Wintergreen…

There’s something very magical about using wild products that you’ve harvested yourself.  Searching… searching…I found it! … No, wrong… Finally, on the verge of giving up, there it is! Once you find some, you see the multitudes.

 

 

The idea to pair salmon and wintergreen came some time ago, with inspiration from one of L’Espalier’s esteemed alums, Arti. We were discussing how foraged foods have become such an influential part of fine dining around the world, thanks to restaurants such as Mugaritz, Bras, Manresa, and of course, Noma.  Arti recommended wintergreen as a possible New England product of value.  I had never seen or known anything about it within the foraging context (however, I had chewed it many times). Sure enough a day or two later Arti brought in a few leaves from a wooded area near her house.  It was wonderful, very minty with grassy notes and a flavor all its own.  As time went by I thought of wintergreen and salmon, and then beets.  It was not until a month or so ago that we could see the dish come to fruition, when the amazing wild Alaskan salmon started to arrive from Browne Trading of Maine.

 

 

The overall dish is a play on a smoked salmon plate.  The wild salmon is lightly cured with salt, sugar, juniper, and black pepper.  The fish is allowed to stand for about an hour before being cold smoked with fruitwood.  This method allows for a distinctly familiar flavor of smoke and salmon, while still serving the fish at our preferred temperature of medium rare.

The salmon is accompanied by beets; one simply roasted, and the other juiced and then turned into a hot fluid gel.  Still more beets are juiced and reduced with red wine, red wine vinegar, and a little sugar to form a beet syrup.  This syrup is mixed with a wintergreen oil to form the dressing for the dish.  To prepare the oil we first clean the wintergreen, washing it well and removing any stems.  We then chiffonade the green leaves and combine them with grape seed oil in a 2:1 ratio.  This mixture is sealed and circulated at 60 C for 1hr.  The oil is then chilled and allowed to steep for two days, before being dripped through cheesecloth.  The plate is garnished with pickled Vidalia onions, pumpernickel and caraway toast, salmon roe, and dill sprouts from Apple Street Farm.  It is traditional with a unique flavor.

 

 

For me, the real joy of the dish is found not so much in the finished piece, as in the first step to achieving it – finding the Wintergreen.  I’ve been collecting it in two spots: in the woods behind Tom and Judy’s house in Hopkinton, New Hampshire and in Essex, Massachusetts around Apple Street Farm. I was definitely pushed towards foraging by my interest in food and haute cuisine trends, however I think it was my childhood in the woods of New Hampshire that keeps me going back for more.  We are growing our knowledge of wild products, a project that requires a new skill set and the time to search for them.  Beginning a dish outside of the kitchen allows for a more inclusive creative process; one that marries not only traditional methods and modern trends, but also the natural world that surrounds us.  A process that entices the imagination to see nature as a creative force and edible adventure.

 

 

Please harvest nature’s bounty responsibly, in order to preserve these pleasures for the future.

 

 

 

Why is Cheese Seasonal?

The upcoming Cheese Tuesday, “Summer’s Best”, will celebrate farmstead cheeses that are only available now, or are at their best during the summer months. (July 17 at 7:00)

 

Cheeses for July 17th’s Cheese Tuesday

I am often asked about seasonality: why are some cheeses not available year round, and why are some cheeses better at certain times of the year? We are talking about farmstead cheese (where the animals are raised and the cheese is made on the same farm) and small farm cheese. Industrially made cheese is the same day in, day out, year in, year out.

Well, it is all about the milk. Cows, sheep and goats all have a natural cycle of lactation, giving birth in the spring, and producing milk until the fall, when the animal goes dry, and rests up until the cycle begins in the next spring. It is easy to adjust a cow’s breeding cycle so that most members of a herd will always be producing milk. Not so easy with goats or sheep; sheep farmers usually run out of milk in October, and goats stop milking in November/December. No milk, no cheese.

Just as importantly, the content of milk changes dramatically during the milking season. After all, the purpose of milk is to feed a baby animal, and as this baby grows, its nutritional needs change, and Mamma knows best.  Summer milk is relatively low in fat content, which shoots up dramatically in the fall. This summer milk is superior to fall milk if you are making hard cheeses meant to last: high fat content can lead to spoilage issues.  Traditionally, Comté, a hard Alpine cheese with long aging potential is made in Summer months when the cows are grazing in alpine meadows. When the cows come inside and the fat content of the milk climbs in the fall and winter, production of Comté stops, and soft, lush and fatty Vacherin Mont d’Or is made instead.

Summer milk has other very desirable qualities. The grazing animals have a great diet of fresh grasses, wildflowers and herbs, the flavors of which are transferred to the milk and cheese.  As the animals move from pasture to pasture, their daily diet changes, which leads to subtle but wonderful variations in the daily batches of cheese.

Industrial makers, on the other hand, use “standardized” milk, similar to supermarket milk that has been adjusted for fat content.  No variation, no subtlety, no change.  I recently read a great definition of artisan cheese making. The artisan changes the recipe to fit the milk. The industrial cheese maker changes the milk to fit the recipe. Vive la différance!