Back to school time is either right around the corner or right now, depending on where you live. Lunch is officially on the to-do list.
If you’re anything like us, you really (really! really!) care about food. But, your’e also too busy to spend gobs of time slaving over a hot lunchbox. Skip the same ol’ sandwiches and upgrade to these simple, nourishing, day-making delicacies.
Nina Planck wrote the book on Real Food. Literally. Nina is a farmer’s daughter, food writer and advocate for traditional food. (Oh, and did we mention she is the wonderful wife of Murray’s Big Cheese, Rob Kaufelt?) Plus, she lives what she writes–a life of real and wonderful food. Here’s what she’s packing in her three kids’ lunch boxes this fall:
Kids need protein. Nina and Rob’s kids eat Prosciutto di Parma, made in essentially the same way since the Romans: by massaging the hind legs of whey-fed hogs (leftover from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano) with salt, washing, then dry-aging the meat for 10-12 months, and sometimes even longer. The flavor is perfumy and sweet, beloved by kids and adults alike. We’re all about serving it for lunch with chunks of Pamigiano Reggiano, or pressed into panini. More of Nina’s protein-rich picks: boiled eggs and chef Amy’s egg salad, available at the Bleecker Street store.
Kids need fresh fruit and veggies. Plus all this calls for a little crunch, so they eat pickles. We love Crisp and Co. pickles, which are snappy, friendly and complex enough for kids and grown-ups. Founder Thomas Peter of Hockessin, DE, uses his background — a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, a former career as a cancer researcher and passion for molecular gastronomy — to create pickle perfection.
Welcome back to fall, a new school year, and lots of real and delicious food to fuel your full and amazing life…and your kids’ minds, bodies and tummies.
On Thursday, five of us from Murray’s packed a car full of cheese and took off northward, towards Vermont. Our plan: spend time at Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery before heading to celebrate all things Vermont Cheese at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival.
Come Saturday, we had spent a whirlwind 48 hours driving, hanging out with so-cute-it-hurts goats and their kids and whey-eating piglets, getting up before the crack of dawn to make Rupert (ok, mostly watching the lovely cheesemakers at Consider Bardwell make Rupert), tasting through so many batches of Bayley Hazen our tongues got all tingly, walking through farms, suiting up for the caves…and eating cheese and more cheese, and then some more cheese. Some Vermont beer to watch it down. Then more cheese.
We’re all happy, excited and fired up. The postcard-worthy, saturated green landscapes of Vermont never get boring. Vermont summer is truly magnificent. At night, us city kids ogle a blanket of stars, deep quiet. At Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery the cheeseheads are so ridiculously generous with their time and knowledge that I’m inspired to be a better human being.
But hay! I digress.
Before this weekend, I spent approximately zero time thinking about hay. It was Mateo Kehler, who started and runs Jasper Hill with his brother Andy, who urged us to wake up early (so early!) and see his newest treasure: a hay drier. It didn’t really sound sexy. Sleep sounded better than a hay drier. But Mateo was pumped up, and so hay it was.
“It smells so good,” he said, that some time in and around his fragrant hay would make everyone want us. When we opened the car doors, the heady fragrance hit us. Long inhales. Like just-mown lawn and wildflowers and sunshine…it was a magic smell.
Great cheese starts with great milk. Great milk comes from happy cows. Mateo and his team at Jasper Hill have pioneered hay drying technology to feed their herd (really) well in the winter.
“The microbial quality of the milk is the sum total of all the practices on the farm,” he told us around some of his super fragrant hay. We kept sniffing. Rachel, Murray’s Cheese Bar’s cheese goddess, was getting inspired about cooking with hay. Mateo gave her a few baggies to take home. As I write, she’s experiment in the kitchen. Stay tuned.
I didn’t know hay is so hard to come by. The fields need three or four consecutive days without rain for the grass to be dry enough to gather and make hay. And cheese requires a gigantic amount of hay. One ton of hay yields about 850 pounds of milk, which makes about 100 pounds of cheese. That comes out to 20 pounds of hay for one pound of cheese.
Mateo’s hay drier is the first of its kind in North America. It means fields can be harvested after just two dry days, rather than four. It means he doesn’t have to rely on hay from Canada, or even worse, fermented silage, which is tough on cow tummies and makes less wonderful milk. “The health benefits for our animals are huge,” Mateo told us. “It’s about preserving the biology of grass on the field. Everything–ecology, bedding, eating, milking–everything effects the quality of the milk.”
“What we’re really doing is supporting a farm and a community. Cheese is the vehicle by which we do so.” We could feel that in Vermont. We met farmers, milkers, cheesemakers, affineurs, cheese-lovers, their family, their friends…a true community. It all starts with the hay. And these people. And their love.