December 1st…what? How did that happen? November rushed by as if being chased by a ticking time bomb and I have no doubt that December will disappear just as quickly. We’re coming up on the end of another year, one that I am not so sad to see put behind us as I hope for a happier 2010. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some really fabulous experiences in 2009 that I hope never to forget, many of them being food-related and therefore blog-related, and two of those having happened in November.
I’ve been meaning to write this post since the 9th of last month, after an especially wonderful evening spent with dear friends at a favorite Charlottesville restaurant, and one week after an afternoon spent with the same friends at Double H Farm outside of Charlottesville. On both occasions we were immersed in a local food nirvana, surrounded by the people who produce a good portion of the food served on our household table and others who support their efforts.
What follows is a pictorial tour of both events with some notes on the experiences. I feel that this post will be most enjoyed by those who live in the Charlottesville area and have no doubt eaten pork or eggs or arugula from Double H Farm, had a conversation with Richard and Jean at the Farmer’s Market and perhaps even participated in one of the Local Food and Spirits Nights hosted by Maya. But I hope that my non-local readers will enjoy it as well, and possibly be prompted to explore similar opportunities in their own localities.
And, way down at the bottom of this post, there’s cornbread.
Double H Farm
Many, many thanks to Richard Bean and Jean Rinaldi for inviting us to their home. Double H Farm (which stands for Happy Hearts) provides sustainably raised pork and vegetables to Charlottesville-area restaurants and individual consumers. Richard is one of the only true butchers left in our vicinity, cutting meat on his farm after the pigs have been slaughtered at a licensed, USDA-inspected facility as required by Virginia law. You can read more about his process here.
The Berkshire hogs roam freely on a portion of the 32-acres at Double H Farm. They are curious about visitors at their fence and will come up to say hello if you’re careful not to make sudden movements.
The chickens at Double H provide some of the best eggs I’ve ever tasted. Their yolks are a deep orange and add a luxurious texture to baked goods. The birds are free-roaming; their pen and hen houses are moved by tractor every couple of weeks to a new, fresh piece of land.
Goats. So cute, so friendly. I won’t tell you about their fate as I prefer to think of them happily frolicking around their pen with the Great Pyrenees dogs that act as their protectors.
I just adore the spicy bite that arugula lends to salads and soups, and Richard and Jean grow some of the best around.
One of my favorite veggies – collard greens. I am a southern girl, after all.
Maya : Local Food and Spirits Night : November 9th, 2009
Each month Maya hosts a Local Food and Spirits Night. The restaurant offers a 5-course menu created using only locally-sourced ingredients, each course accompanied by locally-produced spirits. And, even better, the farmers, winemakers and brewers who make this special evening possible are invited to the event so that they may share and discuss their practices with the rest of the guests.
Every item on the menu was local except for the sherry vinegar in the salad dressing and the pecans on the salad. The farmers and winemaker featured at the dinner we attended (along with their contributions) were:
Richard Bean of Double H Farm – pork shoulder, sausage, greens, cornmeal
Megan and Rob Weary of Roundabout Farm – vegetables
Peter Hatch of Monticello Gardens – vegetables
Tom Silliman of Sweet Dog Farm – poultry
Rag Mountain Trout – trout
Gabriele Rausse of Gabriele Rausse Winery – wine
With its dim lighting, exposed brick walls and tiny tea lights on the long community tables adorned with festive autumn leaves, the warm ambience of the upstairs dining room at Maya provided the perfect backdrop for the southern-inspired meal we were served. Outside the air was brisk but inside our bodies were warmed by a subtly smokey white bean soup with andouille sausage, chicken, kale and broccoli. This first course was paired with the Gabriele Rausse Bianco, a white table wine composed of 90% viognier grapes – my personal favorite – aged for five months in French oak barrels. This course fought hard to be my favorite of the evening, but in the end was over-shadowed by the braised pork shoulder. I guess I’m just a sucker for Double H Farm pork.
While enjoying a salad of autumn lettuce, smoked trout, radish, apple and pecans, we learned about the history of the Gardens at Monticello and Thomas Jefferson’s experimentation there. Megan and Rob Weary of Roundabout Farm described their sustainable farming practices and their appreciation of Peter Castiglione and Christian Kelly, owners of Maya, who once explained their desire to own a restaurant that “brings [local] food in the back door to sell out the front“.
The evening continued with more wine from Gabriele Rausse and delicious food from the kitchen. We enjoyed chicken breast rolled with smoked ham, served with collard greens and an appalachian cheese sauce as we heard Tom Silliman of Sweet Dog Farm discuss the joys and challenges of running his family-owned farm and just how he had raised the chicken on our plate. Our party agreed that the third course of braised pork shoulder with mixed greens, gnocci and crumbled bits of bacon was the highlight of the evening, and cheered for our friend Richard as he expressed the importance of eating locally and asking the right questions. “Where does it come from? How was it raised? You’ve got to ask!”
We finished the meal with warm apple tart tatin and the Collage dessert wine; our bellies full, our minds slightly fizzy and our mouths exclaiming that we’d be back again soon. For sure.
Cornbread, for me, is one of the most comforting recipes to make when the weather turns cold. This particular recipe I made with eggs and white cornmeal from Double H Farm and chives from our own garden. Its quite good with a bowlful of piping-hot chili on a frigid evening, a not-so-bad way to welcome Winter and a new year.
Cheddar Chive Cornbread
adapted from The Joy of Cooking
- 1-1/4 cups stone-ground cornmeal
- 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/3 cups milk (I used 1%)
- 3 tbsp melted unsalted butter
- 1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese (this will very based on the strength of your cheese. I used 1/2 cup of cheddar, and wish I’d used more)
- 2 tbsp fresh chives, minced
- Preheat oven to 425*F. Butter a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and the milk.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Fold in the melted butter. Fold in the cheddar and chives.
- Scrape batter into greased baking pan, tilting pan to level. Bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
- Let the cornbread cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes. Invert the pan to release the cornbread and slice into 9 pieces. Serve warm.