Food: The Buzz on BeeGeorge

Being surrounded by approximately half a million bees is not necessarily on everyone’s comfort level. But that’s what happened when Chesapeake Harvest visited one of our honey suppliers, George Meyer (aka BeeGeorge.) in Oxford, MD. We were instructed to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, but despite the almost 80-degree weather, added a winter jacket and boots for the extra protection we thought we’d need.

After BeeGeorge outfitted us in the standard beekeepers’ hat and long gloves, we watched as he lightly and bare-handedly moved a swarm to a ‘roomier location.’ As the bees noisily buzzed around us, we asked for reassurances: how many times has he been bitten, could they come through the netting to bite our face, etc. He corrected us: It’s a sting, not a bite. Semantics. Either way, we wanted to experience neither.

We then moved into a large area containing numerous ‘wooden boxes.’ BeeGeorge’s honey is well-known in this area, but we also learned he sells starter hives to new beekeepers. Known as ‘nucs’ these fully functional small hives include a laying queen, which he explained, “We’re going to tag!”

Opening a nuc, he removed each of the five frames containing either brood or pollen. He located and removed the queen, again with no protection on his hands, put her in a special ‘cage,’ where he marked her with a small spot of paint on her back, before gently returning her to her colony.

It wasn’t too long after that we ditched the bulky gloves with the realization that everything we thought about bees had changed. Before leaving, we asked what each of us can do to protect these miraculous creatures. BeeGeorge advised:

Plant flowers.
Buy local honey.
Don’t spray insecticides or weed killer, if possible. But if you do—
Don’t spray when it’s windy.
Don’t spray your flowers.
Spray at first or last light.
Mow before spraying.
Mow but don’t kill your dandelions and clover.

Chesapeake Harvest proudly carries BeeGeorge’s honey on our online marketplace/farmer’s market of locally produced food and food-related products.

Chesapeake Harvest is an organization working to build a vibrant local food economy, producing healthy food, expanding economic opportunities for Delmarva farmers, and growing new markets for local food. For more information, go to https://chesapeakeharvest.com/

For the Love of Cheese: Alp Trosen’s Connection to the Eastern Shore

Before I tasted “Alpage”, (seasonally produced cheese made from alpine-grazed milk), my childhood memory of Swiss cheese was a square of cheese with holes in it usually paired with ham for sandwiches.

Then I tasted the Alpkase cheese at Piazza Italian Market as part of its “Adopt-an Alp” promotion. It was fresh and creamy and piqued my curiosity about this type of cheese made in Switzerland. Historically, many cheeses in Alpine countries were produced via the principle of “transhumance”. As the summer sun warmed the slopes and fresh green grass sprouted, the cows and their herdsmen left their valley homes in search of higher feeding areas. At the end of the day, cows and their farmers retired to small huts for the night throughout Switzerland’s Alps.

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Piazza’s adopted Alp for 2019 is Alp Trosen, located in the Sankt Gallen canton of northeast Switzerland. This alp is rich in history, for the Silk Road once passed through Alp Trosen and there is historic evidence of human habitation on this alp long before Marco Polo passed through. Each summer, Jakob Knaus, Sr., leaves his home in the valley below, hikes up the mountain with his herd of cows to live in a one room stone hut built into the hill. Every evening for nine weeks, he sleeps in the loft above the stables below. The hut has a solar panel for electricity and a government-required water filter; otherwise, his summer home has no modern amenities. On the site of this humble 500-year-old hut, transhumance and cheesemaking continue the tradition begun over 2,000 years ago. Knaus and an assistant use a copper kettle over a wood fire to make Alpkäse cheese by hand once a day, every day and the result is a cheese full of flavor. The milk comes from his herd of cows that is exclusively eating wild grasses, herbs and flowers and drinking fresh water from the streams cascading down the Alpine slopes. This is beyond organic and the resulting flavor of the cheese is a pure expression of the Alp and its microclimate. It is truly a beautiful cheese from a beautiful place.

The production of Alpage has increased over the last five years, arguably due to the Adopt-an-Alp program. This initiative was created by native born Swiss Caroline and Daniel Hostettler of Quality Cheese, Inc. They are passionately committed to generating awareness and appreciation for the endangered practice of transhumance and to highlight “real” Swiss cheeses. To date, over 100 retailers throughout the United States have participated in the Adopt-an-Alp promotion. Each store adopts an Alp and agrees to purchase a certain allotment of cheese in advance from an alpage cheese producer. Stores are encouraged to think of creative ways to promote the cheese and for the past four years, Quality Cheese has selected three winners to accompany them to Switzerland and to visit the stores’ adopted Alps.

This year, Piazza won the “Adopt an Alp” promotion contest for the second time. As the Director for Special Projects, I was the store’s representative and joined the other winners for a week’s tour hosted by the Hostettlers of the four Alps adopted by the winning stores. Our visit to Alp Trosen began by meeting Lucia Knaus, Knaus Sr.’s daughter-in-law, at the family’s home in the valley. I told Lucia I was an architect and how much I admired the design of her beautifully crafted Swiss chalet styled home, especially the decorative window trim. She beamed with pride as she told me her husband built it himself from trees cut in their own forest!

Lucia’s husband had just moved the cows to the higher Alp so she drove us up through breathtaking scenery as far as you could see of granite peaks with a layer of snow down to the green slopes below. We found the Knaus herd of cows happily spread out among the grazing areas and some were enjoying lounging on a patch of snow that from a distance resembled an ice rink! The cows all had names and were very happy in the company of human strangers. I reached out to scratch one cow under her neck as I would my cat and the cow ecstatically moved her head left and right as her cowbell rang joyfully. When I moved away to join my fellow “Alpeneers” my new “bestie” attempted to follow me for the rest of the tour!

Even though this was a busy workday for the Knaus’ and their worker, Lucia graciously treated our group to a midday meal of cheese and cured meats from their cows, of course. With the first bite of cheese, scents of grass, herbs and milk all combined to create a delicious treat. What is amazing about Alpage is that the daily production of cheese differs in taste from the previous one-the taste depends upon the cow’s daily meal of grass, herbs, and flowers and the proportions of each “course” of her meal. This is organic food at the highest level.

As we left the cows contently grazing in their picture perfect Alpine surroundings, the melodic sound of their cowbells followed us down the mountain. Each farmer’s cowbells have a distinctive sound so he/she can recognize it as the cows prepare to come in at the end of the day for milking. I came away with a renewed respect for this ancient method of making cheese and grateful that I can purchase Alpage over 4,000 miles away at Piazza Italian Market. If you haven’t tasted this cheese yet, visit Piazza for a sample and it will be hard for you to leave without a purchase. Most importantly, you will be helping a farm family in Switzerland keep their tradition of transhumance alive.

The “Adopt-an-Alp” program was created by Caroline Hostettler of Quality Cheese and it is officially supported by Schweizerischer Alpwirtschaftlicher Verband (SAV), (Swiss Society of Alp Economy), a Swiss government agency for protecting and marketing Alp products. For more information, visit here.

 

All cheeses sold through the Adopt-an-Alp program are exclusively imported by Mifroma and distributed by Atalanta Corp World’s Best Cheeses (WBC). Piazza Italian Market offers Alp Trosen’s Alpkase and Sbrinz AOP, another cheese made in Switzerland.

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

Mid-Shore Food: Back to the Beginning in WC’s Food Lab with Dr. Bill Schindler

Perhaps the most the general public knows about Washington College’s Eastern Shore Food Lab, at least until recently,  was its dubious distinction as being the entity that replaced the beloved Blue Heron restaurant. In a town experiencing a shortage of fine dining venues, it didn’t matter what the mission of Washington College’s innovative program was; it was a villain in the town’s quest to eat well.

But now that the doors are open, including its participation in First Fridays each month, the more the  residents know about the Food Lab, the more they realize was a remarkable gem it will be for the community. And perhaps even more ironically, it may be the best thing that ever happened to those same people eager to eat well.

No one has been more proactive in getting the word out on the mission of this program than its founder and director, WC professor Bill Schindler.

Already having established a national reputation in experiential anthropology and with appearances on the National Geographic Channel, Schindler was well aware that it was his job to let people know what the Food Lab was all about and how the local community plays a critical role in its purpose.

In short, Bill argues that our modern food system is an extraordinary failure. America’s addiction to processed food has led to the sad reality of not only having one of the highest obesity rates in the world but that its victims experience chronic malnutrition at the same time.

The Food Lab aims to provide students the opportunity to understand that our food system was not always like this. Through the lens of anthropology, they become familiar with how human beings had extraordinary skills, developed over centuries, to reaping the benefits of their hunting and gathering with highly nutritional food.

Rather than leave it there, Schindler also wanted to serve the community he and his family have lived in for the past ten years. Beyond the academic hat he wears, the professor is also, at heart a grassroots advocate for changing America’s food habits. It was clear when he envisioned the food lab seven years ago, that Chestertown and the Mid-Shore region must be part of this culinary revolution.

In what we hope will be a regular check-in with Bill, the Spy sat down with him in the Eastern Shore Food Lab center last month to talk about our cultural history with food, the current challenges in our current food system, and his views on eating meat, perhaps one of the most controversial issues being discussed these days due to conservation impact and humanitarian concerns.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length. For more information about the Eastern Shore Food Lab please go here

 

 

 

Spy Food: A Very Special Squeeze

It catches your eye. Lemons from Sorrento, Italy at $6.99 a pound. The lemons are large and juicy. The color is beautiful, but the color doesn’t increase the cost. Weighing it at a bit over 8 ounces produces an eye popping price when compared to the offering at a local supermarket selling their lemons for 79 cents each.

Still, standing in the Piazza Italian Market and discussing the quality of these lemons with the proprietor, Emily Chandler, the desire to buy and try this unique experience is strong. After all, if you traveled to Sorrento, how would you bring a few of these beautiful lemons back into the country.

This is a lemon where every part of it deserves to be used! So, while preparing dinner, a twist of lemon from the Bella Vita lemon provided an exquisite experience at cocktail time, building confidence in the wisdom of making the investment in a lemon from Italy.

In fact, it was so good that I tried, as suggested in an online story, just enjoying the fruit by itself. Amazingly good!

We enjoyed some lemon juice on our meal and confidence was high with regard to the real lemon expert in the family….my wife.

I explained just how remarkable this experience really was, dining while enjoying this Italian lemon. So, the question was popped….what did she think. “Well,” says she, “it tastes like a lemon.”

High praise, I suppose, from someone who likes fresh lemon juice on most things…and, after all, it really should taste like a lemon.

Like so many things in life, the total experience is what’s important. I’ve never taken so much time focusing a dinner on a lemon….come to think of it, I’ve never written about a lemon.

Go to Piazza. You decide!

And, here is a bit of information found while doing research…something else that’s new…researching lemons!

Growing the perfect lemon is a process Italians take great pride in and celebrate. The process of growing lemons requires an attentive and nurturing caretaker and a warm, subtropical climate. As a lemon tree begins to blossom, a fragrant sweet smell is released. This aroma is captured in the form of lemon essential oils, which are often used for perfume making, as well as adding fragrance to soaps and lotions. As lemons continue to grow and ripen on the tree, they become sweeter. A lemon so sweet and full of flavor, it is often enjoyed plain with just a pinch of salt on top! But it’s not just the juice that is prized — Italians enjoy every part of the lemon, including the peel and rind.

Spy Wine Notes: Piazza Tasting Finale

Piazza Italian Market founder Emily Chandler introduced the final wine tasting event of the year saying we would be “touring” Umbria.As with each of the enjoyable wine tasting events this year, Emily and her team beautifully prepared food with each of the three wines tasted.

The full house at Piazza started with a white wine made from the Grechetto grape by the Antonelli winery .

This wine described by the maker as opening with elegance to the nose: fresh, fruity and floral with notes of citrus, peach, almond and hawthorn blossom, was paired with a simple but delicious bowl of red potatoes and tuna.

The selection of reds involved another offering from the Antonelli winery – Montefalco Rosso. This blend contains 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, 15% Montepulciano. Described by the maker as being ruby red in color. Olfactory impact is intense and fruity, with hints of cherry and wild berries. To the palate this wine is dry, balanced and well structured. The freshness provided by the Sangiovese gives it an excellent drinkability. It was paired with a tasty bruschetta.

And, the final wine – Perticaia’s Montefalco Sagrantino – was made 100% from the Sagrantino grape.

This wine is described as being very full and persistent, tannic with an agreeable touch of bitterness.

Piazza paired this wine with a salumi selection fairly representing the fine offerings available everyday in the market.

As with all other tastings at Piazza, the guests were given the chance to purchase the wines for home consumption along with meats and cheeses. The evening brought a great year of tastings to an enjoyable conclusion….and, we can’t wait to see what comes next in 2019.

Mid-Shore Food: LTO on High, Stams, and the Return of Neyah White and Brandywine Hartman to Chestertown

While Chestertown foodies will need to demonstrate a bit more patience over the next few months, there are some promising signs that High Street will soon be the center of a dining revolution in the not too far future.

That’s because of the Mid-Shore return of Neyah White and his wife, Brandywine Hartman, who is heading up a massive effort to restore the building where Andy’s and the Lemon Leaf restaurant called home until a few years ago as well as the old Stam’s Drug Store down the street.

Neyah, a native of Kent County, very quickly became one of San Francisco’s best known and successful bartenders in the 2000s when he moved there after college. With a remarkable career launched at some of that city’s most popular bars, including the Clift Hotel, Bacar, Mecca, and Supper Club, and then opening up the legendary Nopalito and Nopa, Neyah swiftly became rose to the top of the mixed drinks hierarchy from almost the day he settled in the Bay Area. But his one consistent long-term plan from day one was to return to Chestertown and open up his own bar.

That plan worked well for his bride to be, Brandywine Hartman, who had created her own remarkable reputation as one of the Fog City’s most applauded pastry chefs. With her background working with two of the city’s two Michelin-rated restaurants, Brandywine found herself as one of the stars of the critically-acclaimed Bar Agricole in the SOMA part of town before the two plotted their exit from California to return to Neyah’s hometown in 2016.

Since that time, life has come with a new baby, a temporary pop-up bar where JR’s and Andy’s was located, and more permanent plans to take the reigns of a entirely new bar once the High Street building has been renovated, and the re-establishment of Stam’s a few blocks down as the home of an ice cream parlor and pastry shop.

The Spy caught up with Neyah, Brandywine and their daughter Suzie, a few weeks ago to talk about their new quality of life and their long-term plans of putting Chestertown on the foodie map in the Mid-Atlantic region.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LTO please go here.

 

ESLC Hit It Out of the Ballpark on Giving Tuesday

 On Tuesday, November 27th, otherwise known as Giving Tuesday – the international day of giving that follows Cyber Monday – Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) received a total of $22,177 on its website and through Facebook from donors supporting the organization’s conservation-based programs and initiatives.

“We’re incredibly thankful for the support and love the community showed us on this year’s Giving Tuesday,” said ESLC’s Director of Communications David Ferraris. “We started participating with this ‘holiday’ in 2016 and have had a lot of success with it, but hit a new level of support this year, especially in terms of involvement from new donors.”

ESLC was fortunate enough to have also had the support of seven local businesses that shared the group’s messaging leading up to and throughout the day via social media. Those businesses are Lyon Distilling Co., Eat Sprout, Solar Energy Services, Ebbtide Wellness Studio, Pop’s Old Place, Washington Street Pub, and Hair O’ The Dog Wine & Spirits.

Since 1990, ESLC has permanently protected more than 60,000 acres of land on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The organization also provides planning consultation for land use and community design projects, environmental education, and climate adaptation planning for county governments.

Mid-Shore Food: Nighttime Surveillance on Sprout HQ’s Open House

It was hard for our Spy to enter the new Sprout HQ on North Aurora a few nights ago. As might have been expected, grateful customers and public officials crowded into the organically pre-prepared and locally sourced meals new business location to the point where our agent couldn’t immediately enter its new hub. Relying on the art of outdoor surveillance techniques after years of specialized training, our Spy captured the festive scene through several windows.

This video is approximately one minute in length. For more information about Sprout. please go here

Spy Wine Notes: Piazza Trifecta

Our story begins in the Swiss Alps, specifically on Alp Trosen, where 35 cows, a heard of goats and pigs and a cheesemaker spend several weeks in an aging hut built into the side of the mountain.

(Great way to start a Spy story, don’t you think?)

This first report involves an unbroken tradition from the Swiss Alps known as transhumance involves cheesemaker Jakob Knaus moving from his home in the Toggenburg valley up to the 6,000-foot level of Alp Trosen. This is all part of a cheesemaking practice that can be traced back over 2,000 years.

With his cows eating only wild grasses, herbs and flowers, the milk produced makes a cheese full of flavor. All this is done by Jakob Knaus and an assistant using a copper kettle over a wood fire where their alpkase cheese is made by hand.

As Piazza’s Emily Chandler describes it, “…this is beyond organic and the resulting flavor of the cheese is a pure expression of the alp and its microclimate. It is a beautiful cheese from a beautiful place.”

And, yes, it is now available at the Piazza Italian Market because they have again participated in an annual event where stores around the country adopt an alp! Fortunately for us, Piazza’s Alp is Trosen.

As part of the introduction to their adopted alp, the cheese from Alp Trosen was “part one” of this past weekend’s wine dinner at Piazza.

The second part of this very successful event was the wine.

With cheese from the Alps, Emily selected a perfect wine from the Italian Alps. Where better to go than to Lombardia where the Perego family have been tending vines set on sheer granite terraces in the mountainous Valtellina since 1860. The vines are so far north into the alps they are practically in Switzerland.

The family works only with Nebbiolo, or Chiavennasca as it is called locally, growing the grapes up to nearly 2,300 feet above sea level on sheer, south-facing, sunlit vines that dig straight into rock. The resulting fruit is intensely mineral.

Their Rocce Rosso wine is named for red rocks, because the winemaker feels that the flavor of iron and earth are most prominent in this wine. And, this vintage won the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glasses) award from Gambero Rosso, the Wine Spectator of Italy.

Finally, for the third important element of our story, the cheese and wine became vital elements in a series of food courses prepared by chef Rosario del Nero. He prepared extraordinary offerings traditional to the Italian Alps featuring alpage cheeses. Starting with a cured beef dish, the second course was Pizzoccheri, a specialty of the valley known as Valtellina from where Chef Rosario comes. Chef Rosario’s main course was a roast pork loin with porcini sauce.

Once again, the Piazza Italian Market delivered an extraordinary evening, this one rich in traditions of the Swiss and Italian Alps.
Now, everyone can be touched by the history and incredible craft achieved over generations producing the exceptional cheese and wine that have traveled here to Easton

For more information: Adopt an Alp  and ARPEPE Wines

Mid-Shore Food: Piazza’s Adopt-an-Alp Program 2018

Piazza Italian Market is pleased to announce it will again participate in the Adopt-an-Alp program. This five-year-old program was created to generate awareness and appreciation for the endangered practice of transhumance and to highlight “real” Swiss cheeses. Piazza was one of three winners of this competition in 2016 which resulted in a free trip to visit alpine dairies for one member of the Piazza team. Owner Emily Chandler selected Brandy McKinney to represent the store.

Historically, many cheeses in Switzerland and other Alpine countries were produced via transhumance. As the summer sun warms the slopes, green grass sprouts, and the cows follow. Herdsmen were just behind the hungry cows, living and making cheese in small huts. While the idea of spending a solitary summer high up on a Swiss mountain with only animals for company might sound idyllic, life away from the comforts of home is not easy. Some of the huts that provide shelter have neither running water nor electricity. Remarkably, production of Alpage (cheese made from alpine-grazed cow’s milk) has increased over the last 5 years, arguably due to the Adopt-an-Alp program.

Piazza has selected to adopt Alp Trosen this year. Brandy McKinney of Piazza Italian Market visited Alp Trosen in 2017 and was struck by the humbleness of the operation and the quality of its cheese. Jakob Knaus Sr. stays on the alp for 9 weeks, most of the time alone. During this time, he lives in a one room chalet directly above the stables. There are few modern amenities at this 500-year-old hut, only a government-required filtered water system and solar panels. Jakob is required by the Alpkäse consortium to use a wood fire and a copper kettle to warm the milk for cheesemaking. These little details result in a sum that is more than its parts. Importer Caroline Hostetter describes Alp Trosen’s cheese as very flavorful and having “a lot of the earth” in it, even when young, and the rest of us can’t wait to try it!

To celebrate the arrival of the cheeses, there will be an Alp Dinner on Saturday, November 17th at Piazza. Featured chef Rosario del Nero will be using the Swiss alpkäse to cook dishes from his native alpine valley in Italy, the Valtellina. Tickets will become available in October.

Additionally, we will be celebrating the transhumance practice by unique events created by Jenn Martella, Special Events Coordinator. She will once again involve the community by reading at the children’s hour at the Talbot County branch libraries, a cowbell art contest for artists of all ages and Swiss jeopardy at the kick off dinner. Prizes will be awarded to the winners.

Adopt-an-Alp was created by Caroline Hostetter at Quality Cheese and it is officially supported by Schweizerischer Alpwirtschaftlicher Verband (SAV), (translates to Swiss Society of Alp Economy) a Swiss government agency for protecting and marketing Alp products including the platform http://alpkase.ch. All cheeses sold through the Adopt-an-Alp program are exclusively imported by Mifroma USA and distributed by Atalanta Corp.

For more information about the art contest or to make a reservation for the Alp Dinner please call Jennifer Martella at 410-253-1100.

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