RSS Feed

Category Archives: Businesses You Should Like

Carrot Cake Jam with Jenifer Bernstein of Yes, I Can

The prospect of teaching yourself to can may seem a little daunting–there’s botulism, bad batches and unfamiliar equipment to worry about. At the Woodbury Fall Arts Festival, I stumbled upon a business that offers the perfect solution for all of South Jersey’s timid wannabe-canners: Jenifer Bernstein’s Yes, I Can workshops. These workshops are the perfect way to jump into canning hands first—from beginner boiling water canning to more advanced techniques. Watch the video to get a sneak peek of what an introductory workshop with Yes, I Can can do for you.

*Note: All of those years spent typing my own name have betrayed me: contrary to what the video says, Jenifer Bernstein spells her name with just one “n.”


Rethinking Beef & Business with Philly CowShare

Need something with a little more meat to it than candies and fruit cakes this holiday season? Why not let Philadelphia CowShare help your winter menu find the beef?

philly cowshare logo

Philly CowShare ensures that all the cuts of meat you see in their logo go to hungry homes.

Philly CowShare is the innovative organization that acts as the middleman between you, the consumer, and the farmers and meat processors who produce local, nutritious grass-fed beef. Since part of Philly CowShare’s unique mission is to ensure that all of the beef finds a home, the company sells its beef in bulk, with shares ranging from 1/8 cow (43 pounds of beef) to a full cow (344 pounds).

Jessica Moore, founder and owner of Philly CowShare, says the program gives consumers a direct connection to the process that brings their beef to the table. “We have a production protocol for the business we have to adhere to [in order to] sell cattle under our brand,” Moore says. This, she says, includes learning all about the cattle-raising practices of local farmers. “We give [the customers] all this information so that we can explain and give the customer that connection to the source for the meat.”

In addition to cheapening the cost of being a sustainability-minded meat-eater, cow-pooling also simplifies meal-planning and even provides a way for consumers to gauge their meat consumption. “It invites you to have that conversation with yourself, ” Moore says, noting that when a consumer buys beef from a supermarket, “you’re not adding up in your head how much poundage you’re buying over a period of time.”

Philly CowShare even offers customers another way to get the most beef for their buck by encouraging group orders (see: a ready-made flyer for those seeking to cow-pool).

Of course, with an idea as good as this one, Moore is looking to expand the business into pork territory. Currently working through the research and development of this expansion, she reports that, when compared to cattle-raising, pig raising is (get this) a whole different kind of animal.

“[Pigs] are somewhat destructive in their nature … They strip the forest, knock down trees, dig up the roots, eat the grass,” she says. This means that a label like “grass-fed” doesn’t really mean much when applied to pigs; getting all-natural pork is not quite as simple as just swapping pigs for cows in a big grassy field. “In about three days you would have a big field of mud,” she says. “That’s what they do. They root.”

While Moore perfects her sales pitch for pork, head on over to the Philly CowShare website for more information about the company, who should buy what, and the beef itself. Happy sharing!

The Crunchy Cookie That Could: Gilda Doganiero from Gilda’s Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero roasting hazelnuts at her Gilda’s Biscotti bakery in Salem, N.J..

As a Culinary Institute of America alum and pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, Gilda Doganiero had no trouble recognizing the plight of American biscotti. All over Philadelphia, Doganiero found that even the most delicious gourmet coffees were being sold alongside an adulterated, Americanized version of the biscotti that she knew and loved. American bakeries were trying to turn this abused little biscuit into a long butter cookie—a far-stretch from its traditional Italian origins.

“They [were] just the complete opposite of what they’re supposed to be,” said Doganiero. “Real, traditional biscotti is crispy. It’s baked more than once [because] it’s supposed to be hard for dipping in coffee and tea—the Italians dip it in wine.”

Unable to ignore biscotti’s cries for help any longer, Doganiero left her job at the Four Seasons in 1996 to form Gilda’s Biscotti, a company dedicated to providing Philadelphia-area coffee shops with the real thing.

Gracing the label of many flavors of Gilda’s Biscotti is a photo of none other than Doganiero’s paternal grandmother (also named Gilda) freshly arrived in America from Italy.

In her Salem bakery—which happens to be about 450 feet from the Salem City Community Garden—Doganiero prepares her biscotti in the traditional Italian style: logs of dough are placed in the oven until almost finished baking and then cut into the classic half-oval shape. Finally, the biscuits are baked again to give them the dry crunch of an authentic biscotti. But for Doganiero, staying true to the recipe starts with ingredients.

“I try to keep the flavors that we make very traditional,” she said. Obviously, this means shying away from all those “pumpkin swirl spice” concoctions that fly off the shelves this time of year, but less obvious are the parameters for an acceptable flavor.

“Something with a dried fruit or a citrus peel or nuts that would come from that area of the Mediterranean—almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts—[is acceptable],” Doganiero explained. She explains that the traditional flavor that most people associate with biscotti is an almond anise variety that was first made in Prato, Italy.

Gilda’s Biscotti can be found in coffee shops throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey (among other places) and are great for crunching, dipping, and trying every flavor!

Q&A: Cherry Grove Farm Cheese and the “R&D of the chef world”

Head Cheesemaker Sam Kennedy notes the cheese’s varied rind textures on a stroll through “the caves,” where cheese is left to age.

Just as Sam Kennedy, head cheesemaker at Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, can take one ingredient and turn it into a variety of cheeses, my one visit to the farm could yield a plethora of posts. A lot can be learned from the farm’s business model: the cheesemaking is slow, the operation is small and the process of pasturing cattle on organic grass is as sustainable as any natural cycle.

Curious about what makes cheese naturally yellow? Or why Toma needs to be washed? I pulled Kennedy away from working on the farm’s famous Toma cheese for a quick Q&A on this strange intersection of art, science and culinary nuance.

Q: What is the backstory behind the farm?

A: The owners wanted a spot where the locals could buy quality locally and environmentally produced food…We first started off as an egg-producing farm, and we still produce free-range chicken eggs. And then we went into grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, and eventually went into grass-fed dairy and started backing off on the grass-fed beef, because grass-fed dairy is a much more economically efficient formula in New Jersey than grass-fed beef. It takes a very large land mass to do grass-fed beef very well, and in NJ it’s just too expensive.

Q: Can you explain a little bit about what it means to say that Cherry Grove Farm is organic?

A: Well, the grass is certified organic. What that means is 98% of our cows’ diets—and even 99% depending on the time of year—comes from our land. When the grass is certified organic and that’s the predominant diet of your cows, then it really stands out in the flavors of your cheeses. In the summertime you’ll get different flavor notes than what you’ll get in the winter time, and that’s just because of what the cow is eating. It also means our cheeses are going to be a little healthier for you. …. [Our cheeses] are automatically going to be higher in omega 3’s and higher in CLA from the grass-fed quality. The yellow that you see in our cheeses is the cow’s inability to use beta carotene, so you’re getting a large dose of beta carotene when you’re eating our cheeses.

A wheel of Montasio aging in the caves. Kennedy asked that the pH measurement written in the lower right corner be blurred, as the pH of a given cheese is considered proprietary information in cheesemaking.

Q: How did you get involved in cheese-making?

A: I have a culinary arts background. Being a chef I was always interested in cheese. I started going toward the research and development side of culinary world, where you’re dealing with very large corporations making nationally known recipes … [but] a lot of the foods that are produced by those large companies are not ethically responsible. They don’t have their customers in their minds when they produce them; they just have a dollar bill in their minds. So cheesemaking’s the natural side of that. It’s the natural R&D work of the chef world.

Q: We just called you in from the cheese production area. What exactly was it that you were doing in there?

A: We’re producing jack today. We have 200 gallons in the vat. That’s what my assistant Malachy [Egan] was doing…Now he’s cutting and cooking the cheese. Today I’m doing more “affinage” work, which means “finishing cheese” in French, so you just pulled me out of washing the Tomas. I’m in there individually treating each wheel of cheese, gently washing it in a salt brine solution.

Q: There seem to be a lot of processes that take place during the aging of the cheese. What do they do? How does washing the Toma make it different from other cheeses?

It makes it more creamy and it grows that red mold that’s very specific to our farm. That’s what we’re trying to get with that cheese. What’s really interesting with those cheeses is the Herdsman and Toma are the same exact cheese when we create it in the vat, but they change in the affinage. The Toma gets washed and the herdsman just hangs out and gets that nice multi-layered rind so that’s what defines the two flavor profiles in that cheese…One of the cool and exciting things of the cheese world is that I can take one ingredient or one product and I can create many different things from using some different methods. I could create a different Toma by using a flavored liquid besides water: beer, wine, cider, any type of fruit juice, anything really. I could just put herbs and spices into my water solution and little bits of that would come out in the cheese to get that little bit of curiosity in the flavor profile.

Thanks to everyone at Cherry Grove Farm for the awesome tour, samples and information! Cherry Grove Farm’s cheeses can be found in specialty grocers all over New Jersey.

Grass-fed Cheese at Cherry Grove Farm

To Americans, cheesemaking is one of the more cryptic processes of food production. Perhaps because of the rubbery “cheese food” that has become so commonplace in American grocery stores, it’s easy to assume that there is something of the unnatural—or at least the unpalatable—in cheese production.

A trip to Cherry Grove Farm taught me that cheesemaking is indeed a strange process full of strong smells, odd chemistry and microbial chefs, but all of these factors work wonders in producing what is ultimately a delicious, well-storied product. And, in Cherry Grove’s case, a walking tour of the farm and facility is essentially a tour of cheesemaking itself, from the organic grass and the cows that eat it to the store where the final product is sold.

With Head Cheesemaker Sam Kennedy as my guide, I was able to tour the facility and farm, snapping pictures along the way of the animals, land and labor that create a Cherry Grove cheese.

Starting from scratch with The Sweet Life Bakery’s Stephen Wilson

The Sweet Life Bakery owners Stephen Wilson and Jill McClennan pose for a picture in front of the Vineland bakery.

The Sweet Life Bakery owners Stephen Wilson and Jill McClennan pose for a picture in front of the Vineland bakery.

The Sweet Life Bakery, located on East Landis Avenue in Vineland, has been on my radar for quite a while now, as slow foodies and casual food fans alike have often spoken in hushed voices of this “little place” in Vineland. Though the bakery-cafe certainly has the homey feel of a modern general-store-meets-coffee-shop, the constant string of awards and press coverage has assured that South Jersey is paying attention.

With its locally sourced ingredients and its (sadly uncommon) commitment to taking the words “from scratch” seriously, the Sweet Life Bakery has been recognized by many as a delicious example of South Jersey’s slow, small, and sustainable. I sat down with Stephen Wilson to find out more about what makes the Sweet Life the talk of the town.

Q: How long has the Sweet Life been open?
A: September 1st was our fifth anniversary, but my wife and I are both trained pastry chefs, so we’ve been in the business since high school. For a while we were living in San Francisco and working for other people …When we started out it was just the two of us in 2007. Now I think we have about 13.

Q: I’ve never really seen this kind of bakery-cafe combination before; I guess I was expecting the Sweet Life to be more of an industrial bakery. Why go with a bakery that is also a cafe?
A: The bakery cafe is becoming more prevalent because it’s a good way of diversifying your income. The biggest in that industry is Panera, which is the leader of the bakery-cafe world.

Q: Sweet Life’s received a lot of awards; they’re all over your Facebook posts and taped in the windows here. What’s some of the most flattering recognition you’ve received?
A: On Trip Advisor, we’re ranked the No. 1 restaurant in Vineland, and then a couple months ago Cat Country Radio voted us #1 in Vineland.

The Sweet Life Bakery offers its own bright, modern interpretation of the coffee shop format.

(A full list of awards and recognition for the Sweet Life was available until recently on the bakery’s website. Rest assured that there are many, including the Best Wedding Cake award from South Jersey Magazine)

Q: What kind of foods do you buy from local sources?
A: (The coffee is) roasted in Millville, so it is locally roasted. It comes from a company called KMO: Kafe Magnum Opus. All of our house coffee and espresso is fair trade and organic. We get a lot of local produce, when it’s in season. So now we have a lot of apples, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. … Two people, both in Vineland, will give us eggs. So if there are good, tasty, local options, we’ll go for that first.

Q: Are there any misconceptions about the Sweet Life, or about what it takes to make a cake?
A: The cakes are sometimes more expensive than people think they would be. Partly because it takes longer to make a cake than people would expect. A lot of layer cakes, that’s three layers of cake and then two layers of filling. And the artwork takes a lot of time. And we don’t use mixes or anything like that.

A peek into the Sweet Life fridge shows an array of cakes dressed in the “crumb coat” that will keep cake from crumbling into the final coat of icing.

Q: Really, people in the bakery industry will use mixes?
A: The vast majority of places use mixes. Every bakery says they make everything from scratch. They don’t. … Here, bakery companies will sometimes send reps around, and they’ll say, “We have a great danish mix,” and I tell them “No, we make everything from scratch.” And they’ll say, “Oh, well we have a great fruit filling” or “We have a great donut mix.”

Q: What is the appeal of using mixes? Is it just cheaper? Or are they higher quality than the ones you can get in the grocery store?
A: It’s cheaper that way. Most people are very price-conscious. And there is a market for that. A lot of people are used to cake being made that way anyway.

I hope to post some more of the pictures from the Sweet Life on here soon. While on a tour of the bakery, I was offered a bit of carrot cake with praline icing—an unprecedented flavor combination in my sad little TastyKake-and-Little-Debbie existence. I’ll be sure to plan a stop at the Sweet Life Bakery on my next trip down to Cape May; my only regret is not having eaten more!