Cultivating Flavor

June 28th, 2011

Flavor is the product of maximized potential. In the kitchen, that means preparing high-quality ingredients in a way that draws out the most—and most appealing—flavor and artfully combining those ingredients so that synergy makes the flavors sing. On the farm, flavor comes from choosing crop varieties and animals that have good genetic potential for flavor and providing those crops and animals with the raw materials, growing conditions, and handling they need for flavor production.

In pursuing the connection between farming and flavor, I spoke with farmers in California (Mike Benziger, Bob Cannard, Rick Knoll, Paul Muller, and Tom Willey), New Jersey (Susan and Ted Blew, Ed Lidzbarski, Gary Mount, Jess, Niederer, Chip Shepherd, and David Zaback) and New England (Dan Kittredge and Cheryl Rogowski), as well as chefs (Christopher Albrecht and David C. Felton) with farms right outside their kitchen doors. Most began by talking about the soil. For these farmers and chefs, the flavor of produce, meat, and dairy begins with well-functioning soil biology combined with a broad selection of naturally derived nutrients. In addition to soil health, varietal selection, timing of planting, environmental conditions, timing of harvest, post-harvest handling, and freshness at market were mentioned as factors that contribute to flavor.

In the coming weeks I’ll summarize the interviews here, using each to highlight a different aspect of flavor production. These interviews have a unifying theme: that quality and flavor come from looking to nature for guidance on how best to manage fields and livestock. Another common theme is the importance of combining skill and good information—whether gained through careful observation or scientific analysis—to manage the many interwoven factors that lead to flavor.

Monticello Apple Tasting 2009

October 19th, 2009
Apple Samples at Monticello Apple Tasting

Apple Samples at Monticello Apple Tasting

Monticello’s 2009 Apple Tasting took place on Saturday, October 17. The tasting was held on Tufton Farm, one of the 5 satellite farms that Thomas Jefferson owned near his home, Monticello. Tufton Farm is home to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.

The tasting was led by Tom Burford, an expert on old apple varieties and orchard design and author of several books on apple selection and cultivation. Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello and author of The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello, was also on hand to help with the tasting and to engage in some good-natured sparring with Burford over apple history and lore.

Over the course of 2+ hours, we tasted 21 different apple varieties. Each sampling was accompanied by background information on the apple’s origin and use. Tom Burford also added in lots of tips on apple cultivation and thoughts on how to find and savor the best apples.

This tasting event was highly informative, and yet friendly and casual. The apples–many of which are not commercially grown and are, therefore, impossible to find in the marketplace–were hand labeled using Sharpie markers on stickers and the samples were passed on plastic plates that were also hand labeled. The selection of apples was broad and there were plenty of  samples for everyone to get a good taste. The presenters, who are both extremely knowledgeable and very well-respected in their fields, were full of amusing stories, historical facts, and practical advice for aspiring orchardists.  And, the $10 price tag was a steal for apple lovers who were eager to taste lots of different types of apples side by side.

This year’s apples were Albemarle Pippin, Black Twig, Caville Blanc d’Hiver, Detroit Red, Esopus Spitzenburg, Father Abraham, Grimes Golden, Jonagold, Jonathan, Kinnard’s Choice, Pomme Gris, Ralls Genet, Roxbury Russet, Stayman, Turley Winesap, Virginia Beauty, Virginia Gold, Winesap, Yates, and York. We also tasted Fuji, which is a cross of Ralls and Red Delicious.

My personal favorites were the Albemarle Pippin, Esopus Spitzenburg, Roxbury Russet, and Virginia Beauty. What did the rest of the crowd think? We’ll have to wait until the scores are tallied. In the meantime, you can see the results of previous tastings on Monticello’s Saturdays in the Garden Web site.

View of Tufton Farm

View of Tufton Farm