Tag Archives: grain

Walbridge Farm Tour

My wife found this awesome series of “Meat Your Beef” / “Farm to Fork” tours that the New York Beef Council (@newyorkbeefcouncil) hosts at various local farms in the area. The national outfit is known by the popular moniker: “Beef; It’s What’s for Dinner,” with the accompanying website as well. I sometimes link to their butchery videos here, actually. It is an extremely helpful organization!

So the closest farm tour to NYC that they set up was in Millbrook, at a place called Walbridge Farm (@walbridgefarmmarket). Millbrook is a rural community in the heart of the Hudson Valley, just about two hours north of NYC. Walbridge Farm is an Angus beef farm.

The best part about this, aside from the wealth of knowledge we come away with, is the fact that these tours are completely FREE and we were even treated to a steak lunch. I was sold on “free beef farm tour,” but “free steak” was icing on the cake. We immediately RSVP’d and rented a car for the day, and Jeff from Foodmento and his wife Victoria came with us.

So we pulled off the Taconic to a nice country road that was dotted with awesome creepy and abandoned structures. I have a soft spot for these in my photography, so I snapped a bunch of shots. We were about 30 minutes early for the tour anyway.

First was this banged up looking shed at a Mobil station:

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Then we spotted this monster of a mansion along the north side of the road. Upon further examination, we learned that it was the Halcyon House. Once a luxury hotel, it was later transformed into the Bennett School for Girls, a boarding school and college. Unfortunately it has since been abandoned and has fallen into a severe state of disrepair. It is slated for demolition at any time, as the land was split into eight parcels and sold off.

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This ragged looking Walking Dead structure is, I believe, an annex to the school property.

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So we pulled up to Walbridge Farm and took in the grounds:

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A few minutes later the tour began and the farm manager, Doug Giles, took us around to explain what happens at each structure on the farm.

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The first thing we did was to “meet the meat.”

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Walbridge is a sustainable Registered Black Angus farm. Their pasture raised Angus is grass fed and then grain finished. Their diet consists of corn, sunflower meal and hay – all grown on Walbridge Farm’s 900 acres plus the additional 700 acres that they lease and farm nearby. The large blue silos you see here store all that food.

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They don’t spray the fields with pesticides or insecticides, and their soils and water are tested yearly. That means the meat is pesticide free and non–GMO grain finished. In addition, their crops are rotated in order to care for the nutrients in the soils, and the cattle are moved throughout their fields in order to preserve the pastures.

Doug then showed us how they monitor and control the cattle, in the event they have to tag them, inseminate them for calving, treat them for illness or get them ready to ship elsewhere.

In this barn, they can get corralled and directed into a single-file chute, where the animal can’t move away or hurt itself while being inspected or treated with vaccinations.

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This beauty was off to a county fair to win some prizes.

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An animal specialist from SUNY Cobleskill, Assistant Professor Lynn Geoffroy, spoke next about antibiotics, animal nutrition and how animals are treated for illness.

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If an animal is treated with antibiotics, by law the farm must wait a minimum of 28 days before it can be sent off and slaughtered for consumption. That’s how long it takes for the antibiotic to work its way out of the animal’s system. Vitamin hormones and ionophores are given to some cattle to aid in digestion and to prevent illness. These supplements are safe in terms of later human consumption, as they get completely metabolized by the animals. As such the ionophores are not as heavily regulated and don’t require rigorous documentation and paperwork like the use of antibiotics does.

After the tour we had a few minutes to ourselves before lunch. We visited a trio of friendly goats, and checked out the farm stand store.

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Walbridge also has over a hundred free-range egg-laying hens that eat an organic feed. Further, ten beehives are located throughout the acreage. Rich Honey Farm collects the honey harvest. Walbridge also works with Snowy Pass Farm to tap all of the maple trees on the property for syrup production. That’s total sustainability, and taking advantage of everything the land has to offer.

We sat down at our lunch table to a nice pile of swag for us to take home. Inside the oven mitt/pot holder was a plethora of info about beef, including recipes and even a knife sharpener.

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And something that immediately interested me: a chart for taste testing notes and a scale for ranking various meat characteristics.

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We sampled two meats, both were NY strip loin cuts. Jean O’Toole from the Beef Council didn’t tell us what we were looking for at first. She just asked which we liked better: A or B.

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I preferred A. It was more tender, flavorful and juicy. Based on those characteristics, and that the texture of B was a bit more grainy and tough, I was guessing that A was grain-finished and B was grass-finished. It turns out I was correct (thank God – would have felt like an asshole if I didn’t get that right). Selection A was exactly the kind of beef that Walbridge produces: Certified Angus and grain-finished. Here are my notes from before the reveal:

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After Jean announced the reveal, she passed around a plate of the steaks to show the difference in appearance and marbling between the two steaks.

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Grass finished animals are generally older when they go to slaughter, as it takes longer for those animals to pack on the fat and weight in order to get to a marketable production age. Grain finished animals fatten up faster and can go to market sooner. Older animals have darker red muscle flesh. So the left piece is grass-finished and the right piece is grain finished.

We also sampled some of this delicious cold-pressed sunflower oil by Hudson Valley. This stuff is actually made from the same sunflower seeds that the cows eventually eat at Walbridge Farm.

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No chemicals are used when creating the oil, and the flavor is incredibly rich as a result of the more natural process. It even has a higher smoking point than olive oil, so better for certain types of frying. We actually picked up a bottle from the farm store. $15.

With that, we had all wet our appetites for a full lunch. Very simple and delicious: grilled strip loin, veggies, fruit and a cookie for dessert. I was a happy man.

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After lunch we were treated to a few lectures and presentations. The first was by nutritionist Cindy Phillips from the New York Beef Council. We learned about the differences in fat content between various types of beef produced from various types of feed finishing and farming techniques. She also discussed the many benefits from a diet that includes beef, dispelling many misconceptions in popular culture about beef being somehow bad for you.

The next presentation was about GMOs. Cornell Professor Dr. Margaret Smith gave a very unbiased and truthful look at the history of plant and animal selective breeding and the introduction of modern genetics into that field. While there is a lot of bad press on the subject of late, and lots of unknowns, many GMO products are completely benign. The industry shows great potential for helping farmers overcome the massive challenges they face in their business relating to crop/product yields, longevity and quality, as well as pest and weed control. However we did learn, essentially, that we are still learning a lot in this field of study, and that tests must be performed and caution must be taken each step of the way.

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We also heard from SUNY Cobleskill Assistant Professor Dr. Jason Evans about the economics of the cattle industry. Growing up on a farm, he was able to discuss, with personal experience, the various hurdles and challenges within the field. With his educational background in economics, he also discussed possible ways that the industry can improve operations, going forward, given certain cycles and trends that he monitors.

The whole experience was very eye opening and informative. It dispelled many myths that you see floating around, and provided us with a lot of information to take away, with which we could continue researching and learning.

WALBRIDGE FARM MARKET
538 Route 343
Millbrook, NY 12545

Scotch & Whiskey

This page is dedicated to the greatest liquor around: whiskey. Aside from a dirty, dry, gin martini, a glass of scotch and/or whiskey is probably the greatest thing to happen to the male sex since the discovery of female tits, ass and vagina. Read and learn all about these great accompaniments to dinner.

You may sometimes see it spelled “whisky,” or generically (and often erroneously) referred to as “scotch.” You might also see scotch lumped in with things like bourbon or rye. Shit, you’ll even see single malts confused with blends. But words have meanings, my friends, and this is where you will learn them, and where you will find my opinions about which are the best.

Terminology

Whiskey/Whisky: Whisky is alcohol that’s been distilled from fermented grain mash. All whiskey must be distilled at a minimum of 40% and a maximum of 94.8% ABV. The spelling is generally different based on which country it is from. A nice rule of thumb is that countries that do not have an E in their name do not spell whisky with an E. Examples: Scotland/Japan = Whisky; America/Ireland = Whiskey

Where Brooklyn at???
Where Brooklyn at???

Grain Whisky: Whisky made, at least in part, from grains other than malted barley.

Malt Whisky: Whisky made primarily from malted barley.

Irish Whiskey: Yup, you guessed it… whiskey made in Ireland. It must be distilled to an ABV of less than 94.8%. Additional rules are that it must be aged three or more years in wooden barrels, and if two or more distillates are used the whiskey must be labeled as a “blend.”

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Scotch: The mash must be barley, it must be from Scotland, and it must be aged in oak barrels for three or more years at an ABV of less than 94.8%. Pretty simple.

Single Malt: Essentially this just means that the whisky is a product of a single distillery.  A single-malt Laphroaig may contain whisky from many barrels produced at their distillery, but it must contain whisky produced only at Laphroaig.

Blended Malt: Also known as vatted malts, these are a blend of single malts from two or more distilleries.

Single Grain: Very misleading. It means barley and one or more other cereal grains were used, produced only at a single distillery (similar to single malt).

Blended Grain: Blend of single grains from two or more distilleries.

Blended Scotch Whisky: A mix of both single malt whisky and single grain whisky, sourced from several different distilleries.

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Single Barrel: This is a whisky from a single barrel, unmixed with other barrels. Very rare.

Bourbon: Grain mix must be at least 51% corn, and bourbons are from the USA and aged in new charred oak barrels. Straight bourbon is a bourbon that has aged two or more years. While most bourbon is made in Kentucky, it is not a requirement. Bourbon can be no more than 80% alcohol (160 proof) and no more than 62.5% when put into casks for aging in new charred oak barrels.

Tennessee Whiskey: Straight bourbon made in Tennessee and filtered through charcoal.

Rye: In Canada, there must be some rye in the mash. In the USA, however, there must be at least 51% rye in the mash, and they must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Like bourbon, straight rye is a rye that has aged two or more years. Rye can be no more than 80% alcohol (160 proof) and no more than 62.5% when put into casks for aging in new charred oak barrels.

Personal Preferences

I have two distinct likes when it comes to scotch. I enjoy the extremes of the spectrum: creamy and sweet like butterscotch, and super medicinal and peaty.

Let’s start with the peaty ones: Laphroaig 10 is like baseball glove leather, and I mean that in the best way possible. Very smokey and definitely an acquired taste. I absolutely love it.

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That, Ardbeg (both the 10 year and the Corryvreckan) and Lagavulin are my favorite of the smokey, peaty varieties.

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I have a great book called “Michael Jacksons Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch” that I found to be very useful (Not Jacko – some other dude). It also rates them out of 100. Lagavulin 16 (their most common) gets like 96/100. That’s pretty fucking amazing for a bottle that typically costs $75-$100 (depending on how hard you are being raped in cities). Tasting anything higher ranked is going to cost you a shitload of scratch. In fact, I don’t think I’ve tasted anything rated higher than Lagavulin. Get it. It’s fucking totally mint.

For the smoother types: I like Macallan 18, Glenlivet 21, Balvenie Double Wood 12, and Glenmorangie 18.

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That Glenlivet 21 is as clean as a freshly shaved snatch too, assuming there was a shower taken afterwards, and no STDs or weird rashes… One Christmas Eve I drank nearly half a bottle of GL21 and had no hangover whatsoever the next morning. Happy Birthday Jesus!!! The smoothies I listed here are all a bit more expensive (though Balvenie is not) but well worth it.

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The Macallan and Glen Livet 12 years are nice to start with if you’d like to try something smooth as well, but I prefer the Balvenie Double Wood by far at that price point. They call it “double wood” because it has two hard cocks. No… because it is aged for most years in oak casks, but then finished in sherry casks, so it has a unique flavor.

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Scotch Flavor Map

I came across this pretty cool chart thing a while back, and kept it handy for quick reference. This gives you a little visual of the flavor profiles people often discuss with scotch:

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From http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/01/03/all-hail-scottish-whisky-flavour-map

Regions of Scotch Production

There are essentially four main regions of scotch production in Scotland, and each region has flavors that are often typically associated with their scotches.

Speyside: fruity and delicate. The valley of the river Spey is often associated with flavors like vanilla, honey, apples and pears.

Lowlands: fresh, light. These malts are fragrant, floral, taste of cereal and are light in color.

Highlands: smooth and floral. In the west, you have some maritime influence in the flavor, and in the central highlands you get some honey and heather.

Islay/Skye Islands: peaty and briny. These robust malts are laden with the medicinal / iodine aromas of the sea.

Drinking Tips

One thing I like to do: drink the first half of my glass neat, then throw one or two ice cubes in and allow the flavors to change. It’s like having two different glasses of scotch in one, because the ice and water allow the scotch to open up (kind of like wine), and different aromas and flavors can be more easily detected.

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The ice sphere is so much cooler than the ice cube. The ice cube is such a square.
The ice sphere is so much cooler than the ice cube. The ice cube is such a square.

Another cool thing I learned at a tasting: splash a little scotch on the palm of your hand and rub your hands together like Mr. Miyagi. Then smell your hands. All sorts of aromas are unleashed. You’ll smell florals, vanillas, nuts, wood, etc. Very cool.

An interesting trick: suck air in through your teeth as you have some scotch in your mouth and on your tongue. The break-up and aeration of the liquid will release aromas and flavors that you might have otherwise missed.

Most important: take your time. I sometimes see scotch amateurs order a nice scotch and then shoot it fast. What a waste! Don’t be that fucking guy.

Organize a tasting: maximize your exposure to various scotches. If you’re anything like me, you have a bunch of buddies who love to drink. Chances are, a good crew of them dig scotch. Call them up and organize a scotch tasting. Everyone can bring their stash and you’ll have a really big selection to work with. Check out this selection we amassed last Christmas. Fuck yeah! I think we had 30 bottles total when a last minute arrival showed up, and it was something he brought back from China. Sweet!

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A final note: scotch isn’t for everyone. Some people just don’t like this shit. Tastes are subjective, but tastes do change over time. I always hated tequila, for instance. But I respect the spirit and understand how tons of variety exists in the product lines. In fact I’ve recently started to come around to tequila through my enjoyment of aged mezcal. Maybe you’ll come around to scotch if your first impression is bad. Keep trying. You never know – your taste buds might have adjusted and now you might love scotch if you tried some good ones.

Other Resources

For a more in-depth dive into terminology, check out THIS SITE. Start at A, and work your way through Z. Do it. Don’t be a bitch.

Www.Maltmadness.com is a great resource, as is www.Malts.com. Whisky Magazine (out of the UK) is fantastic as well, also online at www.WhiskyMag.com.

You should also check out my post on the Whisky Advent Calendar. Needless to say that was a great December – a December to remember for sure.

day 24: master of malt 50 yr speyside (3rd edition)