Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friedman and the Chocolate Factory

by Ellen Cynar

A group of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition students recently had the sweet pleasure of touring the Taza Chocolate Factory located in Somerville, MA. The tour was a combined force of Slow Foods Tufts and Tufts Food Works, looking to see good, clean and fair business in action. We began our tour by learning about the history of Taza and its production philosophy. Taza, which means cup in Spanish, was started by Alex Whitmore and Larry Slotnick who wanted to get back to the roots (or the beans) of chocolate making. Emulating Mexican-style artisan chocolate, Taza crafts 100% stone-ground chocolate with a unique, slightly gritty texture. The company considers itself ingredient obsessed, using only high-end, organic chocolate.

DID YOU KNOW: Taza is one of the few “bean-to-bar” chocolate companies in the United States? This means Taza makes their chocolate in the Somerville factory, beginning with raw cacao beans.

While sampling Taza’s delicious chocolate, the group learned about the process of growing and harvesting cacao beans. Taza works directly with farmers in the Dominican Republic through a Direct Trade Agreement, which seeks to provide fair compensation to farmers in exchange for high quality, environmentally conscious, cacao crops.

DID YOU KNOW: Cacao beans come from pods grown on trees and vary in color from yellows to greens to reds? Different colored pods can grow on the same tree.

After donning very stylish hairnets, we made our way back into the factory where we checked out the roasting and winnowing (de-shelling) machines to learn how to process cacao beans. We sampled cacao nibs, which are the little pieces of roasted cacao beans that can be covered in chocolate and used for snacking, baking or toppings.

DID YOU KNOW: Roasting cacao beans give off the smell of brownies? This brings new meaning to the idea of “occupational hazard”.

A few additional samples later, we made our way into Taza’s shipping and packaging room and learned how Taza lovingly wraps those perfectly round Mexicano chocolate disks. Taza works to create a sustainable product starting with sourcing all the way to packaging and delivery. Shipping is kept to a minimum with direct sourcing and Taza utilizes UPS carbon neutral shipping for long journeys.

DID YOU KNOW: Taza chocolate is delivered locally via pedal power? Taza partners with Metro Pedal Power for Boston, Cambridge and Somerville deliveries.

Hairnets removed, the group moved back into the Factory Store area to finish learning about the chilling and molding process of Taza chocolate, and of course, try more samples. Some favorites included Guajillo Chili, Salt and Pepper and for the pure at heart, Cacao Puro.

Slow Foods Tufts and Tufts Food Works would like to thank Taza and its generous staff for coordinating such a delicious event. Visit Taza Chocolate's website for more information about the company, their chocolate or to go on a tour of your own. Don't worry, we left some samples behind. For more information regarding nutrition and agriculture private sector connections, please visit Tufts Food Works' website.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

All About Lobster

(This post written by Slow Food Tufts member Bridget McElroy)

Lobster was the topic and the guest of honor at the March 17th Slow Food Tufts meeting. Jim Lynch took time out of his busy schedule at the Lynch Lobster Company in Beverly, MA, to speak to the group about the different aspects of the lobster business including catching, sourcing, marketing, shipping, sustainability issues, and some tasty recipes. With him, he brought two live lobsters to teach us about the legal lobster size and to give us a little lobster anatomy lesson.

Jim and his two brothers represent the third generation of their family to work in the lobster business, as their grandfather started his own company in the industry in 1925. In 1994, the three brothers branched out to start their own small, hands-on, local live lobster distribution business with a national and international scope. According to Jim, the lobster industry produces 200-225 million pounds per year and does about a billion dollars worth of business annually. In general, the industry is divided up into small companies like Lynch’s, which do about $1-5 million in sales annually. Many of these companies are primarily involved in buying from lobstermen along the coast in New England and Canada and then distributing the product to various points along the supply chain. Lynch Lobster Company sells directly to consumers, restaurants, retailers, processors, or larger distributors, and can process between 5 and 10 thousand lobsters per day.

Although not one himself, Lynch personally knows many lobstermen (the only contracts his company has with lobster fishermen are based on a handshake) and he is very familiar with the political and environmental factors that affect them. We learned that in recent years, catch numbers have gone up significantly, partially because of regulations that have increased the stock. Policies have continued to raise the minimum size of lobsters that can be caught (meaning more lobsters are thrown back and allowed to keep growing and breeding) and they also require larger escape vents on traps (releasing lobsters from any traps lost by fishermen). Another very important factor that Jim pointed out is the reduced number of cod and haddock due to over-fishing. These fish are a lobster’s natural predators, and lobster populations have thrived since fish numbers in certain areas have dwindled.

Despite increased catch numbers, lobstermen in New England continue to face price fluctuations that sometimes pay them an unsustainable wage, especially during the off season (November-May). Additionally, in most cases, lobstermen don’t have much choice about where and when to sell their catch, and just sell to local middlemen at that day’s market price. Regulations in New England that limit the processing of whole lobsters are unfavorable to those who might want to start a value-added enterprise of their own – especially as value-added products like lobster tails and lobster meat have grown in popularity in recent years. Competition with Canada’s government-subsidized lobster processing industry is also a formidable challenge.

Jim Lynch’s many years of experience in the lobster business made him quite an enlightening guest to have. His enthusiasm for his family business, the industry, cooking, and lobsters in general made it a thoroughly enjoyable talk. At the end of his presentation, we all got to put our names in a hat for the chance to bring home two Lynch lobsters. Maggie Holmes (pictured left with the catch) was the lucky winner and I’m sure she prepared a delicious dinner that night.

Thank you to Jim Lynch and the Lynch Lobster Company, and to the Slow Food Tufts officers for organizing this fun talk!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2nd Annual Slow Food Tufts Brew-Off!

Yes, spring is in the air. The piles of gritty snow are finally almost gone, brave tulip and crocus shoots are poking up, and yes, the smell of freshly-brewed, and quietly fermenting beer is in the air. Or at least it is in my closet, where I have my freshly minted batch of homebrew fermenting away, just in time for this year's second annual SLOW FOOD TUFTS STUDENT HOMEBREW COMPETITION!

Calling all brewers and brewer-curious folks in the Tufts graduate student community! Get your worts started now, as submissions to enter the brew-off are due April 1st! More details on how to enter are below (and in case you missed the fun of last year's competition, I've included a brief write up and photos of the event).

Slow Food Tufts Brew-off and Beer Luck!
Thursday, April 28
5:30 to 7:30 pm
Jaharis Cafe - Boston Campus

What is a brew-off?
A brew-off is a fancy name for a student home-brew competition- ALL Tufts graduate students, including Slow Food Tufts members, are eligible to enter. Don't have your own equipment? Collaborate and enter with a friend! Beer will be judged by a panel of expert brewers and beer aficionados. Prizes go to judges' and student favorites. Brewers must submit at least 1- 6 pack or 3- 22oz bottles of their home-brew, but are encouraged to bring more to share!

What is a beer-luck?
SFT's twist on the traditional potluck - instead of a dish to pass, bring your favorite beer to share with others!

How to enter the competition...
In order to officially enter the brew-off, email your name, school/program and type of beer you'll be brewing to by APRIL 1st! Any entries received after this date cannot be guaranteed entry into the competition.

Sarah Kasten, Rachael Kirk, Bridget McElroy, Juli Obudzinski
Brew-off committee

Highlights from Slow Food Tufts 2010 Brew-Off...

Over 100 graduate students from the Frieman, Dental, Medical, Fletcher and UEP Schools crammed crammed into the Jaharis Cafe on the Boston campus on April 29, 2010, for our first ever graduate student homebrew competition! Even former Dean Irwin Rosenberg showed up to partake in all the beer tasting festivities!

The brew-off started with a general tasting, where students, accustomed to the nature of Slow Food events, filled up their own tasting mugs/thermoses/mason jars/dixie cups with 2oz samples of beers that were entered into the Brew off. Students also brought various and sundry beers to contribute to the Beer-Luck, so rest assured, there was plenty to imbibe in.

18 homebrewers entered a total of 16 beers in the competition, which were judged in 3 separate categories.
Group 1: Ales, Pilsners, Blondes (India Pale Ale, Honey Blonde, Classic American Pilsner, California Common, Pale Ale and an India Red Ale)
Group 2: Belgian/Wheat (Belgian, Ginger Wheat, Belgian Triple, Weizenbock, and Heffeweizen)
Group 3: Darks (German Alt, Porter, Altbier, and Gingered Pale Ale)

Our esteemed panel of judges included Randy Baril, owner of the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge; Joe Connolly, beer buyer at Gordon's Liquor in Watertown; David Lytton, certified beer judge and tour guide at Harpoon Brewery; and Bert Boyce, beerologist at Samuel Adam's Brewery in Jamaica Plains.

Beers were judged on aroma, flavor, appearance, mouthfeel and overall impression. The winning brews included the Pale Ale, submitted by Friedman students Vladamir Kustanovich and Jesse Roberts, the Belgian Triple, submitted by Dental School student Scott Recksiedler, and the Gingered Dark Ale submitted by UEP student Alex Reisman.

Prizes included Samuel Adam's merchandise, a selection of collectors edition craft brews, gift certificates to the Cambridge Brewing Company, Lord Hobo, and the Modern Homebrew Emorium.

Last year's brew off was an absolute blast, and proved to be THE perfect way to wind down an otherwise chaotic spring semester. So mark your calendars for this year's competition - THURSDAY APRIL 28TH, and if you're thinking about brewing, submissions are due the week after spring break on FRIDAY APRIL 1ST.

Let the brewing begin!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tufts Does Trivia!

Here on the downtown Boston campus of Tufts, we have several separate schools full of grad students working towards degrees in the health sciences (nutrition, dentistry, public health, medicine, biomedical science, and more). While we all pass by each other in the library and around campus, it’s not often that we have events involving more than one school. This all changed on a recent Thursday night, when students from the Friedman, Dental, Medical, PHPD, and Sackler programs came together to test their trivia knowledge! With questions submitted by professors from various disciplines, as well as some pop culture and Boston-specific trivia, everyone had their chance to shine – and to be occasionally stumped. Teams combining brainpower from various schools did appear to have an advantage in the competition, with both the winning and runner-up teams bringing together different programs.

Matthew Hast, Director of Admissions at the Friedman School, was a fantastic host for the night as he took the 100 or so students in the room through eight rounds of questions. Afterwards, everyone was able to mingle (and debate some of the answers) at Sweetwater Tavern nearby.

Some fun facts we learned throughout the night:

o The Boston Marathon began in 1897!

o It takes 5000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.

o Only 2 – 3% of Massachusetts residents are currently uninsured for health insurance, compared to 15% in the general U.S. population.

o There are more than twice as many players on the New England Patriots roster than OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspectors in Massachusetts. (67 Patriots, 33 OSHA inspectors)

Slow Food would like to thank the PHPD program, Medical School, and Dental School for their help in organizing Trivia Night, and particularly the PHPD program for providing everyone with pizza! We hope everyone had a great time, and look forward to more cross-campus events.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bread-Baking Skillshare

This past Saturday, three Tufts Slow Foodies (Maya Behar, Maggie Holmes, and I) squeezed into a tiny, yet lovely kitchen in Somerville to learn all about the art of hearth bread-baking from our very own Nicole Tichenor. Nicole took us through a recipe for Pain de Campagne, or “country bread”, explaining all of the intricacies involved in the two day process. For time’s sake, Nicole prepared three loaves (two boules and her first baguette) in advance so that she could show us how to set up the oven for hearth baking. The hearth baking method involves placing a skillet filled with water on the top rack and misting water on the sides of the oven to produce steam, causing the bread to rise rapidly and resulting in a delightfully crispy crust. The loaves were done in only about 15 minutes but required at least 45 minutes to cool, leaving us with plenty of time to chat about everything from wedding planning to the science behind good bread. Amidst the conversation, Nicole put the three of us to work to create our own batch of dough, using the starter, or Pâte Fermentée, she prepared the day before. We each took turns mixing ingredients and kneading the dough until the consistency and temperature was just right and ready for the first of several rises. We rounded out the afternoon with a small taste of the finished baguette and each left the skillshare armed with a loaf of freshly baked bread, a printed step-by-step recipe, and the knowledge and confidence necessary to try hearth bread-baking in our own kitchens. In fact, Maya wasted no time and picked up some bread flour and yeast on her way home!

Three key take aways from the skillshare:

1) Use good quality ingredients

2) Follow directions EXACTLY (this is where I usually go wrong!)

3) Stay focused and “keep your head in the bread”

Thanks again to Nicole for sharing her bread-baking skills with us!