Growing Power, Day 2

So, after no sleep and a meal I’d loosely term “breakfast” (hey, it’s a hotel, I realize I can’t expect too much), I trundled off to Growing Power for Day 2. I missed the morning at the farm because Anne, Cherlynn (I hope I am spelling that correctly), and I had to get to the kitchen and get started.

This is Cherlynn, helping out with kitchen prep before class. She works in nutrition education, and will be doing a mozzarella cheesemaking class with youth next month; so, she wanted to come early and get in on the boring pre-cheese action of kitchen prep and ripening the milk. She was a huge help, and it was also a great chance to get to know another chef who is as passionate about food as I am.

Sunday turned out to be the day of culinary experts and foodies in the cheese class. We had three chefs besides me, and all were inspiring, creative, and energetic. You see one of them above,  a man simply dubbed “Chef” by everyone I talked to, stirring a very, very large pot of very, very hot whey (did I mention he spent most of the day making us all hungry by elucidating on things like how he makes his savory cheesecake?). Because we had all this incredible whey from both cheese classes, and a bit of extra milk, and because my classes ran on-time as scheduled, I added ricotta making to Sunday’s itinerary.  What you see above is the whey and additional milk being heated to 200F before precipitating the ricotta curd with vinegar. What you see below is how you work on the fly with what you have instead of what you think you need.

The lovely blond woman hiding in the corner on the left is Anne, one of my two designated staff helpers for the weekend. She was amazing, from start to finish, and I really hope I get to work with her again.

Aside from the wonderful staff and students you see in the photo above, though, what you should be noticing is the cloth that is lining the (huge) colander. Is it cheesecloth? No. Why isn’t it cheesecloth? Because I hadn’t thought for one second we’d have time, milk, or reasonable facilities (or, for that matter, enough interest) to make ricotta. I was wrong on all counts, so I needed to come up with something fast. T-shirts to the rescue (thanks to the GP staff for running out and picking these up!). We washed them, then cut them and used them to strain the curds. They weren’t a perfect solution for many reasons, and we did lose some ricotta into the whey; but, it was a pretty darn good last-minute substitute.

I said there were three chefs, and above you see the remaining one as he pressed the whey gently out of the ricotta, and salts it for eating. The class came up with some additional seasoning ideas (including “Chef’s” brilliant addition of Lawry’s!), and it was probably the dreamiest batch of ricotta I’ve ever made. Seriously, we considered just hiding it and meeting up later to eat it on some crackers with a side of beer.

In the end, though, we did have enough left to take back to GP for some of the folks there to sample, too, despite the rabid sampling you see above.

This is the whole Sunday class, minus Amanda (who is taking the photo, but who appears to be stealing some cheese from the colander in the front of the photo above). Yep, that’s me with no sleep, not enough food, sweaty and steamed.

All in all, it went pretty well, and they’re hoping to have me back in June. We’ve got a kink or two to get worked out before then (primarily if we can use this kitchen again), but I’ll keep you updated.

As for the rest of the workshop, I didn’t get to do a whole lot of it, which is kind of what I expected since I was teaching. I got a chance to have a short chat with Will about future cheese possibilities and work-arounds, and I hope to see some of that come to fruition as Growing Power continues to grow. I met a slew of amazing people, some of which I hope to feature here in the coming weeks, and learned a lot about the ideas people have for urban and sustainable agriculture across the country. Some of it’s pretty damn impressive, and almost all of it is creative and out-of-the-box in a way that is very inspiring.

I did get to take the tour, and I got to play with the goats. They are so cute I almost just slept in their pen instead of going back to my hotel:

But, I didn’t. Instead, I helped pack up the tent and tables, then went out for a margarita with some of the staff and some of the attendees. Then it was home early-ish, because I had more work to do and an early wake-up.

I also owe a huge, overwhelming thanks to Ryan, without whom I am pretty sure this whole thing would never have happened, and to Anne, who also fits into the category of misson critical for this workshop (both GP staff members). Thanks to Amanda for all her help and enthusiasm, as well, and to Will for giving me the opportunities.

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