Revenge Of The Curds

IMG_1269It’s Friday night, and the Bahamians are coming over for cocktail hour.

So . . . what to nosh on?  Some local sourcing sounds good.  We’ve got the ridiculously addictive Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery goat cheese ranch curds, from Wauseon, Ohio.  We’ve got a delicious strawberry-rhubarb preserve with vanilla bean and a beaujolais wine reduction, made by the Black Radish Creamery right here in New Albany, Ohio.  And we’ve mixed them up with some unusual cheese options, two bottles of good wine, and cranberry and hazelnut crackers, recommended by the helpful cheese shop steward at the Hills Market in downtown Columbus.

Let the weekend begin!

From Ohio’s Vines And Orchards

Cousin Jeff is in town for a welcome visit, which means we’ll have some spirited political discussions and also get a chance to sample some of the Carroll County produce he graciously brings along from his home in eastern Ohio.  This visit’s bounty features some ripe red tomatoes and luscious peaches, all freshly picked, a bottle of Ohio maple syrup — and a candid but friendly exchange of divergent views about the upcoming election on our patio last night.

Buckeye Booze

It turns out that the Utica Shale natural gas play isn’t the only boom that’s occurring in Ohio.  The Ohio alcohol industry also is growing like crazy.

During the first six months of 2011, Ohio handed out more permits for breweries, wineries, and distilleries than ever before.  There are now 164 wineries, 70 breweries, and 14 producers of spirits in the Buckeye State.  These businesses employ thousands of workers.  Some have been started by families and home brewers who’ve decided to take their hobbies to the next level; others are well-funded operations that seek to capitalize on the growing interest in locally produced food and drink items.

Kish and I seem to run across Buckeye booze everywhere we go.  At the Black Creek Bistro, which prides itself on its local sourcing, the bar serves Ohio-produced liquors.  At Ohioana events, we’ve sampled wines offered by Valley Vineyards, from Morrow, Ohio.    There’s even an “Ohio River Valley Wine Trail,” complete with promotional brochure, that allows the wine connoisseur to visit 10 wineries in the southwestern part of the state.

The local sourcing movement is great for the producer and for the consumer, too.  The locally crafted hooch is of good quality and is non-generic.  You get options that you wouldn’t get from a large, distant commercial manufacturer — and you’re helping your neighbors, besides.

The New Albany Farmers Market

This afternoon Penny and I walked over to the initial New Albany Farmers Market.  The Market will be held between 4 and 7 p.m. every Thursday, from now until early September, in the Market Square area in front of the library.

The Market drew a good crowd and the farmers must have been doing a pretty brisk trade, because by the time we got there at around 6 p.m. some of the items were sold out.  We saw stands from many Ohio farming communities, including Hiram, Frazeyburg, and Fredericktown.  Items for sale included honey (with and without honeycombs), artisanal cheeses and meats, berries, ice cream, freshly baked breads (including gluten-free options), various kinds of vegetables, yogurt, sweet corn, and preserves.  The stands ran up and down both sides of the Market Square roadway, and it looked like organizers could squeeze in a few more if some other local farmers express interest.

I was tempted by some fresh goat cheese, but the varieties I asked for were sold out.  (The woman at the stand promised to have a bigger supply next week.)  Instead, I bought some Muenster cheese made from milk taken from 100% grass fed cows, and it is quite good.  If you live in the Columbus area and support the local sourcing of food, or if you just want to sample some freshly picked or home-cooked fare, the New Albany Farmers Market is well worth a visit.

Artisanal Cheese (Cont.)

I’ve written before about the Lake Erie Creamery and its excellent locally sourced products — products that may help point the way to a solid future for Ohio agriculture.  Now Cousin Jeff has advised of a fine showing by the Minerva Dairy at the U.S. Championship Cheese Competition in Wisconsin.  The Dairy’s lace cheese won third-place honors in the open class semi-soft cheese category.

Jeff mentioned the Minerva Dairy‘s achievement because he is a proud resident of the Minerva area and a strong proponent of local sourcing — and because he promised to bring some of the award-winning cheese when he comes to visit this weekend.  (Hooray!)

The award to the Minerva Dairy just proves, again, that you can get great, fresh, well-made foods that are grown, raised, and produced right here in Ohio.  The fact that your purchases are supporting local farmers and artisans just makes the food taste that much better.



North Market Lunching: Kitchen Little

Today's cassoulet lunch

For some months now, a group of us have gotten in the habit of walking from downtown to the North Market for lunch.  We get some exercise and fresh air along the way, and once we reach the market we face a cornucopia of excellent lunch choices — and we are supporting local businesses, besides.  I’ve sampled the cuisine at many of the North Market establishments, and I think its time that other downtown Columbus workers give the place a shot.  So, I will be starting a periodic series on North Market lunch options in hopes of encouraging our handful of Columbus readers to wander down to the Market for their midday meals.

The order area at Kitchen Little

Today The Cave Dweller, the Conservative, and I visited the Market.  I felt like something hearty, and when I am in that mode I beat feet to Kitchen Little.  At Kitchen Little, they serve meat — and lots of it, too.  The food is all locally sourced, and it is fresh and flavorful.  Kitchen Little partners with certain local farms (they are helpfully listed on the blackboard above the ordering area) and the eatery and its partners always offer interesting, and often exotic, lunch options.  On any given day you might find something made with buffalo, or rabbit, as well as the Kitchen Little staples — or, as they call them, the “usual suspects.”

Ah, the “usual suspects”!  For my money, you can’t beat the cassoulet for quality, taste, and value.  The cassoulet meal comes with two sides, and they are pretty good, too.  Kitchen Little usually offers several vegetables, macaroni and cheese, beans, and several different potato options.  Today I got the cassoulet, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, freshly baked bread with butter, and bottled water for $10.  The cassoulet was tremendous — loaded with sausage chunks, multiple tender cuts of meat, and beans, in a rich sauce.  The mac and cheese was well prepared, firm and not too cheesy, and the mashed spuds were well whipped with a delicate flavor.  Terrific value for $10.

Kitchen Little is a bargain — a kind of hidden secret of fine food, locally raised and carefully prepared, tucked away in a corner of the North Market.  You really need to find it.

Black Creek Bistro

Last night we went out to dinner with our good friends Chuck and Laura.  We wanted to try a new place, and after some research Kish picked the Black Creek Bistro.

The Bistro fries

The restaurant is located in the Olde Towne East neighborhood, on Parsons Avenue a few blocks south of Broad Street.  It has been around since 2007 and is a local leader in the local sourcing and green business movements.  In fact, the owner views the restaurant as an extension of his Canal Winchester farm.  Of course, all of the good intentions in the world don’t mean diddly if the food isn’t up to snuff.  I’m happy to report, therefore, that the food served by the Black Creek Bistro is very good, indeed.

You enter the restaurant through an intimate bar area where patrons can also have their meal.   The bar serves a wide selection of drinks and specializes in infused vodka martinis.  Kish and Laura enjoyed a few pear and pomegranate martinis and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

The beet salad

The main dining area is in an adjoining room with high ceilings, white-washed walls, and some interesting sculpture on the otherwise bare walls.  When we were there on Saturday the place was packed.  The noise level in the dining are was just about perfect:  enough of a hubbub to give a sense of excitement to the dining experience, but not so loud that you couldn’t converse with your dining companions.

We started our meal with two appetizers — the Bistro fries with a duet of sauces, which is something of a signature appetizer for the restaurant, and the firecracker shrimp.  Both were excellent.  The Bistro fries were crispy and light, and the white truffle dipping sauce and spicy ketchup were very nice complements to the potato flavor.  The firecracker shrimp were spicy, with a bit of a kick.  The two appetizers were more than enough for the four of us to share.  Kish and Laura then had the beet salad.  I tried the soup of the day, which was a fine duck and zucchini puree.  I scraped the bowl to enjoy every drop.

The stuffed pork tenderloin

Chuck, Laura, and Kish got the Black Creek Bistro’s signature entree, which is slow-roasted duck gnocchi, with gnocchi, hand-pulled duck meat, cranberries, and a garlic cream sauce.  I couldn’t resist the stuffed pork tenderloin, which is prepared with apple, bacon, and fruit stuffing and an apple-bacon demi-glace.  It was exceptionally good.  The combination of the moist pork, the fruit, and the bacon resulted in a dish that was bursting with flavor, and the mashed spuds were a perfect accompaniment. (I didn’t eat the other vegetables on the plate, of course, but Kish did and said they were good as well.)

For dessert, Chuck and Laura had the banana tiramasu and Kish had the apple pot pie.  I finished off my meal with a well-brewed cup of coffee.  As we left, the proprietor surprised us with some handmade praline caramels prepared by the pastry chef.  We polished them off with relish.

We’ll be back to the Black Creek Bistro.

Artisanal Cheese And A Possible Future For Ohio Family Farms

The Kishmans have long owned family farms in the Vermilion area.  Kish’s Dad described himself as a “general farmer.”  He grew corn and soybeans, once kept a chicken coop, and tended to beef cattle because he loved being around animals.  The Kishmans were like many Ohio families who worked the land on property that had been in the family for generations.

Agriculture has always been a big part of the Ohio economy.  According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Ohio has more than 75,000 farms.  The vast majority of these  are family-owned operations, although some of the larger farms are owned by families through corporations.  The statistics also indicate that 2.7 percent of the farms in Ohio produce more than $500,000 in agricultural products.  Most farms, therefore, are smaller business operations. It is unclear how many of those farm involve “general farming,” as opposed to production of only a single crop.  And there are ongoing concerns about how those family farms are faring in an increasingly competitive where, in recent years at least, the credit that farmers need has become scarce and banks have been skittish about lending.

Recently I went to the North Market to buy some cheese and decided to buy an Ohio product.  The proprietor of the cheese stand at the Market recommended Blomma goat’s milk cheese produced by Lake Erie Creamery.  The cheese was extraordinarily good — and made me realize, yet again, that Ohio has a lot to offer, including great, locally sourced meats, cheeses, and produce for foodies and regular folks alike.

It turns out that Lake Erie Creamery is a husband and wife operation that produces artisanal goat’s milk cheese in Cleveland.  They purchase milk from a family farm in Portage County, make it into cheese in Cleveland, return the whey that is a byproduct of the cheese-making process to local farms for hog and chicken feed, and sell their cheeses locally.  Blomma is one of several excellent cheeses made by Lake Erie Creamery.

It’s a great story, and one that I imagine is duplicated elsewhere in Ohio.  It makes me wonder if the future of Ohio agriculture, in part, lies not in the general farming of the past, but in an artisanal approach where Ohio farmers — whose operations could easily be in urban areas, as is the case with Lake Erie Creamery — focus on growing or making one kind of food, be it cheeses, radishes, milk, beef, or blackberries, and make them the best products imaginable.  Americans have an appetite for high-quality food items and, as the booming “local-sourcing” movement indicates, they will pay a bit more for something that is fresh, high quality, and different.

I’d like to see the artisanal agriculture movement take off because it offers a model that will allow family farming, which has been such an important part of Ohio’s history and heritage, to continue.  And those family farm jobs can’t be moved overseas, either.