• Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    Publishers' Note Spring 2010

    In May 2009, the Vermont Legislature took a bold step toward strengthening sustainable agriculture in the state. Our lawmakers passed a bill called The Farm to Plate Investment Program, which seeks to increase economic development in Vermont’s food and farm sector by creating food- and farm-related jobs, improving access to healthy local foods for Vermonters, and expanding local and regional markets for Vermont products. Since the bill’s passage, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund has taken the lead in working with a variety of ag-related groups to develop the 10-year strategic plan mandated by the bill.

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  • Gardening Like the Forest

    Gardening Like the Forest

    Modern gardeners have grown accustomed to segregating different types of plants into different places—herbs in one bed, veggies in another, perennials and flowers somewhere else, while the orchard stands alone. But this isn’t the way things work in a forest. Nature functions in wholes, enabling cooperation between species to generate robust, resilient systems that optimize the use of available sun, water, nutrients, and space.

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  • Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • The World in a Glass of Milk

    The World in a Glass of Milk

    My first memory of drinking milk was walking through the lunch line in my grade-school cafeteria, picking up a red-and-white half pint carton of low-fat milk from an ice-filled service container, and placing it on my plastic tray. After sitting down at a table, everyone would pick up their wet carton and shake it vigorously to blend the frozen crystals with the unfrozen milk. It tasted cold and refreshing, like an unsweetened ice milk slushy, and was a perfect match for a sticky-sweet peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of salty chips.

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  • Pie Local

    Pie Local

    Any critics of the local food movement—anyone who has ever insinuated that it’s elitist or indulgent—should know that at The Pizza Stone in Chester, a pie starts at $8.99. That’s for a large—eight slices—with extra local goodness baked right in: Vermont cheese, meats, veggies, and flour. What allows this new and popular eatery to keep its pies so locally sourced and reasonably priced?

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  • Mycelium Launching

    Mycelium Launching

    Terra Fructi. It sounds like perfect Latin. But Emily Bragonier and Liz Richards will be the first to acknowledge that they took linguistic liberties in creating a name for their new mushroom farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. “It’s actually grammatically incorrect,” Liz admits. “My mother, who is a Latin teacher, told us that terra fructi literally means ‘the earth fertile,’ which doesn’t necessarily say ‘mushrooms.’ But we hoped people would hear it and think of the fruits of the earth.”

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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  • Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Red Hen’s All-Vermont “Cyrus Pringle”

    Those who have been following the various “Localvore Challenges” happening around the state will know that bread made from local flour has always been one of the biggest “challenges” for localvores. In 2006 and 2007, Randy George, owner of Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, produced special “Localvore Loaves” using whole wheat from Vermont, but each loaf came with a full-page disclaimer about why the bread didn’t meet normal Red Hen standards. In the disclaimer, Randy explained that he hoped someday he would be able to make an all-local wheat flour bread that he would be proud to sell alongside his other loaves. Most localvores thought the bread was pretty good, but Randy didn’t feel right putting the Red Hen name on it without his caution and explanation.

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  • King Arthur Flour’s  100% Vermont Bread

    King Arthur Flour’s 100% Vermont Bread

    Wheat breeding for the past century has focused almost exclusively on high-yielding varieties suited to the climates of the Midwest and West, not to New England. Due to our thin and rocky soils, hilly lands, and increasingly wet summers, Vermont wheats don’t have the easy virtues of wheats grown in the Midwest; one might kindly describe them as developmentally challenged. For a long time, this served as an impediment to bakers, and breads were rarely baked exclusively from Vermont grains.

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  • Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Celebrate with “Vermatzah”

    Matzah has been used for centuries to celebrate Passover and the start of spring. Now it can be used to celebrate local wheat and heritage grains, too.

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  • A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

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  • A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

    If I seem a little distracted, it’s most likely because I have to finish an order of cow’s tongue, warm up a duck’s heart, or explain the difference between fat-back and bacon to a curious but suspicious patron. It’s not that I don’t want to sit and talk—I’d love to have a beer with you, talk about where our ingredients come from, let you know that the rabbits really do like to be fed carrots, note the difference between Muscovy and Peking duck. It’s just that right now, there’s a couple in front of the Belgian taps who are waiting on their cheese plate. Be right back…

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Farmers' Kitchen—Seeing Purple

    Many people mark the arrival of spring with the sighting of the first robin. On our farm, the true harbinger of spring is the sight and taste of the first asparagus that noses its way out of the ground. Growing outdoors is a challenge for all farmers in the Northeast Kingdom—where, as the saying goes, one is never sure if a July frost indicates the last frost of spring or the first frost of fall. Asparagus means that spring not only has arrived but is here to stay, a cause for celebration.

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  • Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Last Morsel—A Perfect Day

    Each year, Monkton Central School in the Champlain Valley holds its annual Farming in Monkton Writing Contest. Students in grades 3 to 6 are invited to write a sketch about farming, and entries are evaluated by a local judge. Following is the 2009 winning entry, written by 11-year-old Ashley Turner. It’s a fictional account, based on her real-life experiences on various Monkton farms.

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  • Editor's Note Summer 2010

    Editor's Note Summer 2010

    There’s so much about modern American culture that our farmer ancestors could never have imagined. The popular Facebook game FarmVille comes to mind. That’s where you sit at your computer “harvesting” corn and squash from your virtual farm while studying spreadsheets to make sure your farm is profitable. Yes… your farm… your computer farm.

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • Set the Table with Tortillas

    Set the Table with Tortillas

    I have to admit, having lived in California for more than 20 years, I have a soft spot for Mexican food. Actually, that’s putting it mildly; I could eat it every day. So when we relocated to Vermont to start this latest adventure in our lives, I figured I’d be saying adiós to some beloved friends. No more fresh tortillas steaming hot in a basket to accompany those creamy refried beans.

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  • Buried Treasure

    Buried Treasure

    A buried kimchi pot looks like a small bump in the ground.

    The buried kimchi pot at Laughing Lotus Farm looks like a small bump in the ground in someone’s dooryard, which a visitor could walk past without a second glance.

    “But imagine a field of buried kimchi pots!” Dave Brodrick enthused minutes after I arrived at Laughing Lotus Farm and walked past the bump in the dooryard. I imagined a field of the same small bumps.

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  • Mami and Papi

    Mami and Papi

    My partner, Meg, and I made our first journey to Mexico in the two weeks before Christmas 2009. We enjoyed some beach time on the Pacific, caught a couple of monster fish, and rode a few waves. We were joined there by our friends Isaac and Melissa, Craftsbury residents who are in the Peace Corps in Panama. After a week on the beach we rode the bus inland to Ixtapa. This is four hours southwest of Mexico City, in the state of Guerrero, and is home base for the Reyes Vargas clan. The Reyes Vargas have nine children, and we have gotten to know seven of them over the past four years.

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  • New to America,  Old Hands at Agriculture

    New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Human Manure

    Human Manure

    In gardening, we cannot escape cycles—not that we’d want to, since they’re what keeps the whole party going. There are the obvious cycles, like the eternal cycle of seasons, and the accompanying growth cycle from seed to seedling, to plant, flower, or fruit, and back to seed again. But there’s another cycle taking place in every garden and on every farm that is the most fundamental of all, but nearly invisible.

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  • Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    Farmer's Kitchen—Strawberry Fields

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    Last Morsel—Three Weeks in June

    We arrived at the campground in Watsonville, California, long after dark. Stepping out of the van, I paused, tilting my ear toward the distant sound of crashing waves. Overhead, the moon gleamed, half full beneath a thin layer of clouds. I turned toward the west—at least where I thought west was—and gazed at the ocean. It was glinting, shiny, and mysteriously still. I gazed at it for a long time, absorbing the distant calm of the water. Waves, I thought to myself, must not look the same from a nighttime distance, in hazy moonlight.

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A Nose to Tail Heart to Heart

Brett Champlain

Written By

Brett Champlain

Written on

March 01 , 2010

If I seem a little distracted, it’s most likely because I have to finish an order of cow’s tongue, warm up a duck’s heart, or explain the difference between fat-back and bacon to a curious but suspicious patron. It’s not that I don’t want to sit and talk—I’d love to have a beer with you, talk about where our ingredients come from, let you know that the rabbits really do like to be fed carrots, note the difference between Muscovy and Peking duck. It’s just that right now, there’s a couple in front of the Belgian taps who are waiting on their cheese plate. Be right back…

I think I should introduce myself. I’m that guy, fired from his first job cooking in New York City. Fired from an acclaimed restaurant and asked to come back to their kitchen only months later. I did. And quit weeks into my return with no notice because I didn’t want to make a truffle sauce. I’ve exchanged unsavory parting words with a notable chef, delivering them to him in his dining room, in front of guests, as I walked out of his restaurant to quit on New Year’s Eve. It’s not something I’m proud of—I just want you to know who you’re talking to. I’m that guy, who has cooked at greatly successful joints for such juicy and wide-ranging celebs as Uma Thurman, Jay-Z, Matthew Broderick, even the luminous cabaret star, Poppy Bulova. I’ve cooked in a few of the best-regarded restaurants in the country and at some fantastic flops, too. In a word, my career thus far has been: colorful. I am that guy, but I am not the guy.

Now I am here: Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. We serve the best beers in the world. We have 24 on draft and a slew of bottles. Looking at the list right now, I see beers from near—Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Vermont, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York—and far—Germany, Belgium, and Japan. We stash coveted bottles of beer to age on our reserve list the way a snob hordes grape juice, waiting for it to reach peak drinkability. But we’ll happily crack the cap off a PBR if that’s your fancy.

Yes, we also serve food here. As for that, the main quirk, the quirk that sets our menu apart, is the odds and ends of animals. What I cook is known as offal, variety or organ meats, innards. For some people, these bits qualify as dog food, compost, or even garbage, and are disposed of at home with no further thought. But a decade as a professional cook has provided me ample time to ruminate on these remnants. Now I think of these bits and pieces as underdogs; they are humble with aspirations, ready to be elevated and on par with the perceived “best” cuts of meat. They become classics like Deviled Kidney, or new sensations like Calf’s Heart with Root Beer. I advocate (with a nod to renowned chef Fergus Henderson) “eating the entire beast.” You may ask why. And I may put it in a nutshell.

The notion of eating animals does polarize people. Some say it is amoral or unethical. I say what is amoral is to raise an animal for food in unhealthy conditions, bring it depression, stress, and pain, then kill it and casually discard what isn’t prized. In nose to tail cookery, which seeks to use animals raised humanely and on a small scale, animals are a prized resource, used to the fullest and thus honored. This makes it possible to accept eating animals and to reject their suffering. It’s a partnership: we choose to be buddies with them, giving them pasture, a square meal, free hay if they like, fresh air and sunshine, and then end their life as quickly and painlessly as possible. (Dr. Kevorkian springs to mind.) In return, we get the meat we seem to need. But like any successful partnership we must honor our mate, and an important part of that honoring is bringing out the full potential of what is there. If you’re going to raise and kill, or ask someone else to raise and kill, a handsome pig, don’t you want to give that pig its full honor due? A handsome pig deserves better than to have his heart thrown in the garbage.

I buy animals from Tangletown Farm, a family farm that I know and trust. They’re 10 minutes from here, in Middlesex, and their animals are healthy, robust even, and as happy as can be. When more of an animal is eaten, fewer animals are eaten, which means they can be sourced from small farms like Tangletown, where they live well. This quality of life is not only good for the animals, it also directly translates to a quality end product. When an animal is unhealthy, it shows in the finished dish and it can only be brought to a marginal level of quality. But if one of my guys—a duck, rabbit, what have you—is well looked after, it can then be prepared with patience to yield a simple, eye-openingly good plate of food. And I can do this at an exceptional value without meat from some disgusting factory out West because right now, cow’s heart is less popular than a rib-eye steak, so it costs less to buy.

Don’t care about the animals or the price and just want good food? Fine. That’s totally fair. I also love cooking these bits and pieces because they can be delicious, and offer a lot of variety in flavor and texture. The flavors are milder than most people expect, with that iron richness common to foods like kale and spinach. Sometimes with, like, kidney or liver, the flavor is stronger and complemented with really spicy good mustard or a sauce with nice paprika. (By the way, kidney does not taste of, nor contain, urine.) As for textures, they are subject to the technique of preparation, and range from comforting—tongue is like the best bologna ever, tail like the best pot roast—to challenging—pig’s ear can still have a little crunch to it, so it goes really well with a crisp vegetable slaw. The frying of pig’s ear is the best! It becomes crunchy, salty, fatty, and sticky, and gives you that sort of sleepy, satisfied smirk.

I’ve been cooking at Three Penny since September 2009, and the response has been astonishing. To me it’s just turn-of-the-century, working-class food, but to others it’s so, like, incendiary, man. One person will come in and totally hate me for offering something other than chicken fingers. (Chickens do not have fingers.) Another person will come in and gush about how fantastic it all is, that eating these things reminds them of growing up on the farm, or the food they love in France. This checkered reaction from our patrons keeps things interesting in a way I didn’t really anticipate. Where one is really enthusiastic and shows it (winner!), another openly denigrates. A few are almost hostile. Day Two, writing the menu on the chalkboard, a shout of “GROSS!” echoed through the room. Subsequently this person was in every Friday for weeks, painfully vocal in their disapproval. The semi-rhetorical, “What, do you and your girlfriend just sit around at home all day eating guts?!” could’ve been quietly wondered and not voiced. But there is a lot to learn by the way a guest responds. There may be 10 items on the menu and only one “oddball,” but the oddball will steal the show.

Best, though, is that no matter the response, everyone thinks and talks about the menu, and that’s good. Whether you are eating or talking, it’s good to think before you open your mouth. Now, I should get back to work.

Photo by Caroline Abels

About the Author

Brett Champlain

Brett Champlain

Brett Champlain is currently seeking political asylum in Vermont. He is having a nice time and wishes to thank his family.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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