Showing posts with label Montana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montana. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Forging Health and Heritage

We unwittingly ingest a lot of plastic. Aside from hidden amounts that leach into every pore of our petroleum-based lives, the stacks of peeling non-stick cooking utensils in any thrift store are an obvious visual confirmation.

Too convincing to ignore, evidence about the hazards of consuming synthetic polymers is reviving an appreciation for all-metal cookware that endures, and can even improve, through generations of use. Of course, ingested metal is not always benign.  A classic example is the likelihood that lead leached from water pipes and pewter wine goblets caused the insanity that helped to end the Roman Empire. And everyone today should be aware of hazardous mercury levels in seafood.

Parmesan Cheese Kettle - Bra, Italy
Many common metals, though, are proving to be the best choice for use in the kitchen, especially those that are a natural part of the human body. A growing food safety awareness is polishing the gleam on copper cookware for its inherent microbial properties which is old news to traditional Parmesan and Gruyere cheesemakers who may still be using the same copper production kettles their ancestors forged generations ago.

Credit: Blu Skillet
Blending art with utility, hand crafted metal cookware casts its beauty on everyday life. For artisan level producers, such as Blu Skillet Ironware in Seattle's Ballard district and Brooklyn Copper Cookware in Brooklyn, New York, the greatest challenge has been keeping pace with customer demand.
Credit: Brooklyn Copper

Brooklyn Copper Cookware (BCC) was deluged with orders soon after it opened near the abandoned site of America's last great copper cookware manufacturer, the Bruno Waldow Company.

In response, BCC expanded its business model through partnerships with other artisan coppersmiths and expects to soon launch a new chapter in the history of hand made American cookware. The BCC website is brimming with reverence for the art of heirloom kitchen tools.

For those looking to try their own hand at working metal, the Farm to Table concept outlines a logical path for learning the craft. Start with simple (and forgiving) garden tools before taking on the more demanding pots and pans.

Every Summer in Montana, brothers Mark and Dennis Van der Meer of Bad Goat Forest Products offer affordable workshops on forging your own garden tools.  The Van der Meers are thorough but entertaining instructors with a contagious passion for metal work. Even the distraction of earning advanced degrees in various sciences didn't pull them away from the hammer and anvil. The Farm Hack video below is an overview of a typical workshop experience.

Durable handcrafted metal tools for the kitchen and garden are a bridge between preserving our heritage and sustaining our future. In the present, they are the essence of timeless pleasure.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spreading the Curd in Montana

Regan deVictoria and Cheese!
When I suggested Gordon Edgar's book “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” as a summer reading selection at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library, I never imagined it would lead to a small scale artisan cheese festival.

An Overflow Crowd Attended
Regan deVictoria, the library’s programming manager, ran with the suggestion. So on August 16th, Butte hosted the largest celebration of handmade cheese ever held in Montana. More than eighty people (double the expected number) enjoyed nearly four hours of curd related talk, tasting and making in the main lobby of the public library.

Matt Moore ~ Cheesemaking
The event opened with a local home cheesemaker, Matt Moore, demonstrating a mozzarella make. Matt started by saying he became a cheesemaker after reading a book he got at the library, Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheese Making. Matt has been up to his elbows in curd ever since. Some type of cheese sandwich accompanies his toddler son’s every meal.

Close Up of a Tasting Tray
Next the crowd indulged in tasting twenty-two cheeses that I brought from the American Cheese Society Conference sale in Madison, WI.

For many people in the audience, it was the first time they had tasted goat or sheep milk cheeses. Regan herself is now a goat cheese evangelist. With cheese taste and talk still swirling on their tongues, the audience then become absorbed in an hour long conversation, storytelling and QA session with Gordon Edgar.

We connected with Gordon through Skype as he sat in his San Francisco apartment and felt entirely at home with him, as though we were all in the same room.

Live Skype Session with Gordon
Thanks to the effort of many good people, the entire event worked like magic. On a Friday night in an historic hard rock mining town, an admiration for handmade food was reborn.

Twenty-two Handmade Cheeses
Cheese and tech geeks together in the open ferment of ideas in a public library...the perfect recipe for enchantment.

Samples Included a First Place Blue

Food ~ The First Fuel of Industry

Uptown Butte in the 1940s
Uptown Butte in the 1940s
Built on a steep mountain grade in the late 1800's, "The Richest Hill on Earth" was intended to be a powerful place from the very beginning. With wide streets, tall buildings, and sweeping mountain views, Butte is a city that once mattered very much; and the hope of re-capturing that stature continues to nourish its dreams.

Fueling the Melting Pot

Rocky Mountain Cafe Private Dining Room
Rocky Mountain Cafe Private Dining Room
The city's notorious mining history, though, often overshadows recognition for the broad cultural diversity of its immigrant residents, and at the heart of those cultures was food. Indeed, Butte's reputation for fine dining and authentic ethnic cuisine endured long after the mining operations were in decline.

Now in its tenth printing, The Butte Heritage Cookbook is a cherished record of culinary life in the Mining City; and it underscores the value of promoting, maintaining and enriching Butte's legacy of artisan food production and fusion.

Foreword to The Butte Heritage Cookbook, written by Jean McGrath, Editor.
Butte Heritage CookbookIn 1885, Butte was booming with a population of 22,000, largely foreign-born, the majority of whom were Cornish and Irish immigrants (miners) who had found their way into the camp. Around the turn of the century, when vast migrations of people from Europe seeking freedom and a better life arrived in this country, Butte received its share of newcomers. The population swelled to 47,635, with an estimated 50% listed as foreign-born. Also, by then a number of settlers had come west to rebuild their lives and fortunes after the Civil War.

In 1918, when the town reached its peak population, some authorities (unofficially) estimated the number of people in Butte and the surrounding area to be 100,000. At one time there were as many as 50 nationalities represented in Butte's population. No matter what the differences in racial origin, religion and custom, there has always existed a bond of hospitality among Butte cooks; and no matter from whence they came, they brought something from which we have borrowed to enrich our present-day tables. 
Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century gourmet observed, "The pleasures of the table are of all times and all ages, of every country and of every day." This is a town where the Cornish pasty and Serbian povetica share equal billing; where on St. Patrick's Day corned beef, washed down with green beer, is devoured with as much gusto by the Finns, the Cornish, and the Serbs, as by the Irish; where out-of-town visitors dining at Butte's famous Italian restaurants marvel at a side dish called sweet potato salad inherited from an early-day French restaurant proprietor; where an Italian immigrant family made famous a Spanish tamale; and an Italian miner willingly swapped as share of his bucket of "dago red" for a generous portion of Cousin Jack's oversized pasty. 
Collectors of Butte nostalgia discover how closely the story of food is woven into the fabric of the community. In the single man's era of Butte, hundreds of boarding houses dotted the hillside. Restaurants and saloons, breweries and bakeries were an important facet of the town's colorful business community. The Cornish pasty was adopted by all as the miner's main lunch-bucket meal. Teddy Taparish, from Dalmatia, received world-wide acclaim with his famous Italian Rocky Mountain Cafe. In the days of the Copper Kings, the Silver Bow Club wined and dined the most prominent of the nation's financial world.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Feed Your Dreams

Assorted French Vinaigre
Assorted French Vinaigre
Assorted Imported Pasta
Assorted Imported Pasta
Imagine you are invited to shop at a gourmet food store that was profiled in Specialty Foods Magazine. Where would you expect to find it?  Portland? Seattle? San Francisco?  How about Red Lodge, Montana? Already on a short list of heavenly retreats, Red Lodge is also becoming a mecca of artisan food production with specialty retailer, Babcock and Miles, at the epicenter of excitement.

Signature Babcock and Miles Spices
Babcock and Miles Spices
Satisfying a HungerOwners Andrew and Karen Porth, an architect and neurologist respectively, fell in love with Red Lodge in 2005. An original Montana mining settlement near the historic gateway to Yellowstone Park, it is now a year-round resort area of  renowned beauty and recreation Red Lodge, though, is a far distance from the usual culinary charms of a major metropolitan area. So to satify their own hunger for fine cuisine, the Porth's opened Babcock and Miles in 2008.

Steve Haman - Babcock and Miles Wine Specialist
Steve Haman ~ Babcock and Miles Wine Specialist
A Tasteful RevivalDetermined to save a building that “needed love”, the Porth’s purchased one of Red Lodge’s oldest and most notorious landmarks. A former brothel turned girls school turned bike shop and bakery, the structure was literally rotting from the ground up when they started renovation. Extensive repairs, which included lifting the entire building in order to construct a new foundation, took place before the exquisite exterior restoration could begin.

Extensive Cheese Selection
Extensive Cheese Selection
Only the BestNext Andrew and Karen filled their shop with curated selections of the best cheeses, wines and specialty foods available from both local suppliers and throughout the world. The crowning touch was hiring a dedicated professional staff that customers have come to know as a consulting resource even when they are outside of Red Lodge.The shop sends products to all parts of the country on an almost daily basis.  Steve Haman, the resident Wine Buyer, regularly advises customers from outside Montana calling for his recommendations, even on wines that he can't ship to them because of state laws. It is this level of personal trust and rapport that allows such a high end shop to flourish in a small Montana resort town of under 2,500 residents.

The Finest Tools and Supplies
The Finest Tools and Supplies
Locating the SecretBeing a bona fide treasure, Babcock and Miles is slightly hidden from the beaten path. In Red Lodge, though, that only means turning a corner off the main street. Feed your dreams at Babcock and Miles! Babcock & Miles, Ltd. 105 12th St, Red Lodge, Mt 110 ft E (406) 446-1796

A Secret of Sweet Success

The King's Cupboard Dessert Sauces
The King's Cupboard Dessert Sauces
Nestled at the base of the Beartooth Mountains, The King’s Cupboard is the bedrock of artisan-scale food production in Red Lodge, Montana. Now in operation for over twenty years, West Fork Creations, Inc. (dba The King’s Cupboard) began producing exquisite dessert sauces in Red Lodge in 1990. Owners Lila Randolph-Poore and Rigger Poore are both molecular biologists. Deciding to settle so far from the usual employment centers of their specialized field, they looked for other ways that their skills could provide a livelihood.

Rigger and Lila Poore - 2004 Wine and Food
Rigger and Lila Poore
2004 Wine and Food
In this 2004 Food and Wine interview, Lila explained how their exploration naturally led them to food, "Kitchens are exactly like laboratories," says Randolph-Poore. "They're both all about experimentation." Beginning in their commercially certified home kitchen with a recipe for Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce, handed down from Lila’s grandmother, their production operation has grown into a 15,000 square foot facility with a global customer base.  The following 2013 NASFT excerpt profiles their success.
King's Cupboard-JarTop
King's Cupboard New Label
King’s Cupboard products have won thirteen NASFT (National Association for the Specialty Food Trade) “Outstanding Product” (SOFI) nominations and awards in addition to many regional honors and have been featured in leading national publications and on The Food Network.
 King's Cupboard crafts an exquisite array of cleanly packaged, all-natural delights, including a line of USDA certified organic chocolate dessert sauce, organic caramel dessert sauce and organic brownie baking mix. Kosher certified, USDA Organic certified, GMO-free and Gluten-free items available. Private label dessert sauces and private label baking mixes are available. King's Cupboard is an expert in food safety and maintains a BRC certified facility.

Heart and SoulCommitment to quality extends well beyond the flavor and texture of their products. As outlined in the History page of the King's Cupboard Website,  up to 70% of their ingredients are locally sourced. Anything that can be recycled is, including the heat from processing equipment.  And support for the surrounding community is written into the Core Goals of their Mission Statement. Because King's Cupboard products are sold internationally and also marketed under a broad range of well-known signature brands, food safety standards and compliance are strictly maintained.

Lila and Rigger with Awards - FoodSpring Interview
 Lila and Rigger with Awards
Food Magazine Interview
Red Lodge Montana
Red Lodge Montana
Sweet DecisionsThe King's Cupboard produces over fifteen varieties of dessert sauce, including certified organic and sugar-free. If that selection is still not enough to satify your cravings, there are cocoa beverages, frostings, and baking mixes. Their rich and versatile cream caramel sauce has also been used to glaze ham and to pair with cheese. All this lushious temptation is available online at, and along with many brick and mortar specialty food shops.

The sweetest treat of all, though, is knowing that this global, sustainable, artisan scale food company is thriving in a small town in Montana! CONTACT:Dave Beach, VP Sales King’s Cupboard 800-962-6555 ext. 106