Got Milk? Buckeye Country Creamery

I love a good farm visit. And I love getting to know where my food comes from and who is responsible for it.  When I was invited to come and check out Buckeye Country Creamery in Ashland this week, I jumped at the chance.

creamery employee

It’s a family run dairy farm (two generations at work) that’s been operating for more than 25 years.  But only in the last year and a half have they launched their creamery, an endeavor that required a significant leap of faith and capital investment on the part of the Lahmers Family.  But they’re banking on the “If you build it, they will come” concept.  Or rather, “If you milk it, they will come.”

They have a herd of 130 cows right now, which they milk twice a day, and produce 900 pounds of milk daily.  What makes their milk different? The A2A2.  It’s the type of beta-casein protein that is easier on your digestive system.  Many people who cannot usually drink milk, and consider themselves lactose intolerant, can drink A2A2 milk without side effects.  That’s a game changer for some families.

The other thing that differentiates them from other nearby creameries…flavored milk.  It’s a heckofa lot easier to get a child to drink a tall glass of “cookies and cream” milk than plain old cows milk, right?  Buckeye Country Creamery’s line of products include strawberry, chocolate, cookies and cream, and mocha flavored milk. (They add the powdered flavoring during the pasteurization process) These varieties are especially creamy, because the flavors are made with whole milk. They also make drinkable yogurt, mozzarella cheese and ice cream with the same A2 properties.  We got a chance to sample milk flavors, the yogurt and ice cream from Buckeye, and my girls guzzled it all down!  I think the yogurts were gone in a day!

creamery yogurt

For those food conscious readers, their pasteurization process is also worth noting.  The milk at Buckeye Country Creamery is pasteurized slowly, at a low temperature, to keep more enzymes and proteins intact. It’s not homogenized, so the cream rises to the top, as they say.

creamery vat

Locals can buy up the products coming out of the Lahmers Dairy Farm, at their modest store on site…a glorified hallway, really.  They stock the fridge and operate on the honor system.

“Sometimes we get an IOU in there,” jokes dairy farmer, Christy Hulse.

Word is getting out in the Ashland area.  People are popping in on a weekly basis and pick up the essentials.

“We’re going to need a bigger fridge,” Hulse said, with a smile.

creamery fridge

You can find Buckeye Country Creamery’s line of products at 120 locations between Cleveland and Columbus, including the West Side Market, Case Western Reserve University and Miles Farmers Market. (runs about $3.99 for half gallon, $6.99 a gallon)  Click here for a complete list.

Disclosure: I was invited to visit the farm and write about my experience, in exchange for a sampling of their products. 

 

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Dinner Lab: Antico E Moderno

As I reflect on my third Dinner Lab, experience a single word comes to mind, synergy.  It was a truly collaborative effort of creative minds and local leaders.  And it was pretty exciting.

Dinner-Lab-St. Thomas

The location of the September event was the most interesting of all of the Cleveland dinners so far.  The site was St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sanctuary that won’t be around much longer.  Brickhaus Partners intends to turn the property on Lake Avenue into a collection of luxury townhomes, and call it 95 Lake.

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

So as part of the experience, the developer, Andrew Brickman, and Cleveland City Councilman, Matt Zone, were on hand to talk about the big plans for the neighborhood.

Dinner-Lab-band

And as an added bonus to the evening, there was entertainment this time.  City Councilman, Kevin Conwell and his band, The Footnotes, played during cocktail hour and through most of dinner service.

Dinner-Lab-Mytro-menu

The menu and the concept belonged to Chef Matt Mytro, (coincidentally, the same guy behind our Chef’s Table from last weekend.)  He and his partner at Flour Restaurant, Paul Minnillo, like to combine old school Italian cuisine with the occasional modern touch.  Mytro took this opportunity to take his modern approach to the next level.

Dinner-lab-burrata

First course was a warm burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) with vanilla infused potato chips and pickled chili.  Innovative and tasty.

Dinner-Lab-beet-salad

The second course was a mock beet salad with pistachio, whipped ricotta, dried olive and sorrel.  It was definitely a favorite at our table.

Dinner-Lab-John and Dani

My friend, Dani and I were still admiring the beautiful presentation when we noticed that her boyfriend, John, had already polished his off and was asking for seconds.

Dinner-Lab-swordfish

Course number three had easily the most tender swordfish I’ve ever eaten. Had to look up what “Alla bagnara” meant to understand how it was made…steamed in a garlic broth.  Aha!  That’s why is was so fantastic.

Dinner-Lab-rigatoni

The fourth course was hearty and satisfying.  Chef Mytro said they made the corn rigatoni fresh that day.  But to me the lamb neck sugo (a rich tomato sauce) was the star of this dish.  I could’ve eaten several bowls of that!!

Dinner-Lab-panna-cotta

Dessert was a familiar treat.  The panna cotta sweetened with cereal milk that we’d enjoyed at Mytro’s restaurant, Flour, on Saturday.  This time there was a toasted marshmallow, always a good idea.

Dinner-lab-jen and ben

I love these dinners for a score of reasons.  But I appreciate them because they give me a reason to sit down through a relaxing service and enjoy my husband’s company, as well as those of good friends.  Can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Chef’s Table: Date Night at Flour

Old friends are the best.  Old friends, and good food…now that’s a great night!  My husband recently reconnected with a childhood friend (through a chance encounter I had with him during one of my cooking segment shoots).   They quickly caught up over the phone and decided to plan a night at the restaurant where he is a chef, Flour.  We scored the Chef’s Table on Saturday night so that we could chat up Brett and enjoy the incredible menu the place offers.  

Flour Salumi 

Seems only fitting in a restaurant labeled an “Italian Kitchen” that immediately after being seated, Brett greeted us with a stunning Salumi plate (complete with delectable selections like mortadella, coppa picante and salametto framani)

Flour cheese plate

And before we could even look at the menu, I was won over by the cheese plate that had fresh sliced turkey figs, Calabrian pecorino. langherino, humboldt fog and aged gouda.

Flour Allison and Andy

We had the pleasure of dining with another couple of old friends of the chef, Allison and Andy.  They too were ready to indulge in all that the menu offered, toast, taste and celebrate the success of their childhood buddy.

When I mentioned that we were coming to Flour, a friend who dines there often recommended one of the appetizers.

flour big a$$ meatball

“I have dreams about the Big A$$ Meatball at Flour,” she said

Didn’t take much to convince us.  We ordered a pair of these softball sized portions, which were placed on a rich whipped ricotta and topped with fried sage.  Heaven indeed.  We also tried the chorizo stuffed dates and a plate of mussels.

Flour Mussels

Since Brett is the self-proclaimed pizza master of the kitchen, we had to try one of the wood-fired pies that people rave about here.  Didn’t need to hem and haw about this choice…it was the potato carbonara for us and we were not disappointed.

Flour carbonara pizza

This killer pizza incorporates potatoes as part of the base beneath the aged provolone, egg and pancetta.  You’d think that was enough food…but once again our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we decided to order three entrees to share as well.  We went for the Mediterranean Branzini, a tagliatelle with a bolognese, and the show stopper, a lobster strozzapreti with pancetta, bone marrow and cream.

Flour Lobster Pasta

This was a noodle new to me, and worth every single calorie.  Just when we thought we were done, Brett brought out dessert, a cereal panna cotta, sweetened from Frosted Flakes!

We shared a couple bottles of wine, plenty of memories, more food than we should’ve eaten, and some good laughs.  That’s a good date night no matter what your taste in food, or friends!

Dinner Lab: Beer! Please! Drunk Food Redefined

Who doesn’t have a favorite food to chow on when you’ve been drinking a couple of beers?  Now imagine a five course menu of elevated versions of all those favorite foods.  Good, right?!  That’s what Chef Brooks Hart offered to Dinner Lab diners at their second Cleveland event.

Dinner-Lab2-welcome card

When I read the menu sent to members in the weeks leading up to the dinner, it wasn’t a hard sell for me.  Billed as drunk food redefined, it also boasted beer pairings from two increasingly popular local breweries.  Sold.

Dinner-Lab2-view

As is always the case, the venue isn’t revealed until about 24 hours before the event.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the second venue would be at the penthouse space of Skylight Financial Group, offering a unique and unforgettable view of the city.  We drank in the scenery and the cocktail hour special, named for the chef in honor of his 30th birthday.

Dinner-Lab2-ceviche

After the 30 minute cocktail hour, I was ready to dig in to course #1, a deconstructed fish taco with halibut ceviche, marinated in coconut milk and thai chili and crispy tortilla strips.  The fish was the perfect temperature and texture.  I could’ve done without so much lime juice.  But still a great start!  This was paired with Platform Black Eagle from Platform Beer Co.

Dinner-Lab2-poutine

The second course was a nod to all the Canadians and gravy fans in the dining room…poutine with crispy fingerling potatoes, a tempura cheese curd (my favorite element of this dish) and some lemon rind confit, (which was a surprise when I took the first bite, but I loved it too)

Dinner-Lab2-beer

The beer offering for this one was a smooth and refreshing compliment to the food, Platform Symon Says Saison from Platform Beer Co. It’s brewed exclusively for Iron Chef Michael Symon’s “B Spot”, (their website describes it as a citrus driven peppery saison utilizing a specialty yeast blend specific for this beer)

Dinner-Lab2-Pizza and braised bacon

Our third course was a tale of two dishes, for me.  It was listed as a pizza, but you could hardly eat it that way  The raclette flatbread with butter roasted mushrooms that served as the base was tasty, but a little tough.  And it was impossible to pick it up, or slice into the braised bacon and eat all of it as one bite as it was likely intended.  When I gave up and ate the elements separately, I was happy again.

Dinner-Lab2-commet card

As we ate and chatted with our guests, some friends who also enjoy food and these kinds of experiences as much as we do, I made sure to jot down a few notes on my comment card.  No, I’m not one of those people who does this at every restaurant I go…this is a huge part of the process for Dinner Lab and its chefs.  They take the feedback back to “the lab” and make changes (or not) according to the comments from their diners.

Dinner-Lab2-pretzel croissant

Course number four was the crowd favorite by far.  It was a pretzel croissant with marinated gouda and blueberry mustard.  I know…sounds a little crazy.  But I wanted a whole box of those pretzels and a vat of the blueberry mustard to take home!!

Dinner-Lab2-Chef Brooks Hart.Dinner-Lab2-preztel prep

One diner even stood up and whistled to get the crowd’s attention so he could shout “That preztel was the bomb!”  The chef told us he was relieved to hear it, as he put a lot of muscle power into rolling out enough of those for two seatings.  The beer pairing for that course was also my favorite, the Albino Stout from Butcher and the Brewer.  I order it every time I go there.  Great choice!

Dinner-Lab2-dessert

For dessert we had another helping of culinary imagination…a chocolate brownie topped with pickled peanuts (in a caramel sauce) creme fraiche and ganache.  I loved the bravery and spirit of adventure that this process fosters among its chefs.  Who pickles peanuts?!

Dinner-Lab2-dinning room view

We had mixed feelings about the dining room.  I loved the view of downtown, especially at sunset.  But once dinner began, the fluorescent lights of the business space took over.  To be honest, it wasn’t a distraction or something that hindered the experience…just an observation.

Dinner-Lab2-prep

We also got a chance to chat with both the chef and event manager by the end of the evening.  I was pleased to hear that a lot of what we ate was sourced from the iconic West Side Market and I am excited about the next venue (got the inside scoop…stay tuned…and hungry!)

The Feast! Food, Faith, Family. Little Italy’s Feast of the Assumption

I’m stuffed.  And so very happy.  The Feast of the Assumption is my favorite food festival of the year.  It’s the marquee event of Cleveland’s Little Italy.  

the feast-madonna

It is a sacred event, commemorating Mary being taken up to heaven.  But you kind of feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven when you stroll down the street, taking in the delicious atmosphere and mouth watering food.

The Feast-Murray Hill

I count down the days until The Feast every year.  If I was smart, I’d fast in the time leading up to it.  Instead, I psych myself up like a competitive eater at Coney Island on the 4th of July.  In the end, since I can’t really pack away as much food as I’d like…I prefer to graze and share…graze and share.  That way I can sample, and experience, as much as possible.

The Feast-pizza and sausage

I always start at the “church lady” stands adjacent to Holy Rosary Church, the focal point of the four day event.  Italian sausage wrapped in a slice of pizza (as a bun) and topped with peppers and onions.  That I won’t share!

The Feast-natalies pizza

My girls opted for simple and classic slices of cheese pizza…which they ate in between turns on the carnival rides behind the church.

The Feast-ride with natalie

For a second course, I like to share a couple dozen steamed clams dunked in drawn butter.

The Feast-clams

Usually we sit outside on a patio, listening to Italian music sung by the same trio of crooners and button box player who appear on the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield Road every year.

The Feast-italian singers

But this year…we were also treated to something special.  My brother’s fiance and her family invited us to her Great Aunt Sue’s home, just a stone’s throw from the church at the center of all the action.  She cooks for two weeks leading up to this event.  Friends and family chatted outside, sipping generous pours of the family’s famous home made wine.

The Feast-home made wine

The fun surprise of the evening was when the The Italian Band of Cleveland came to play a private set for the guests congregating in Aunt Sue’s driveway. (a testament to her own commitment to the neighborhood, and stature among those who call it home)

The Feast-Italian bandThe Feast-TubaThe Feast-Italian tuba

Full yet? Nope! Next it’s on to cavatelli and meatballs.  By this time, my eyes are usually bigger than my stomach.  But I can’t leave without diving into a bowl of this classic.  My girls didn’t argue.

The Feast-julias cavatelli

If the timing is right, in between courses (or during) you can catch a couple of tunes from folk singers on the street, dance to music from DJs, or tap your feet to live bands in tents behind some of the restaurants on the block.

For several of the restaurants in Little Italy, The Feast represents their year of profits.  And estimated 100,000 people attend.  They go all in for the event.  Beer tents are up, bands are blasting crowd-pleasing anthems, meatballs are served by the thousands, and pasta sauce is simmering in pots big enough to swim in.

The Feast-bocce

At the end of the street, you can hear the distinctive sound of bocce balls colliding and slamming in to the wood-framed courts at the Alta House.

Teams of four encased in clouds of cigar smoke and Old-World Italian accents.  Drink it in.

Couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of a statue of “The Madonna”  sitting solemnly in front of a rock band setting up on a ledge there.

The Feast-madonna at Alta House

Time for dessert.  Did you think we were done?  This I never falter on.  The sweet finish to this incredible feast must always be the tiramisu at Presti’s Bakery.  Of course there is cannoli, cassata cake and lemon ice at various booths.  But for me, dessert begins and ends with the best tiramisu in the city.

The Feast-tiramisu

I always leave The Feast of the Assumption full, in both stomach and spirit.  It makes me proud to be an Italian American and a Clevelander.  Mangia!

Sisters Pasta Night: Homemade Mushroom Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage

In colleges, my sister studied abroad in Siena, Italy.  She could barely put two sentences of Italian together at the end of her experience…she mostly studied wine and Italian men.  But she came home with a killer hand-made pasta recipe.  And while she might call me on a weekly basis for meal suggestions, and help with recipe substitutions, she is still the authority in the family on home-made pasta dough.  It’s something we do together whenever she is in town. 

For this round I was ready to make a ton of pasta, and freeze it.  And I wanted to use the bountiful herb garden I was “passively cultivating.”  It’s a real jungle back there because I can’t seem to find the time to maintain it.

herb-garden

I sifted through the hip-high cilantro and lettuce plants, to snip bunches of fresh parsley, chives, sage, and basil.

garden-herbs

I knew we’d need marinara sauce for all this fresh pasta too, so I put a pot of that on as well.  Working loosely off a recipe I learned at a class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking, I used garlic and onion, grated celery and carrot, whole peeled tomatoes, a pinch of crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and lots of the fresh parsley and basil.

marinara-sauce

While that simmered, we got to work on the first dough.  The ingredients are few…it’s the technique that’s still tough for me.

3 c. flour, unbleached

3 large eggs

1/4 c. dry white wine

1 tsp. salt

Water or extra flour, if needed

Lexi-making-pasta

You start by creating a “mound” with your flour, and make a deep well.  Meanwhile crack the eggs in a bowl and break the yolks up with a fork, then add the wine and salt to the eggs.  Carefully pour the egg mixture into the well.  Then, using a fork, slowly bring the flour in to the egg mixture.  When the flour is totally absorbed, begin kneading by hand for 20 min…no shortcuts!  Add water if it seems dry, or sprinkle more flour if it’s too wet.  Gather it in a ball and place it in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rest for 30 min…no shortcuts there either.

The first batch was dinner that night: a classic fettuccine with marinara.  We made a second batch of dough for me to make ravioli with.  I whipped up the filling while Lexi, and my eager daughters, kneaded.

Julia-making-pasta     Natalie-making-pasta

I wanted to use all that beautiful sage.  So I sautéed some mushrooms in olive oil, with garlic and shallots.  Then I added chopped sage, and a drizzle of truffle oil.  I mixed that with some ricotta, salt and pepper, and more truffle oil and let it cool while we rolled the dough.

Natalie-rolling-dough

First we cut the fettuccine, as we’ve done every time before.  You start on the widest setting, cranking that pasta machine to gradually reduce the width until the dough is the desired thickness, then cut it. (angel hair, linguine, fettuccine, etc.)  We sprinkled a tablecloth with flour and let it dry while we moved on to the delicate ravioli.

homemade-pasta

For those, we rolled the dough out, same as before.  Then we laid the sheets of pasta over my grandmother’s old ravioli plates.  I put a generous teaspoon of the filling in each pouch.

ravioli filling

Then we placed a second sheet on top, and used a rolling-pin (and the back of a spoon) to “stamp” or cut them.  We tore off the excess around the edges then carefully popped out each delicate little ravioli.

Ravioli-trays

To be honest, these usually don’t turn out so well for me…but these looked beautiful!!

Last round of dough was experimental.  I chopped up a ton of fresh chives and we incorporated that into the dough during the kneading process.  Toss this pasta with a little butter and you’ve got something pretty spectacular.

pasta-with-chives

There was salted water boiling on the stove…time to taste the fruits of our labor!  First course was the fettuccine and marinara.  It didn’t disappoint.  While we poured a second (or fourth?) glass of wine, I browned some butter and added more chopped sage, plus seasoning.  When the ravioli were cooked through in the water, I drained them and added them to the saute pan to brown them up.  Sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Perfection.

Julia-in-an-apron

I had a full heart and a full belly at the end of the evening.  It was so much fun for my girls to share in a special sisters pasta night!  I hope they carry on the tradition.

Forage with Strangers

I had the distinct honor of attending (in all honesty, crashing) a truly spectacular event, the inaugural “Forage with Strangers.”  It brought together influencers, connectors and innovators in Cleveland.  And we strangers bonded over a universal language: GOOD FOOD.

Let’s start with a little “behind the scenes” insight to how I came to be a part of this experience.  Over the course of the last year, I have been trying to immerse myself in the local culinary scene.  I’ve come to know some incredible people and eaten some spectacular food.  Social networking, no doubt, is a huge component of this.  So on Monday night, I started to see posts on Facebook and Twitter about this “Forage with Strangers” concept.  I was intrigued.  Being the intrepid reporter that I am, I started making some inquires.  And by mid afternoon, I was invited to join in.

I love people in the food world.  They just want everyone to have a good time and be well fed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a microphone, or a a blog.  But I sincerely appreciated the willingness to include me in such a cool and intimate experience.

Here’s what the day was all about:  A creative thinker from The Adcom Group teamed up with Kalman & Pabst Photo Group to orchestrate a networking event connecting local food brand reps, with local farmers and producers.  The idea was to drum up business for everyone involved.  But for as long as I was around, no one mentioned dollars and cents.  Everyone was just talking about food and ideas.  So refreshing and so delicious.  Yet still so productive…and in the end, probably profitable.

The group started the event with a five course “pre-foraging” meal dreamed up by Dante Bocuzzi.  In my year as my station’s designated “food reporter” his name has come up more than anyone’s in the city as the guy you’ve got to work with, and whose food you have to eat.

forage with strangers van

The next morning, the group ventured out in a van to half a dozen locations to “forage” for ingredients that would be used for a catered feast that night.

forage with strangers bounty

Photos Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

The 150 mile trek included Yellow House CheeseRittman OrchardsSpice AcresTrapp Family FarmOhio City Farm and Heinen’s.  The group gathered gorgeous fruits and vegetables picked at their peak, artisan cheeses and savory proteins.  In all, 40 bags were hauled back to the host site of the “Forage with Strangers” dinner.

forage with strangers happy hour

When I joined the party it was already time for happy hour.  Chef Bocuzzi and Chef Douglas Katz of Fire Food & Drink worked feverishly with a team of helpers to turn the day’s haul into tonight’s feast.

forage with strangers chefs working

Beer Master Sam McNulty of Bier MarktBar CentoMarket Garden Brewery and Nano Brew among the participants…as was Chef Adam Lambert, of The Black Pig and the upcoming Ohio City Provisions (a partnership with Fresh Fork Market).

forage with strangers table

The space was fantastic…full of natural light, props, and working kitchens for the commercial photographers at Kalman & Pabst to work their magic.

Forage with strangers cheese tray

We started with an impressive array of cheeses from Yellow House and Mackenzie Creamery and a charcuterie display to die for, courtesy of Chef Lambert.  I couldn’t stop myself from seconds and thirds of his chicken liver parfait, topped with Guernsey butter (from his own cows, and flavored with thyme and orange zest)

forage with strangers charcuterie

Wine was poured and conversation flowed among movers and shakers in the food world. I was eager to devour the details, and jealous that I missed all the foraging.

 forage with strangers diners

The inviting communal table set for 30 was soon filled with an incredible bounty.  Everything brought out family style, as you might imagine large farmers’ families do.  Even though the table stretched the length of the large space, there was barely enough room to set all the large platters full of farm fresh food.

tempura fried heirloom tomatoesforage with strangers walleye

Tempura fried heirloom tomatoes and Lake Erie Walleye with miso and radishes.

roaste beet-plum-goat cheese-salad  corn tomoato and cucumber salad

Plum and roasted beet salad with goat cheese.  Corn, cucumber and tomato salad.

Chef Doug Katzforage with strangers roasted chicken

Buttermilk fried chicken livers and Harissa roasted chickens by Chef Katz.  Plus hand made gnocchi ratatouille from the pasta master himself, Chef Dante.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

Photo Courtesy Cristina Carosielli, Orlando Baking Co.

We ate and talked and shared ideas, and ate and listened and shared seconds, and ate and laughed and shared inspirations.  The meal ended with everyone reflecting on their favorite part of the day.

forage with strangers dessert

There was dessert…oh yes, there was dessert.  Dante made an apple tarte tatin, and Doug crafted a couple of spectacular ice creams with fresh fruit toppings.

I left the dinner table buzzing with ideas and tingling with inspiration.  There are immensely talented people in my city who believe they can change their world and yours with food and shared experiences.  I want in.  How about you?