Is farm-to-table what food foam was three years ago: a big buzz trend that no one is actually doing? Well that's the point of the Northwest farm collaborative dinner that I attended this weekend: To strengthen the movement by presenting dinners throughout the summer, to make sure this worthwhile way of eating isn't just a flash in the pan. (This one was held at Northeast Portland's Lincoln restaurant.) So, yes, a big point of the meal is to eat the offerings of one of the city's most lauded chefs (in this case, Jenn Louis, James Beard Best Northwest Chef and Food & Wine Best New Chef nominee) and drink some spectacular wines (courtesy of Lemelson and Elk Cove vineyards); but the real takeaway is a fresh understanding of the importance of this movement, where consumers know about where their food and wine comes from.
Both Oregon-based Elk Cove and Lemelson wineries have a similar philosophy of using sustainable farming methods, growing their grapes organically, offering quality benefits to all vineyard employees (which is practically unheard of in the industry) and turning out excellent Pinot Noirs, amongst other varietals. To bring out the best in the wines, Chef Louis chose a rabbit-themed repast because she likes the versatility of this lean meat, although she acknowledged the sensitivity surrounding eating a cute, cuddly and beloved floppy-eared animal. Diners were assured that the rabbits were humanely raised at Nicky Farms, which is one of the preferred vendors in the nation, with chefs from New York to New Mexico on waiting lists to get the free range meats. (Consumers can now order from the farm as well.)
The five-course meal, which was exquisitely paired with wines throughout, started with polenta fritters (reminiscent of savory beignets with cheese sprinkled on top instead of powder sugar), rabbit boudin blanc with blueberry mostarda and rabbit confit terrine. Of the four wines offered here, the most unexpected were the 2010 Elk Cover Willamette Valley Rose, which was the perfect warm-weather accompaniement and the 2009 Lemelson Riesling, which was dry, had nice acidity and a crisp finish to compliment the appetizers. (In general, '09 is a good year for Oregon Rieslings.) That was followed with the signature flatbread, rabbit liver mousse and fennel salad, risotto with rabbit ragu, braised rabbit with summer squash, eggplant and basil, and soft polenta. It paired beautifully with the Lemelson Jerome Reserve Pinot Noir, named for owner Eric Lemelson's father, who has the second most patents on record with the U.S. Patent Office (after Thomas Edison). This wine is the most aged in their portfolio, has a nice balance and stays on the palate so you really enjoy the swallow. For dessert, no, not an Iron Chef-esque rabbit ice cream, but a clever spin: carrot cake. It was paired with 2008 Elk Cover Ultima, which is a dessert wine of riesling, gewurztraminer and muscat grapes, which are frozen before they're pressed, so it's not a true ice wine, but gets a similar result. The other served was a 2009 Lemelson Oeneus riesling, named for the character in Greek mythology who brought winemaking to his subjects from Dionysus. A lot of the diners around me found these too sweet, but I like a dessert wine (especially the riesling in this case) rather than an actual piece of cake to end my meal, so I'd recommend either.
And yes, walking away with a pleasantly full belly is lovely, but walking away knowing that the food I ate was responsibly harvested is even better. Hopefully the farm-to-table, vine-to-bottle movement will continue to expand across the country as a shift in culinary and dining thinking, encouraging respect for the ingredients and animals used in cooking.
Please share events happening in your area that can help familiarize others with the movement.