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Archive for the ‘Producer Profile’ Category

Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Milking the goats at Big Picture Farm

Big Picture Farm has caught the attention of many a candy-eater, gift-giver, artisanal-food junkie and Tumblr user, and the farm’s award-winning goat’s milk caramels are fully deserving of hype and high praise. We proudly stock their precious packages in the bakery window, and hold onto their idyllic postcards behind the bakery to cheer us up. Behind their stunning pictures and doodles of goats, dogs, and garden harvests, however, is a working farm and growing business driven by passionate people.

Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell own Big Picture Farm on more than 150 acres of southern Vermont hillside, in the tiny town of Townshend. There, along with two dozen goats and a small staff, they oversee every step of making their caramels, from field to gift box. (They also make small batches of a tomme-style cheese, a winner at this year’s American Cheese Society Awards!) Their goats spend as much of the year as possible rotating through the lush pastures and woods, gobbling up the seasonal buffet. Louisa and Lucas first fell in love with goats after working at Blue Ledge Farm, another farmstead creamery in Vermont, then came to Townshend to work at the former Peaked Mountain Farm, milking sheep and making a variety of cheeses, all while starting their own small goat herd. Over the next five years, the creation of their caramel recipes, their adorable packaging, and the expansion of their wholesale and mail order business has put Big Picture Farm on the fancy food map.

I spent the past spring and summer at Big Picture Farm, mostly focused on caring for their Saanen, Alpine and Nubian goats, and making and aging cheese. It was hard work that asked a lot of my body and mind each day, but the rewards were endless.

Future goat milk caramel and cheese makers

Future caramel and cheese makers!

A typical day at Big Picture Farm begins with milking and chores at 5:30am (don’t skip out on the coffee), and the goats are always waiting to be fetched for their morning massage and snack. About three hours later, the goats are back out on pasture, napping or browsing, and their fresh, creamy, floral milk is in the tank, ready to be transformed. When most people are starting their workdays, I would be heading in for a second cup of coffee and a farmer’s breakfast, happy to have been up with (or before) the sun and to be in such a beautiful place.

The rest of the day fills up with various work projects, between mucking out the barn, changing the goats’ pasture, caring for dogs, cats, and chickens, and the garden, as well as helping out with packaging and shipping. On cheese making days, one person milks while two others spend all morning around the comforting smells of warming milk in the vat and ripening cheeses in the cave. In what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s 3:30pm and time to prepare for the evening milking. If the confectioner has been at work, the milking parlor has a great mixture of earthy and sugary aromas. Walking out of the big red barn in front of the setting sun, I can pick up ingredients from our garden on my way in for dinner; then, it’s to bed, to do it all over again the next day.

Since moving back to Massachusetts and joining the team at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, I now see the hard work that goes not just into those caramels, but all of our products.

Big Picture Farm Caramels

Big Picture Farm Caramels
(photo courtesy of Big Picture Farm)

We rotate through all four of Big Picture Farm’s glorious goat milk caramel varieties, and currently have three flavors at the Cambridge shop: the original Sea Salt and Bourbon Vanilla, winner of a gold SOFI award in 2012, the Chai, winner of a Good Food Award in 2013, and the Maple Cream. Visit bigpicturefarm.com to find more information about the farm, farmers, and the most adorable and tastiest gift ever. We <3 our small producers!

 

Leah Wang is still a farmer in Vermont and Maine (in her heart and mind), but loves being a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Higher Ground Rooftop Farm

Higher Ground Rooftop Farm

We climb narrow metal steps from the top floor of the Boston Design Center, set out through a heavy, metal door, and over a final raised ledge at the bottom of the door that can only be intended to discourage entrance onto the roof. Even before my eyes adjust to the brilliant sunlight, with my first breath, I can feel the farm in my lungs. It is not exactly just the smell of things growing; more the feeling of being given pure, new oxygen, in even exchange for the CO2 I am offering. When, still squinting, I first see the careful rows of vibrant life, I have that feeling of gazing at a mirage – it seems a bit of that visible, liquidy heat shimmers up into the air just beyond the edge of the rooftop, slightly obscuring the Boston skyline, at eye-level, off in the distance.

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Daphnis and Chloe Herbs: Bay Leaf, Oregano Taygetus, Thyme Blossoms, Greek Mountain Tea

Daphnis and Chloe Herbs:
Bay Leaf, Oregano Taygetus, Thyme Blossoms, Greek Mountain Tea

When I first became the spice buyer at Formaggio Kitchen I was so excited to delve deeper into the incredible, international world of spices. However, the more I traveled, learned and sampled, the more I realized that the spice industry is primarily made up of large producers more concerned with the bottom line than the quality of their product. It became a personal mission of mine to find small scale producers that match the quality-driven philosophy we hold so dear at Formaggio Kitchen. While it was difficult at first, I soon found equally passionate folks dedicated to producing spices of the highest quality. Slowly but surely our selection has transformed, with each little package of herb or spice now representing a regional culinary history and, more often than not, the unique and inspiring story of a passionate producer.

One such story is that of Daphnis and Chloe. Aptly named after a second century Greek love story, this small company introduces customers to Greece’s culinary history through their rare and unique varieties of indigenous herbs and spices. The Greek Archipelago provides natural isolation, allowing for different, ancient varieties of herbs and spices to develop unique characteristics particular to one island alone. Evangelia, the founder of Daphnis and Chloe, first captured my attention with some of the most remarkable oregano that I have ever tried. She found them by combing through the many different isles, working with foragers and organic cultivators to source the most extraordinary varieties.

Evangelia tells the store of Daphnis and Chloe best herself:

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Mottura Vineyard

Porcupine’s eye view of the Mottura Vineyard

This past April the Formaggio Wine Team took a pleasant trip to visit Sergio Mottura’s estate on our way to VinItaly 2014. We flew into Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning and drove north-east towards Umbria. We eventually split off from the crazy A1 autostrada onto small, one-lane roads. Just along the northern border of Lazio we reached the medieval hamlet of Civitella d’Agliano, and the home, hotel and cantina of the Mottura family.

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Big Orange Tomatoes - Red Fire Farm

Big Orange Tomatoes – Red Fire Farm

Spring has finally snuck back into town and I am getting excited about the local, organic produce that will soon be gracing our shelves! On one especially stunning Monday morning, I had the chance to chat with Max Jiusto, the Harvest Manager at Red Fire Farm‘s Montague, MA location (they also have land in Granby, MA).

So what about this winter? Max explained that the extension of winter that we have all been bemoaning set Red Fire back about two weeks in their planting schedule. Even when the top layer of soil started to thaw, the lower layers remained frozen, so water couldn’t drain down into the ground and would just pool in the fields, making planting impossible. They started the plants in the greenhouse at the normal time, however, so even though they will be going into the ground about two weeks late, Max is hopeful that with a little cooperation from the weather, the plants will be able to catch up in their growth and end up maturing right on schedule. (more…)

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Spoonwood Cabin Creamery

A big welcome to the newest cheesemaker on our wall – Spoonwood Cabin Creamery! Spoonwood is a teeny-tiny 1,000 square foot “nano-creamery” in the town of Jacksonville, Vermont, 25 minutes west of Brattleboro – it is owned by Nancy Bergman and Kyle Frey. The name “Spoonwood” refers to the common name for the Mountain Laurel, which is prevalent in the region. (more…)

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Lakritsfabriken Super Salty Licorice

In the spring of 2013, Ihsan and I decided to visit Sweden, Denmark and Norway on a quest for new and delicious foodstuffs. We assumed that we would find lots of pickled herring, canned fish, lingonberry jams, rye crackers and licorice. Overall, we did well, bringing back several new items to the shop. (more…)

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