Archive for October, 2003

Blackberry Farm

Monday, October 6th, 2003

If you have plans to visit Graceland or the Grand Ole Opry, then you must spend a couple days at Blackberry Farm. It is a charming country inn located at the foot of the Smokey Mountains about 30 minutes from Knoxville Tn.

Blackberry Farm has 44 rooms majestically situated on 2500 acres of rolling hills. There are two main guest houses perched high on the hill with rocking chairs on the back veranda. Perfectly manicured lawns roll down to a beautiful fishing pond framed by acres of magnificent mountains. In addition to the two main guest houses, there are 18 cottage suites all beautifully appointed with antique furniture, fine linens and fireplaces. A walk around the property reveals horse stables, trout streams, 2 fishing ponds, and beautiful open meadows.

The Inn has won numerous awards; and recently was selected by Zagat as the #1 small hotel in America. It provides an excellent mix of relaxation and invigoration. To chill out you can lounge by the pool, or read a book in those great rocking chairs. Also an approved Aveda Concept Spa is available in an 1870s farmhouse offering full massages, facials and other forms of pampering. For more vigorous activity, take fly fishing lessons, go horseback riding, or hike through the miles of mountainous trails.

To make this truly a 5 star experience, the restaurant is absolutely spectacular. When you sit for breakfast and the chef sends a tasting plate with 2 buttermilk biscuits the size of a dime, covered in homemade strawberry preserves, you know the food is going to be extraordinary. Chef Fleer, a CIA graduate, utilizes the bounty of the season, combined with some of the mainstays of Southern cooking to offer a simple, yet elegant cuisine. Tea smoked rack of lamb with sweet garlic wilted watercress and red pepper grits was just one of the outstanding meals I had. A very comprehensive wine list is available, including a large selection of half bottles.

WINE OF THE MONTH: Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre 1999 ($20)

Sunday, October 5th, 2003

Allegrini is an outstanding winery in northeastern Italy that is known for producing some of the best Valpolicella and Amarone. The Palazzo Della Torre is made of a similar mix of grapes used in Valpolicella: Corvina Veronese (70%), Rondinella (25%), and Sangiovese (5%); but it is made in an innovative ripasso style. Most (70%) of the grapes and are vinified immediately, but the remaining 30% are left to dry on the vine till December before they are mixed in. This is a truly delicious wine. The ripasso technique reduces the acidity and increases the concentration, resulting in a full bodied wine which is very smooth. It is a harmonious blend of black jammy fruit layered with spices that provides a long finish. It’s a great wine that is drinking well right now.

Parmigiano Reggiano

Saturday, October 4th, 2003

In the world of cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is often referred to as the “king”. This Italian cheese has been hand made using the same process for 8 centuries. During a recent trip to Parma I learned what makes this cheese so special.

If you ever had a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated over your pasta, then you understand all the fuss. Unfortunately the prepackaged can on your supermarket shelf doesn’t taste the same. Once the cheese is cut or grated, it oxidizes in the air and looses flavor rapidly. At home to preserve the freshness, always rewrap the wedge of cheese in a new piece of saran wrap after it has been cut.

So why is this cheese so special? It’s not only the sharp taste, it’s the texture as well. The cheese is still made by hand, usually only 8 to 12 wheels at a time. Mass produced cheese made by modern machines results in a very consistent product. But this consistency can also be seen as monotonously bland. Parmigiano Reggiano, on the other hand, has a mixture of creamy, flaky and crunchy textures. It’s this variety and it’s intense flavor that make it so exciting.

The process to produce Parmigiano Reggiano is rather unique. The production begins with cow’s milk from two consecutive milkings. The evening milk is left overnight to separate naturally, and the cream is then skimmed off. This partially skimmed milk is then mixed with the whole milk from the next morning’s milking. Because this process utilizes part skim milk, it is one of the lowest in fat and cholesterol.

The production is highly regulated by The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano , and can only be produced in an area of Emilia Romagna with most of the production in Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena. The aging process affects the cheese since the storage areas are not temperature controlled and season temperatures vary significantly. More specifically, cheese made in the summer is stored in warm conditions causing the butterfat to rise to the surface and evaporate. The resulting cheese is drier after it is aged and is the best selection for grating. Cheese, however, made in winter, has a higher level of butterfat after it is aged. This cheese is a bit creamier in texture and becomes the better choice to serve in chunks. Cheese is typically aged from 18 months to 3 years, with 18-24 months being the most common. Cheese that is aged for 3 years is very sharp and intense, and is an acquired taste.

The Consorzio go through great pains to insure that production follows the same methods proven successful over hundreds of years. This is terrific for us, the consumer, because we are 100% sure that we are getting an authentic product. Each cheese wheel has Parmigiano Reggiano etched all around the rind. And this etching can be easily seen on each wedge you purchase.

Life is too short for imposters, buy only the authentic Parmigiano Reggiano; and remember to ask for the season that best reflects how you want to serve the cheese.

Apples, Apples, Everywhere

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

Apple picking is one of the great joys of fall. A recent visit to the Halsey Apple Orchard in Bridgehampton, NY was an experience. John Halsey is an 11th generation farmer, and he grows 23 varieties of apples on 20 acres. Since apples mature at different times, 4 were available for picking: McIntosh and Jonamacs both semi-tart, and Empires and Cortlands which are tart varieties. Not only is it a treat to walk the of acres of farmland, but selecting your favorite apples right from the tree is the best way to enjoy their freshness.

Ever notice how a just picked apple is crisp, tart, and bursting with fresh flavor? How about apples in March? Aren’t they often tasteless with a mushy texture? The reason is that apples only hold there flavor for about a month after they are picked, then they begin to deteriorate. So, how do we know if they are fresh? Look for the bloom. No, it’s not a flower, it’s the natural white film that forms on the skin of an apple which is a byproduct of the fresh sugars inside. Unfortunately, that shiny bright apple on the grocer’s shelf may look pretty, but good luck trying to tell if it’s fresh. Your best bet is to support your local farmers at their orchard or at a farmers market.

Apples range from sweet to tart, and which is best is a matter of personal preference. Most farm stands will allow you to sample the different varieties available. It is important to keep in mind, however, that you want a firm apple if you are making pies. For applesauce I prefer a tart apple such as a Cortland. The following recipe is a simple, yet delicious chunk style, unsweetened applesauce. For a slightly sweeter taste, add a little brown sugar.

Apple Sauce
6 apples peeled, cored and cut in 2 inch chunks
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon juiced
1/2 cup water
Heat ingredients for 10 minutes at medium heat, then simmer with top on until desired consistency is reached.

Worth seeking out…

Thursday, October 2nd, 2003
Italian tuna
packed in olive oil is delicious, Flott and A’s do Mar are two good producers. Available at Italian specialty stores and at www.todarobros.com
Chioggia Beets
sometimes called candy stripped beets are slightly sweeter and more mellow than red beets. But their real point of difference is that they don’t bleed like their red relatives. Available at farm stands in the fall.
Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
goat cheese from California illustrates the quality from some of the artisanal cheese makers today. Available at Murray’s Cheese 275 Bleeker St. NYC or www.murrayscheese.com