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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Top Billin'

“MC am I people call me Milk
When I'm bustin up a party I feel no guilt”
–Audio Two
As a kid milk was the liquid equivalent of broccoli or lima beans: more chore than treat, a means to an end (“grow up big and strong”) rather than a pleasure-in-itself (“makin' bacon”). Mercifully, good reader, age occasionally begets wisdom. Not only have I come to appreciate dairy, I've become a bonafide enthusiast. And I attribute much of this new-found zeal to a single source: an upstart organic Hudson Valley farm that produces arguably the best glass of milk to be had in the city.

They go by the curious name of Milk Thistle.
Putting Ronnybrook to shame: Dante Hesse models his real-deal Chocolate Milk

Milk Thistle is a family farm true and thru. Their story began when Dante Hesse (no relation to Alighieri, Hermann) purchased a plot of semi-abandoned land in Ghent, NY about three years back and set to work: renovating barns and fences, installing a milk house, plumbing and electricity, bringing in a herd of Jerseys. After a stint of hard labor he milked his first cow in 2006, and began bottling this past January.

This was, and is, a strictly home-grown operation: “free range cows and kids,” one sign reads. Almost everything is done in-house (Dante employs only one non-Hesse), including the elegant logo (the work of his sister Angelica, a graphic designer based in Portland). So when you purchase his products you always know where and from whom it comes.
Compared with fellow greenmarket staple Ronnybrook, Milk Thistle may seem a tad lackadaisical. They offer only a half-dozen products in very small quantities, and scribble prices on a dry-erase board. But don't let the shy hippie milkman routine fool you. This dairy is the product of extremely hard work and savvy, brawn and brains alike. It's also a milk with decided substance; philosophy, even. Look closer at the heavy glass bottles and you'll notice the discreet Rudolf Steiner quote that lends insight into Dante's farming logic: “In its essential nature, a farm is a self-contained individuality.” In addition to being certified organic, and antibiotic- and hormone-free, Milk Thistle is guided by the tenets of “biodynamic” agriculture. Everything needed to run the farm (feed, compost, etc.) comes from the farm. Think of it as a self-sufficient milking ecosystem.

The results are harmonious and delicious both. Light pasteurization and non-homogenization lace the odd sip with a discreet nugget of cream. And those Jersey cows – chosen for their high cream content – milk something far sweeter than the competition, with a great deal of character to boot. What is more, from spring until fall the animals feed exclusively on grass. This green diet yields a far richer product than winter hay, so the milk's flavor actually develops with the seasons. As such, Milk Thistle's dairy stays fresh – in both senses of the word – year-round.

I assume thistles are involved at some point, and may even add to the milk's flavor. But I couldn't tell and don't really care. It doesn't matter; the final product sings for itself. So whether you are a dairy enthusiast, or love all things farm fresh, or simply find the phrase “cream on top” arousing, head on down and taste why all this fuss is deserved.

What more can I say?To support Milk Thistle and rediscover the Joy of Milking, catch them at the following Greenmarkets:
  • Fridays at Union Square
  • Saturdays at Grand Army Plaza (Brooklyn) and Inwood (Uptown Manhattan)
  • Sundays at Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) and Columbia University/Morningside Heights
  • Half-gallons of Whole, 2% and Skim are $5.50; quarts are $3.25. Chocolate is $3.75 a quart and $2.50 a pint. Half-and-half is $2.75 a pint.
  • Look for heavy cream and, possibly, coffee milk sometime down the road.
When you go, keep in mind:
  • Milk Thistle currently only milks around thirty cows, which means this stuff sells out. So if you mosey on down too late you might be stuck with 2% or (gasp) skim.
  • Their whole milk makes the richest biscuits and the most tender crepes. And their Chocolate Milk makes Ronnybrook taste like YooHoo. (Not that there's anything wrong with YooHoo.)
  • Because it is so fresh, this milk keeps way longer than a supermarket gallon. Just make sure you have a cold fridge.
Last but not least, impress your friends with these Fun Milk Facts:
  • Milk comes out of the cow at body temperature. (Makes sense, right?)
  • Some chimpanzee in a lab coat scientist said something about whole milk being better for your health and blahblahblah than skim or low-fat. It's also been proven to give you more fluid hip motion on the dancefloor, whilst promoting thick mustaches and smooth chests (and vice-versa).
  • In the Middle Ages, milk was often called by its Late Antiquity Visigoth diminutive kreamteetenmeinlaffenmouth, which roughly translates as “happy is the mouth to be taking a robust sip from the teet of life.”


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Red Hook'd: Changes '08

As you probably know, the Red Hook Ball Fields food vendors are back. We headed down last weekend to survey the changes and report back. Some things to bear in mind:

  • Different look, same food. Trucks have replaced the tents, prices have increased ever-so-slightly, and not everyone has returned, but the food remains the same.
  • Not everyone is back. There are two confirmed casualties: Carcamo Honduran and, sadly, Hernandez HuarachesOchoa Guatemalan and Soler Dominican were also no-shows, although Mr. Soler is selling at Brooklyn Flea and hopes to return to the Soccer Fields before the summer's end. Perez Tacos and Sosa Fruits had truck-compliance issues, but both will make flavorful returns this weekend.
  • The vendors have lost a lot of money. Those fancy new trucks you see came at an average of $40,000 (including repairs to pass inspection), and the delayed start date (as vendors worked to pass inspection) set them back quite a bit. So eat up.
  • Lines. Lots of people showed up ready to eat, but decreased space and staffing (you can only fit so many in a truck) yielded increased waiting times: about half an hour for an elote, and double for a huarache. So go with a group and hit the lines strategically.
  • Trucks. Did I mention the trucks? An eclectic armada of city-approved mobile units have replaced the open-air tents of years past. We predict a learning curve, as vendors and customers alike adapt to the changes. But the trucks and carts (purchased from here to Georgia) had a nice, appropriately eclectic feel.
  • Expanded opportunities. These permits are year-round, and the wheels are turning on expanding hours. Ideas tossed around thus far: outdoor film screenings and concerts at the park. Shoot the vendors an email if you want to see either.
But enough chat. Chew on the pics below, get a feel for the new digs, then head on down...
I'm pretty proud of this picture: after years of trying I finally caught everyone's favorite fruit man smiling on camera. Mr. and Ms. Sosa will be back in full swing this week, so head on down and grab some chile mango con limon.
Mr. Rojas, styling and profiling outside his new cart... which he made himself. It has everything from plumbing to freezer to deep fryer, and fits two. Don't forget to try a meat empanada (tender beef stuffed with onions, olives and eggs) if they haven't sold out.
The last (huarache) man standing, Mr. Martinez drew huge crowds with his delicious carne asada and spicy pork.
The first name in Pupusas, Janet Lainez and her father were all smiles outside their new truck.
John flew the Colombian flag as the Cerons grilled juicy skewers and steaks inside.
Ms. Carello was non-stop at the fryer, making empanadas and taquitos.
And the Vaqueros were hard at work making elotes inside their new truck. Note the fly custom flames.
Cesar Fuentes dropped some knowledge at Sunday's press conference, whilst getting eye-humped by Senator Schumer. Schumer is probably thinking “I wish I had a taco right now!” (He really likes tacos.)
Pete Morales (left), the “Mayor of Red Hook,” with Daniel Wiley (Community Coordinator for Congresswoman Velazquez). If you ever see Pete around stop and talk to him. Having lived in Red Hook more than 60 years, dude is a wealth of knowledge. He also has a very balanced perspective, and has seen his community weather plenty of storms. He reminisced about everything from swimming at the Valentino peers, to Red Hook Park when it was known as “Lover's Lane” and really heated up at nights.
There were plenty of cops and signs, making sure things were in order.
And plenty of kids and tacos.

Yeah... tacos. Tacos! Mmmm... tacos.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Red Hook'd: Start Date '08

The Red Hook Food Vendors are set to start operations Saturday, July 19. Tacos next weekend... spread the good word.

For those interested, the delay was “compliance” related. But it sounds like all the trucks are ready to pass inspection. If the date changes for any reason we'll let you know.