Keep warm throughout cooking process.
Heat olive oil in a pan. Add shallots and cook until translucent, but do not brown. Add rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add white wine and stir until absorbed. Add warm chicken broth ¼ cup at a time to the risotto. Stir frequently. When broth is absorbed, add additional stock. The risotto will continue to absorb stock and cook over a period of 15-20 minutes. When the risotto is al dente, add crumbled blue cheese and stir to incorporate. Add salt and pepper to taste.
About half way through the risotto cooking process, heat 2 tbsp. of butter in a heavy bottom pan. Add pears and cook on each side until caramelized, about 3 minutes on each side.
To serve, plate risotto and top with 2-3 slices of caramelized pear.
One of my favorite things about Cheesetique is the level of personal attention they give to every customer. They are generous with their samples, and they take the time to find out what you like so they can offer recommendations...and those are usually spot-on.
On my most recent visit, I asked them to point me toward something fresh and local. Without hesitation, they recommended I check out Monocacy Ash. A fresh goat's milk cheese from Cherry Glen Farm in Montgomery County, Monocacy Ash comes encased in a rind of vegetable ash and features a thin line of ash running horizontally throughout. It is an artisanal cheese, produced in small batches by Diane Kirsch (the last name is German for "Cherry") and her herd of American Alpine and Toggenburg goats.
This is a super-creamy cheese with a far milder tang than most goat's milk cheeses. The manager on duty at Cheesetique described it as similar to Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog, but I found it to the taste to be smoother and softer despite the similar mouth feel from the ash ribbon. And the price of $17.95 for a full round ($8.98 for a half) was a few dollars cheaper than the price at which I've found Humboldt Fog in retail shops, making it easier on the wallet, as well.
Perhaps the most distinct feature of Monocacy Ash, however, was the speed with which it softened. Even on the short drive home, the half-crottin that we purchased had begun to liquefy along its rind. Refrigeration firmed it up a bit, but as soon as we set the cheese on the counter to warm to room temperature it literally began to ooze along the edges. By the time we had brought the cheese plate to the table, the soft disc of cheese had separated itself from the ashy rind and was migrating toward the center of the plate. This is not a cheese that lends itself to lengthy savoring - its soft, creamy texture begs to be dug into immediately, and it spreads beautifully on baguettes, crackers, or pretty much anything.
It was interesting to see that the rind held its shape despite the loss of its interior goodness. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I may have scooped at the walls with a cracker or two to get at some of the tangy-sweet, gooey remnants that the main disc left behind when it oozed out.
My experience with Monocacy Ash was decidedly positive, if a bit messy. I am looking forward to trying the other offerings from Cherry Glen - Monocacy Gold and Monocacy Silver. The small batches in which they are produced tends to limit availability, but I have found Monocacy cheeses for sale at Cheesetique as well as some local Whole Foods (try their Georgetown location, but availability can be a bit hit or miss). If you like your goat's milk cheese on the milder side with the added flavor that the vegetable ash contributes, you should definitely give this one a try.
Calling "Think Like a Chef" a cookbook is like calling a Sherlock Holmes novel a detective story. Tom Colicchio's book goes beyond the basic formula to offer something new, something interesting. "How a chef thinks about food" is the phrase Colicchio uses in his preface to describe what follows, and "Think Like a Chef" certainly delivers.
In 2000, when the book was first released, Tom Colicchio was the successful chef of Gramercy Tavern who had attracted a loyal following among the Foodies of New York, but he was nowhere near the celebrity he is now. Craft had not yet opened (that would occur in March of the following year), and Top Chef was still six years away. Seven years later, "Think Like a Chef" has been re-released, taking full advantage of Colicchio's star power. The cover art now features him smiling broadly, and it identifies him as "Head Judge of the Hit Series 'Top Chef.'" But this is no vanity project - you won't find Colicchio name-dropping his way through a list of Gramercy Tavern favorites.
The book still features the unique approach to cooking that sets it apart from simple recipe collections. It progresses, organically, from a few basic techniques to a few key ingredients and then on to recipes involving some of Colicchio's favorite ingredients and "trilogies" (three ingredients whose flavors simply work together, according to the chef). Before it gets started, it even offers advice on "how to use the book," encouraging the audience to read all the way through the book to best grasp what is being discussed and to follow the progression that Colicchio has laid out to truly absorb the process.
"Think Like a Chef" begins, like a good chef should, with technique. The first section of the book walks the reader through five basic techniques: roasting, braising, blanching, stock-making and sauce-making. With these five skills in your culinary arsenal, so many seemingly complicated dishes become significantly easier. Colicchio is a great teacher - he guides you step by step without giving the impression that he is dumbing things down for you. Along the way, he provides anecdotes and asides that further humanize the text and give insight into the chef's approach to cooking.
Once each technique has been explained and demonstrated with a simple recipe, it is followed by several more complex recipes, each of which uses the technique. Striped bass, sirloin, and leg of lamb are all roasted with a variety of herbs and seasonings, and the small adjustments that turn a general technique into a specific set of steps for a recipe are highlighted.
From here, Colicchio moves on to "studies" of three basic ingredients - roasted tomatoes, pan-roasted mushrooms and braised artichokes. As in the previous section, he takes the time to walk you through the basic recipe before elaborating on it and using it as the inspiration for a dizzying variety of recipes. This, says Colicchio, is the key to thinking like a chef - allowing yourself to be led by the ingredients you find at your disposal in different directions using the techniques at your command. Just reading through this section, you feel yourself starting to understand what he means...at one point, I realized that I was reading a recipe and mentally adjusting it to better suit my own tastes and a few other ingredients I had picked up at the farmers' market that weekend.
The remaining sections of the book move from the theoretical to the practical - a series of recipes for each of three seasonal trilogies shows the surprising ways the same ingredients can be combined to create diverse flavor profiles, and a section of favorites provides a (very) few of Colicchio's favorite dishes from his own kitchen.
As instructed by the chef, I read through the book from beginning to end before I even thought about attempting any of the recipes inside. I was pleasantly surprised by the narrative voice and the flow of the book - I didn't feel like I was reading a reference book or some kind of flat, lifeless text. I really did feel like I was gaining insight into Tom Colicchio's mind and his approach to his craft.
After reading the book, I was that much more eager to put the chef's lessons into practice. A visit to the farmers' market turned up a beautiful selection of wild mushrooms, and I decided then and there that my first attempt at a recipe from the book would be the pan-roasted mushrooms that form the basis of the second "study." I had already learned from reading through the section that the single most important thing to keep in mind when roasting vegetables and mushrooms is not to crowd the pan - doing so prevents the moisture that cooks out from rapidly evaporating and basically boils your veggies until they are lifeless and rubbery.
So I cooked the mushrooms in three batches (resisting my usual urge to just throw them all in at once) and seasoned them with salt and pepper. When I turned them, I noted with some satisfaction the way the mushrooms had begun to brown without losing their shape or their texture. Adding some garlic, butter and herbs I brought each batch to readiness and set it aside until all of the mushrooms were cooked. At the end I brought all three batches back together and seasoned them once more as I warmed them just prior to serving. Though I overdid the salt a bit, my wife and I agreed that these were by far the best mushrooms I had ever made, and they were a perfect accompaniment to our oven-roasted pork tenderloin. I found the directions easy to follow, and the results spoke for themselves. This was a recipe worth holding onto - as I expect many of the ideas from the book will be.
"Think Like a Chef" invites the reader to develop a new way of looking at what goes into a kitchen - as well as what comes out. Tom Colicchio has provided an excellent resource for Foodies who are long on appreciation but short on raw talent. I'm already looking forward to next year's farmers' markets and the creative eye with which I will approach them thanks to this book.
Whether you view scrapple as a humble use of otherwise “throw-away” leftover scraps or a culinary abomination, I hope you will consider this modest loaf of porky goodness. I did last Sunday during a visit to Cedarbrook Farm at the Dupont Farmers Market. It was an offal trip down memory lane.
Having grown up in Philadelphia, I am no stranger to scrapple. I was introduced to the pig “scrap” product as a youngster and I grew to like it long before I knew what was in it. Scrapple, when fried, is crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle. It marries well with fried or poached eggs and a piece of toast. It’s also pretty good with just a puddle of ketchup to dip it in. Later, like hot dogs, I would still eat scrapple but would not want to see it made. Well, maybe I still don’t, but I’m willing to be more secure in my quest for (not main stream) food choices which use the parts you won‘t see lining the cases of your local supermarket. Where once I thought fillet mignon was the king of steaks, I now prefer hangar or flatiron cuts. Not too long ago, I would not think to eat organ meat, until I had lamb kidney in Restaurant Eve’s Tasting Room. The kidney had the most intense lamb flavor I’d ever tasted. It was a revelation and something that many people are missing out on but would probably enjoy immensely (particularly when tendered by a chef like Cathal Armstrong) if they would embrace more parts of the animal.
Before it became foodie de rigueur and chic to eat organ meat, or before the movement which I like to call WWFD? (what would Fergus do?), frugal farmers had been using “nose to tail” practices to utilize all of the animal which they raised to produce food. Relating to scrapple, the pig was butchered, the blood sausage and liverwurst etc. were made, and what was leftover at the very end was made into scrapple. The epicenter of scrapple’s origin is reported to be in Eastern Pennsylvania, with either Dutch settlers who lived in Chester County (just outside of Philadelphia) or the Pennsylvania Dutch who settled in Lancaster County. In either scenario, scrapple is a product made by Old World German settlers (who made a related loaf called panhus) with New World ingredients. Scrapple also enjoys a strong local connection. George Washington’s Pennsylvania Dutch chef introduced him to this dish which he enjoyed all of his life. Today, scrapple can commonly be found throughout the Mid-Atlantic states.
If you don’t care to know what’s in scrapple, just skip on ahead. According to Wikipedia:
"Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver and other scraps which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned, and seasonings, typically sage, thyme, savory, and others are added. The mush is cast into loaves, and allowed to cool thoroughly until gelled. The proportions and seasoning are very much a matter of the region and the cook's taste."
Now, if you’re still with me, let me tell you what it tastes like. It is a cross between breakfast sausage(herbs) , bacon (salt) and polenta (cornmeal). As I wrote above, it is usually served at breakfast with fried eggs but is also eaten as a sandwich ( a Delaware tradition). Accompaniments to scrapple include ketchup, apple butter, apple sauce and maple syrup.
Now go enjoy your turkey and giblets.
When she learned of my ongoing effort to highlight off-the-beaten-path cheese purveyors in and around Washington, one of my wife's coworkers insisted I check out Arrowine in Arlington. A neighborhood wine shop in the truest sense of the term, Arrowine is located in the Lee Heights shopping plaza where Lee Highway and Old Dominion Road intersect. It is one of a strip of small, independently owned shops that seems completely incongruous with their quintessential suburban surroundings. Look for the row of large, colorful awnings and you'll know you've found the place.
Arrowine is a gourmet's dream - though primarily a wine store, they carry a wide range of gourmet foods, fresh-baked breads and bagels, and a terrific selection of charcuterie and meats from D'Artagnan and other top names.
Of particular interest to me, however, is their cheese counter. Covering half of the store's rear wall, Arrowine's cheese counter is stocked with classics and rarities alike. Head straight back from the entrance, toward the towering painting of the waiter, and you will soon be greeted by large wheels and wedges of cheese. Their selection spans the globe, and it is sourced with an eye toward what is freshest and what is best. Consequently, there are only a few local cheeses available right now - with Meadow Creek Farms' impressive and flavorful Grayson the best of the bunch. Very few of their cheeses are sold in pre-weighed quantities - most are sliced fresh when you order. As a result, your selections rarely have time to acquire that plastic wrap residue that can ruin the flavor of milder cheeses.
The sight of so many great cheeses should be a hint that you're in a place where they take cheese pretty seriously, but as soon as you start talking to one of the employees behind the counter, you'll know it. Every employee I spoke to in my three recent visits has been working at Arrowine for at least a year, and on my first visit I had the good fortune to meet Aldo Molina. As soon as I expressed interest in the cheeses, Aldo completely forgot about the fact that it was a mere half hour before closing. He started talking to me with an eagerness that reflects his love for what he does, showing me cheeses that I had never heard of and encouraging me to sample. Aldo learned cheese from Steven Jenkins at Dean & DeLuca in New York, and if that name sounds familiar it's because he is the author of Cheese Primer, an encyclopedic look at cheese that is a must-read for all cheese lovers.
On my subsequent visits, however, I was not as lucky. On both occasions, I found myself struggling to strike up a conversation with the employee behind the counter, and I had to request to taste cheeses despite my obvious interest in learning more about them. This struck me as a bit counter-intuitive in a place that prides itself on its wide selection of unfamiliar cheeses and its knowledgeable staff.
Despite this inconvenience, I was definitely impressed with the variety of cheeses and other products on offer at Arrowine, and I found myself eager to return to see what new goodies I could find. If you're in Arlington and planning a wine and cheese party, look no further; their staff can walk you through pairings and price points for both. But be prepared to ask for what you want. And if Aldo's behind the counter, ask him what he would recommend - you're in for a treat.
In the Lee Heights shopping plaza
4508 Lee Highway
Monday-Saturday, 10AM - 8PM
Sunday 10AM - 4PM
The turkey is in the oven, the house smells like heaven and your guests are whetting their appetites. Here's a recipe that will both please and surprise them, giving a glimpse of what is to come as they begin a feast at your table.
Apple and celery root (also known as celeriac) soup is velvety and slightly sweet, with a note of celery in the background and a pleasing crunch of salty bacon to compliment the apple. I found it truly amazing that this rather ugly looking root vegetable can make a soup that is so delicious! Celery root gives meaning to the phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover". Apple celery soup is accessable in terms of both flavors and ease of preparation.
This recipe can be made a day ahead of time, reheated and arranged just prior to serving. The soup can be served as an amuse bouche ( a small bite before the meal begins) or as a thick soup after the appetizer course.
Apple and Celery Root Soup with Bacon and Chive Oil (adapted from http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/239846)
Serves 6-8 as a soup course
1/2 stick butter
4 cups celery root, peeled and diced (about 1 1/4 lb celery root)
3 cups (2 medium) empire apples*, peeled, cored and cubed
1 large onion, diced
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup chives, chopped
1/3 cup safflower oil
Kosher salt to taste
Pepper to taste
3 slices thick cut bacon** cooked and finely crumbled
Melt butter in a heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery root and apples. Stir to combine. Cook until onions are soft and begin to become translucent. Do not brown. Add chicken broth and a pinch of kosher salt. Simmer covered for 45 minutes, or until celery root is soft, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
In small batches, puree soup in blender being careful to vent the top and allow steam to escape. Pulse the hot soup several times, increase to blend and then to liquify. Return soup to pot and add salt and pepper to taste.
Puree chives and oil in blender until smooth.
Pour soup into bowl. Drizzle or dot chive oil on top of soup (I use a cheap condiment container from the Dollar Store to place the chive oil on the soup). Add a small mound of bacon crumbles to the top and serve.
*Any firm and tart apple can be used, such as Granny Smith.
** Pancetta, or Italian bacon, would also be great in this recipe.
Within a matter of weeks we will once again find ourselves ensconced in the holiday season. Thanksgiving ushers in a time of family gatherings and celebrations, with many exciting things for foodies to eat and cook.
Traditionally, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table is the turkey and the choices are many, ranging from Butterball to Heritage breeds. I'd like to offer a bit of a primer on turkey terminology, so you can make the best choice for your holiday table and perhaps avail yourself of the locally grown birds from farms in our region. We'll start with turkey breeds.
The vast majority of the turkeys which grace our tables today are White Broad Breasted turkeys, which replaced Bronze turkeys in terms of popularity somewhere around the 1960's due to their lighter and better appearing carcass. Bronze turkey varieties, particularly Broad Breasted Bronze turkey, went out of favor only after being selectively bred for breast size and growth rate and now are raised seasonally by small independent farmers for the holidays and in a manner which develops their natural attributes and health, as well as allows natural breeding.
Heritage breeds, or "Standard" turkeys are ancestors of the Broad-breasted White Turkey. They are making a comeback on the American Thanksgiving table. They are free range birds and include breeds such as the Jersey Buff, the Bourbon Red and the Narragansett. Their meat has more flavor and is richer tasting due mainly to a more natural diet obtained from exercise and foraging for foods. Heritage turkeys also enjoy a longer life span with slower growth. For instance, a White Breasted Tom turkey generally reaches its goal size (around 32 lbs.) by 18 weeks, while a Heritage turkey will take from 24-30 weeks to reach a lesser weight. This of course translates into higher production costs which is passed on to the consumer, but many think it's worth the investment.
Terminology about raising turkeys (and other animals) can be confusing. What does free range and organic mean? How do these affect the turkey and ultimately how it tastes?
Free-range turkeys refer to turkeys which are given access to the out of doors. Mind you, the turkey you're eating may never have taken a step outside, but it had access. The requirements are quite minimal for the amount of common space the turkeys have access to. If the turkey had plenty of room to exercise and forage it may well have an effect on the taste. But the thing is: you have no idea. By buying from local farmers, you can be assured that the birds were given the ability to roam significant areas the the farm by speaking to the farmer and/or seeing for yourself. A couple farmers with whom I spoke emphasized that their turkeys are free to forage and roam about in addition to receiving organic feed.
Organic turkeys are fed organically certified feed and are free-range. They can not receive antibiotics or growth hormones. However, no turkeys can receive growth hormones and turkeys who are administered antibiotics in non-organic methods of raising must be put through a "cleansing" period so the medication is out of their system before processing.
By labeling the turkeys free-range and organic, it does not ensure great taste and texture. These are mainly driven by the breeding, lifestyle and food choices given to the birds. While the standard White Broad Breast is very juicy with, well, lots of breast meat (so much in fact, these birds cannot breed naturally) the slower and more naturally raised turkey will have better flavor which can be attributed to access to a variety of foods (such as grubs), exercise, better living conditions and a less stressful life.
Well, now that we've waded through bird breeds and types, let's briefly discuss strategies for cooking.
According the Local Harvest website, White Broad Breast turkey is generally cooked/roasted at 325 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 160-180 degrees. The breast is often tented with foil so it doesn't dry out while waiting for the dark meat to finish cooking. Not so with a free-range Heritage turkey, whose breast to thigh meat ratio is closer. If the breast in tented, it should be with buttered or oiled parchment paper so the breast skin does not steam and the cover should be removed 1/2 hour prior to the end of cooking. Butter, olive oil and herbs can be rubbed under the skin of the breast to increase the fat content. Due to the decreased fat and size, this turkey should be cooked at 425-450 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 140- 150 degrees* (the thought being that the turkeys are far healthier to begin with and assumed processed under closer supervision so they don't need to be cooked as high) to retain moistness in the lower fat bird.
More information regarding selecting, cooking and storing your bird can be found at the Food Safety and Inspection Service website.
Here is a list farms and stores where you can get your turkey from this year. But hurry if you want one from the farms!
Located at various local farmers markets, see website.
Ordering: Online form or directly at your local market. Pick up dates are according to farmers market
Turkeys: White Broad Breast and organic
Ordering: Call or order in person at Market Poultry
Hillside Turkey Farm
30 Elm Street, Thurmont, MD
Ordering: Call ASAP
7033 Ed Sears Road, Dickerson, MD
Turkeys: Free range White Broad Breast, pasture-raised and organically fed
Ordering: Online order form http://www.jehovahjirehfarm.com/orderform.php
16701 Yeoho Road, Sparks, MD
Turkeys: Broad Breasted White, Heritage and Bronze
Cost: $3.75/lb-$5.50/lb. (for the latter two)
Ordering: Preferably by email to tell them what turkey and size you want. Orders can be picked up the Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving. Supplies are limited at this time, so hurry!
Maple Lawn Farm
11788 Route 216 (Scaggsville Rd.), Fulton, Maryland
Turkeys: Sho-Nuf free range turkeys, smoked turkeys (additional cost)
Located throughout the D.C., VA and MD region
Turkeys: Maple Lawn Farms All Natural Turkey and Eberly Organic Turkey
Ordering: Done through the catering department of Balducci’s
Located throughout the D.C., VA and MD region
Turkeys: Free range and organic
Ordering: Contact your nearest Whole Foods and ask for the “Holiday Table”
21846 Trappe Rd, Upperville, VA
Turkeys: Free-Range, Certified Organic and Certified Humanely-Raised and Handled Heritage Breed Turkey
Cost: See website for pricing - http://www.ayrshirefarm.com/eatorganic.php
Ordering: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call The Home Farm Store at 540-687-8882
* The USDA recommends that the deepest part of the turkey thigh reach 180 degrees Farenheit.
Every fall, my wife and I get together with a group of friends and drive out to Markham, Virginia, for an afternoon of apple picking and wine tasting. We've settled on Markham because it's less than an hour's drive from Washington, it offers two orchards to choose from, and there are at least three wineries in the nearby area.
This year, we started our day at Stribling Orchard, where we spent a couple of hours wandering through the trees and picking some beautiful looking apples - mostly York and Rome. We've learned from past experience that it's far too easy to pick more apples than you can ever reasonably hope to use, so we were careful not to pick too many too quickly. But we readily filled three grocery bags with the help of our friends (a good amount when divided among 8 or 9 people) and then moved on to the second part of our trip - the vineyard.
In the past, we've visited Naked Mountain Winery, a Markham winery which offers indoor and outdoor tasting areas that boast a massive fireplace and a breathtaking valley view, respectively, but this year we opted to visit Three Fox Vineyards in nearby Delaplane, Virginia. Three Fox is a labor of love for John and Holli Todhunter, who have worked to give their small vineyard a Mediterranean feel. Guests can sit at tables right near the vines, or they can picnic on the bank of Crooked Run. We set up camp at one of the tables near the tasting room, where we proceeded to unpack a spread of meats and cheeses, chips and dips.
While in the tasting room buying a bottle of Viognier (a varietal that most Virginia wineries seem to do really well with), I noticed that they carried cheeses from Oak Spring Dairy, a producer from Upperville, Virginia. I'd love to be able to provide you with a link, but Oak Spring does not have a website - in fact, the only way you'll be able to enjoy their cheeses is if you sample them at one of several northern Virginia wineries, purchase them from farm stores like the one at Stribling Orchard, or visit the dairy itself.
I purchased a wedge of Oak Spring's Bay Derby, a cheese that immediately reminded me of the Crab Spice Cheddar I sampled from Chapel's Country Creamery. No surprise: the 'bay' in Bay Derby refers to a spice blend that is very similar to that of Old Bay seasoning, and Derby is a semi-firm cheese whose taste and texture are close to those of cheddar. At $6.63 for a .39 lb piece, this cheese would run $17/lb if you could purchase it by weight.
The label identified this as a fresh raw cows milk cheese that is "aged naturally on the farm" for 16 months. The bay seasoning gave the derby a slightly sharp, almost peppery flavor, though the natural butteriness was not overwhelmed by the spice. As the cheese warmed over the course of the afternoon, it even started to give off a faint aroma reminscent of steamed crabs. And it paired wonderfully with the Viognier I bought - the creaminess and the spice both complemented the dry fruitiness of the wine and made for a great combination of flavors.
I'm going to be looking for other Oak Spring Dairy offerings at wineries throughout the area next year, and I'll keep you posted about my findings. For now, this one experience will have to suffice as my introduction to a local producer that definitely warrants further exploration.