ZingLife

Home, Heart, Hands, Health

4H and the Future of Farming

It’s a warm July evening at the Saline County Fairgrounds and I am walking on the main thoroughfare toward Shed B. The Fairgrounds parking lot is filled with cars, pickups, horse trailers and livestock haulers of all makes and models. Families stroll through the fairgrounds, the children pulling the arms of their parents in the direction of another shed or one of the many enormous striped tents erected over animal stalls and pens. Simple signs nailed to the tent posts announce the occupants: “Sheep.” “Goats.” The place is crowded, and the air buzzes with anticipation.

I see Alex Young standing in front of Shed B, talking on his cell. “I’m here. Where are you guys?” He sees me and waves me over. Shed B is an enormous building with a roof, but no walls. Under the roof is a temporary corral strewn with hay and surrounded on three sides by stadium bleachers. The fourth side is a high wall hung with green bunting and a sign that reads “Washtenaw County 4H Youth Fair.”

Alex hangs up and we chat. This is my first 4H auction, and he’s giving me the rough order in which things will happen. Alex will buy a handful of animals this evening destined for the tables at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, as well as a couple for the herd at Cornman Farms. As we talk, several people stop by to say hello to Alex and they talk a little shop, speculating on the prices and condition of the animals. The atmosphere is one of friendly competition. “To me,” Alex tells me, “the beauty of 4H, is that it’s a community thing. It strengthens the bond between farmers.” In a little while, the people here will bid against each other for prize-winning cows, hogs, lambs, goats, turkeys, chickens, and even rabbits. And it’s all done in the name of a most worthy cause for all in attendance: the young farmers.garden-hoophouse-people-ag-adventure-dinner

The 4H Youth Development Organization, known by it’s distinctive four-leaf clover symbol, has its roots in the early 20th
century efforts of an Ohio school principal named A.B. Graham. By promoting vocational agriculture in out-of-school clubs, Graham sought to arrest the decline of post-industrial revolution farming as young people left their rural roots for jobs in the city. Eventually, he partnered with the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station and the Ohio State University. His clubs are considered the founding of 4H.

The club’s logo, a four-leaf clover with the letter “H” on each of the leaves, symbolizes the four values that club members work toward through the organization’s programs:

Head – Managing, Thinking
Heart – Relating, Caring
Hands – Giving, Working
Health – Being, Living

The activities this week are the culmination of a season (sometimes two!) of work on the part of the kids in 4H. This is fundamentally an exercise for the kids to learn the business of running a farm. They’re charged with raising an animal from birth, taking responsibility for its growth and development, and preparing for the day when they’ll compete with other 4H kids in the judging portion of the fair (which happened earlier in the week). The animals are entered into different classes and the kids are evaluated by their knowledge of the animal, and its overall condition (how well it was raised). These classes produce the top of class Champions and Reserve Champions that will garner the most attention and money at tonight’s auction. The young club members will parade their animals in front of an audience of family, friends, and neighbors while the auctioneer barks and prices hopefully go up.

The rest of the Young clan has joined Alex and I, and we make our way to the registration table just before the auction is set to begin. The 4H folks give Alex a packet of papers that includes a detailed list of the animals up for auction, and an orange bidding card with “888” written in magic marker. The numbers are issued once to each bidder, and this becomes their number for all time. As the numbers are issued in chronological order, so the lower the number, the longer the bidder has been involved in the 4H auction. As we’re seated, Alex greets an elderly couple in front of us. I notice that their bidding number is in the low single digits. Alex smiles and says, “Yup, they’ve been coming here a long time.”

Just after we sit down, the staff and auctioneer take their places behind the high green wall overlooking the corral and the auction begins. The north gate on the corral opens, and a teenage girl dressed in a plaid shirt and new jeans enters, smiling, with two of largest hogs I’ve ever seen. She parades the animals around the ring, keeping them in the center by touching their sides with a long, slender stick. Alex informs me that the breed is Chester White, which translates into a standard pinkish color on the actual pig.

The auctioneer is calling out the price per pound, which is how these animals are sold. “Starting out at two-ten. Two-ten now, can I get two-twenty?” At the edge of the ring stand several men whose job is spot bidders in the crowd and relay their bids to the auctioneer. The divide up the audience into thirds, scanning the bleachers for a raised orange bidding card. When they spot one, they let out a sort of cross between a word and a whoop. It reminds me of listening to a baseball umpire calling strikes or balls; the word itself is indecipherable, but the sound is emphatic.

“How about two-thirty? Two-thirty, two-thirty…” In answer, one of the spotters points to a bidder and yells, “Hunh-YEAH!!” The auctioneer barely slows down. “Two-forty, two-forty now. I have two-thirty, two-forty now. Two-forty…” Another spotter: “HOOP!” “Two-fifty now…” And on it goes until the bidding peters out, and the auctioneer ends the process, “Three-twenty? Nope? Three-ten, then. Once…? Twice…?” No reply from the crowd.

The auctioneer points to the winning bidder, “Three-ten. To bidder number…?” The spotter calls out the bidder’s number, which is recorded by a smiling woman to the right of the auctioneer. She consults a sheaf of paper, then reads out the winning bidder’s name. The audience applauds, and the teenager moves her hogs out of the ring to make way for the next pair.

Each of those hogs weighed roughly 300 pounds, and they sold for $3.10 per pound. Doing the math, I realize the winning bidder just paid nearly $2000 for the pair. Alex smiles, and nods. “Animals are expensive. Farming requires a significant investment for what is essentially a gamble.” And he’s right. A lot of things could happen to bring down the auction price. Disease, accident, or simply a lower-paying market. Factor in all the time, care, feed, and vet costs, and there is the possibility that these kids might not realize a good return on their initial investment. They might even lose money. This seems a tough, but necessary lesson about the farming life. For all the bucolic idealism we attach to the rural life, farming is still a business. And sometimes it’s a very tough business.

The bidding continues until hogs raised by Alex’s son Ethan come trotting into the ring. Alex is active in the bidding process, and price goes up. For a time, it looks like he might let the hogs go to a couple of other aggressive bidders, but at the last minute he jumps in with the winning bid. He tells me it isn’t all that unusual for friends and family to buy the animals of the 4H clubbers. While the idea is to teach the kids how the farming business works, community comes first. No one wants to disappoint the hopeful faces of the kids in the ring.

But the kids take their business lessons to heart. While we’re waiting for the next round of bidding, Kelly Young shows me some of the letters sent by 4H kids asking bidders to consider buying their animals. The letters are polite, and filled with details about the care of the animals. It’s charming to read their young sales pitches, but the letters are surprisingly effective and I find myself hoping these kids sell their animals at the highest price possible. As I’m reading the letters, another auction ends and I notice something else happening. The kids are seeking out the people who bought their animals, and giving them thank-you gifts. Usually, it’s something homemade, like cookies, along with a note of appreciation. In this noisy, crowded environment, it’s a touching gesture. Lessons well-learned, indeed.

As the auction moves from hogs to cows, sheep, and goats, Alex buys a lamb and two goats to add to the Cornman Farms herd. When the auction moves on to poultry, Alex points out some bidders from Meijer, Busch’s, and a couple of other food retail outfits. But, I say, surely, this isn’t an efficient way for them to source poultry for their respective chains? Alex tells me that these companies often buy from 4H auctions to donate to local food banks and shelters. It seems that 4H auctions bring out the best in everyone.

When I ask Alex to sum up the 4H experience, he says, “We need more farmers. Until very recently, the number of kids going into farming was on the decline. By having kids participate in 4H, we increase the likelihood that more of these kids will become farmers.” But, the positive impact reaches far beyond the local agrarian community. The implications are important for our country, as well. Simply put, “Our food is better for having more farmers,” says Alex. “If there are more farmers, we have more competition, and therefore a better selection of food. It’s important to keep our food supply healthy.”

As the evening winds down, the bleacher crowds thin out and people begin to drift away to gather in knots and talk. There’s a lot of laughter and everyone seems to be smiling. Alex and Kelly move through the crowd, stopping to chat, and talk about the upcoming Chelsea Community Fair happening in a few weeks. The Chelsea fair will also include an auction, so tonight’s process will be repeated with another herd of animals, another crowd of families and hopeful kids. It all fits neatly into the ancient cycles of the agrarian year, a continuous circle of renewal and harvest, of enjoying the bountiful gifts of the farming life.

Food, Food Artisans

Cookie Crunch Time

Holiday Baking with Maddie LaKind

The month of December brings with it a mixed bag of emotions. Thanksgiving is over—sad. Snow is coming—happy. Temperatures are dropping—nervous! Christmas and Chanukah are nearing—thrilled. And, perhaps most significantly, cookie baking season is officially here—elated!! On that sweet note, Zingerman’s is bursting with ingredients to help turn all of your cookie dreams into a reality. So for all of you eager bakers out there who are gearing up for endless batches of snickerdoodles, thumbprints, linzers, shortbreads and more, here are my top 10 cookie baking essentials this holiday.

1. Heilala Vanilla Products
Is there any ingredient more synonymous with cookie baking than vanilla? It seems to appear in almost every cookie recipe out there, which makes sense given its flavor boosting capabilities and beautiful bittersweet notes. If you’re looking for a way to really amp up your cookie baking skills, its time to talk beans. Vanilla beans that is. Heilala is a family run business started in 2002 by a father daughter team. After being gifted a plot of land in Tonga (a sovereign state of Polynesia), this team spent three years developing, planting, and harvesting vanilla beans. Their product is now sold to chefs and discerning palettes worldwide and is considered by many to be some of the best vanilla in the world. Heilala produces a wide range of vanilla products from extract, powder, paste, and even whole vanilla beans. Try any of them out in your next baked good or specifically these Heilala Vanilla Sugar Drops.

heilala vanilla

2. Cluizel Cacoa Nibs
Everyone seems to have a chocolate chip cookie recipe in their arsenal. But what about a cacao nib cookie recipe? Cacao nibs are simply a less refined form of chocolate produced by crushing dried/roasted cacao beans. Unlike chocolate chips which have been mixed with sugar, cacao nibs lend a toasty, slightly bitter, coffee-like flavor to pastries. And if you’re going to get your hands on any sort of chocolate this season, Michel Cluizel is the crème de la crème. Based in Normandy, France, Cluizel has been producing beautiful artisanal chocolate since 1948. In addition to maintaining high standards for his actual chocolate products, Cluizel remains firmly committed to preserving direct relationships with all his cacao farmers. Enjoy cacao nibs as a pastry topper or an add-in these Oatmeal Walnut Cocoa Nib Cookies courtesy of the “Joy the Baker” blog.

michel cluizel nibs

3. Bourbon Smoked Sugar
Anyone who has delved into the world of holiday baking knows just how much sugar is involved. Specifically, finishing sugars like powdered sugar or sugar in the raw. Just like adding a fancy salt or drizzle of good olive oil to a savory dish, finishing sugars can add that extra something to a cookie, creating fun flavor and textural combinations. For anyone looking for a sophisticated twist on your run of the mill granulated sugar, this bourbon smoked sugar is a must. Produced by Matt Jamie of Bourbon Barrel Foods in Lousiville, KY— the bourbon capital of the US—this sugar comes to life when grainy raw sugar is smoked from staves of old bourbon barrels. This process imparts an intense smoky flavor balanced with caramely, toasty bourbon notes. Try some sprinkled on top of your favorite shortbread or this decadent grown-up Bourbon Salted Toffee from Bourbon Barrel Foods.

bourbon smoked sugar

4. Mindo Cocoa Powder
If you’re a chocolate fanatic and live in the state of Michigan, then the Mindo chocolate company has probably popped up on your radar a time or two. Founded by two former auto-repair shop workers—Jose Beza and Barbara Wilson—the company maintains a harvesting operation in Ecuador (Jose’s country of origin) and a production facility in Dexter, MI. It is here in Michigan where all of their beans are ground and tempered by hand and then turned into a variety of unique products. While Mindo has a whole collection of delicious treats available for sale, their cocoa powder is the real showstopper. The flavor itself is rich, dark, and slightly acidic. Not only was it ranked one of the best cocoa powders in the country by “Food and Wine” magazine, but it also makes incredible cookies like these chocolate World Peace Cookies from famed baker Dorie Greenspan.

mindo cocoa powder

5. Halen Mon Sea Salt
Although you might not know its there, almost every cookie recipe in existence utilizes salt. It is not typically a discernable amount, but just enough to help balance and enhance the prominent flavors. One of my favorite recent trends in baking though takes salting to the next level by sprinkling a light amount of tasty sea salt or fleur de sel on top of the cookie itself. The contrast between sweet and salty is sublime and a fun way to enhance an existing recipe or experiment with a new one. My personal recommendation for finishing salt is Halen Mon Pure White Sea Salt. This now world-renowned company harvests their salt from the seas around the Isle of Anglesey near Wales and, may I say, it is hands down some of the best salt I’ve ever tried. The flavor is clean, bright, and just a tad briny, while the texture is super flaky. Contrasted with a gooey chocolate chip cookie, like these Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from the “Joy the Baker” blog, it is pure cookie heaven.

halen mon salt

6. Epices de Cru Cardamom
One of the newest product lines to come to Zingerman’s this year is the Epices de Cru collection of spices. Based in Montreal, this family run company sources hundreds of spices from around the world and is committed to the highest level of quality they can find. While their entire product line is exceptional, their cardamom pods are an exciting addition to any holiday baking lineup. I know cardamom might not seem like the most obvious spice for holiday baking, but its warm, mild spiciness makes it seem perfectly at home among old standards like nutmeg, clove, allspice, and cinnamon. Epices de Cru procures their cardamom from South India’s Cardamom Hills and sells them whole to be ground at home—ensuring freshness and the best flavor possible in your baked goods. Try this Cardamom out in Dorie Greenspan’s Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles for a new twist on an old classic.

epices de cru cardomom

7. Echire Butter
Butter. Who doesn’t love luscious, creamy butter? Just like vanilla, salt, and sugar, the quality of the butter you use when baking can make a huge difference in the resulting flavor of you cookies. Two of my personal favorites for cookie baking in particular are Echire Butter and German Butter. Echire butter hails from France and is produced from milk collected from a cooperative of 66 different farms. All of the cows are carefully monitored during grazing in order to ensure a rich flavor and striking golden color in their milk. Once churned, the butter clocks in at 84% butterfat compared to about 80% in your average grocery store butter. The pure, sweet flavor also reigns supreme and is perfect for simple cookies like these Butter Cookies from “Gourmet” magazine.

échiré butter

8. Membrillo
This next ingredient is definitely the odd ball of the list, but here me out. Membrillo is a paste made out of quince (a fruit that falls in the apple/pear family), traditionally paired with Manchego cheese in Spanish cuisine. While it may not seem like your traditional baking ingredient, membrillo’s tartness and mild sweetness makes it perfect for sandwiching between shortbread or filling thumbprint cookies like these Membrillo Thumbprint Cookies from ‘The Kitchn” blog.

membrillo quince paste

9. Crème Fraiche
Crème fraiche found its way into my life fairly recently, but since it has, I’ve become completely hooked. Crème fraiche is simply soured cow’s milk cream that is similar in texture/flavor to sour cream, but with double the butterfat. This means more richness and an even milkier flavor. My favorite variety is produced by Vermont Creamery, a company famous for the exemplary dairy products ranging from cheeses to yogurts and even butters. With its slight acidity, it lends a welcome contrast to heavily sweet ingredients like fruit, or, my personal favorite, chocolate. Give them a whirl in Vermont Creamery’s own True Decadence Brownies for the ultimate holiday sweet fix.

créme fraîche

10. Lemon Curd
Besides peanut butter, there are very few products I will willingly eat right out the jar. Lemon curd is an exception to that rule. With its bright, tart flavor and super smooth texture, curd ranks high as one of my perfect desserts, particularly if it is made by Thursday Cottage, which has been producing traditional small batch curds for over sixty years. Based in England, Thursday Cottage uses all natural, locally sourced ingredients for their curd and stirs each batch in a specially designed curd kettle. While delightful on their own, curds are incredibly versatile in baked goods. Try dolloping some into a thumbprint cookie or sandwiching a spoonful between two shortbread cookies like “Gourmet” magazine’s Petite Lemon Curd Cookies.

lemon curd

To all of you bakers and eaters out there, I hope you find inspiration for your own cookie traditions in this tremendous list of products. Cheers and happy holidays!

- Maddie

Maddie selfie

Food, Food Artisans

This Week at Zingerman’s 12/16/14

Best of Ari 2014

Best of 2014 with Ari at Zingerman’s Events on 4th – 2nd Session

This time of year we pull out the foods that simply amaze us and taste them together. We reflect on the past year and celebrate. Join Ari Weinzweig and the Deli crew on Tuesday, December 16th, 630pm for the most anticipated tasting of the year: an evening of story telling, historical narrative, and ridiculously tasty bites from Ari’s “Best of 2014!”

SORRY, THIS EVENT IS ALREADY FULL.

Get on the Waitlist


ZingTrain Speaker Series: John U. Bacon

Based on John Bacon’s book Cirque du Soleil, The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All, this session explores how Cirque du Soleil manages creativity in the workplace, generating eye-popping innovations without losing the discipline every organization needs to be successful. And how you can apply some of what John Bacon learned while “embedded” at the Cirque (he tried everything from the trapeze at 50-feet to the German Wheel to, yes, make up) to your organization. Wednesday, December 17, 8-930am. 

Reserve your seat here


Cocktail Class at Cornman Farms: Jolly Cocktails!

The air is crisp and cold, the ground covered in new-fallen snow; winter is here! Join us at Cornman Farms on Thursday, December 18, 7pm, as we explore three festive cocktails that will leave you feeling toasty and warm on the chilliest winter evenings! We’ll explore an American colonial tradition by making Hot Buttered Rum, salute the cocktail heyday of the early 1900s with a Brandy Alexander, and end the class by experimenting with versions of the classic Champagne Cocktail – perfect for celebrating the winter holidays. You’ll leave with recipes for these drinks and more, so you can mix warming winter cocktails at your holiday gathering, or to ring in the New Year with style. We’ll also include some tasty and hearty appetizers prepared by the Cornman Farms talented culinary team.

Reserve your seat here


The Many Faces of the Manchester at Zingerman’s Creamery

Drawing inspiration from a traditional Welsh-English soft-ripened cheese, the Manchester has evolved a uniquely delicious identity distinct from its distant cousin, and we are happier for it! We’re so proud of this versatile cheese that we’re hosting a very special tasting to showcase all of the wonderful ways it can light up your dinner table. From a standard cheese board, to Manchester brûlée, to Manchester Puff Pastries, we’ll sample some of the many ways to serve this amazing cheese. Friday, December 19, 6pm. Don’t miss it!

Reserve your seat here

See you soon!

ZingLife

Zingerman’s Holiday Hours 2014/2015

Still have some last minute eating and shopping to do?
the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses will be open for (most of) the Holidays!

Zingerman’s Deli
Christmas Eve: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
New Year’s Eve: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
New Year’s Day: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

snowglobe Zingerman’s Roadhouse
Christmas Eve: 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
December 26: 9 a.m. – 11 p.m.
New Year’s Eve: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.
New Year’s Day: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse
Christmas Eve: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
New Year’s Eve: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
New Year’s Day: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Zingerman’s Coffee Company
Christmas Eve: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
New Year’s Eve: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
New Year’s Day: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Zingerman’s Creamery
Christmas Eve: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
New Year’s Eve: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
New Year’s Day: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Zingerman’s Mail Order
Open 24 hours a day through Dec 23
Christmas Eve: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Christmas Day: CLOSED
December 26 – December 30: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.
New Year’s Eve: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
New Year’s Day: CLOSED
January 2, 2015: 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.

ZingTrain
December 24, 3 p.m. through January 4: CLOSED
Reopen January 5, 9 a.m.

Cornman Farms
Christmas Day: CLOSED
New Year’s Day: CLOSED

 Zingerman’s wishes you a joyous and peaceful Holiday Season!

ZingLife

Z-Pic of the Week

December 12, 2014

Ari and Gauri with the new Lapsed Anarchist pamphlets.

Ari and Gauri with the new Lapsed Anarchist pamphlets.

Food, Food Artisans

This Week at Zingerman’s 12/9/14

Keiron

Sunday Roast Dinner at Cornman Farms

On Sunday, December 14, 5pm, Cornman Farms presents our very first Traditional English Roast Dinner! Managing Partner and Englishman Chef Kieron Hales is tickled to serve a delicious, time-honored meal inspired by his homeland. We’ll welcome you to our historic farmhouse with a glass of spiced, mulled wine, and you’ll enjoy a meal of roast beef, buttery potatoes and seasonal vegetables from the farm. Standard accompaniments will include horseradish and cream sauce, apple and brandy sauce, and Yorkshire Pudding (Made with Kieron’s family Yorkshire pudding mold) and homemade jams. This event comes straight from Chef Kieron’s heart and soul – you’ll taste the difference!

Reserve your seat here


Best of 2014 with Ari at Zingerman’s Events on 4th – 2nd Session

This time of year we pull out the foods that simply amaze us and taste them together. We reflect on the past year and celebrate. Join Ari Weinzweig and the Deli crew on Tuesday, December 16th, 630pm for the most anticipated tasting of the year: an evening of story telling, historical narrative, and ridiculously tasty bites from Ari’s “Best of 2014!”

SORRY, THIS EVENT IS ALREADY FULL.

Get on the Waitlist


ZingTrain Speaker Series: John U. Bacon

Based on John Bacon’s book Cirque du Soleil, The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All, this session explores how Cirque du Soleil manages creativity in the workplace, generating eye-popping innovations without losing the discipline every organization needs to be successful. And how you can apply some of what John Bacon learned while “embedded” at the Cirque (he tried everything from the trapeze at 50-feet to the German Wheel to, yes, make up) to your organization. Wednesday, December 17, 8-930am. 

Reserve your seat here


Cocktail Class at Cornman Farms: Jolly Cocktails!

The air is crisp and cold, the ground covered in new-fallen snow; winter is here! Join us at Cornman Farms on Thursday, December 18, 7pm, as we explore three festive cocktails that will leave you feeling toasty and warm on the chilliest winter evenings! We’ll explore an American colonial tradition by making Hot Buttered Rum, salute the cocktail heyday of the early 1900s with a Brandy Alexander, and end the class by experimenting with versions of the classic Champagne Cocktail – perfect for celebrating the winter holidays. You’ll leave with recipes for these drinks and more, so you can mix warming winter cocktails at your holiday gathering, or to ring in the New Year with style. We’ll also include some tasty and hearty appetizers prepared by the Cornman Farms talented culinary team.

Reserve your seat here


The Many Faces of the Manchester at Zingerman’s Creamery

Drawing inspiration from a traditional Welsh-English soft-ripened cheese, the Manchester has evolved a uniquely delicious identity distinct from its distant cousin, and we are happier for it! We’re so proud of this versatile cheese that we’re hosting a very special tasting to showcase all of the wonderful ways it can light up your dinner table. From a standard cheese board, to Manchester brûlée, to Manchester Puff Pastries, we’ll sample some of the many ways to serve this amazing cheese. Friday, December 19, 6pm. Don’t miss it!

Reserve your seat here

See you soon!