A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a feast in the middle of a beautiful, outdoor place called Dancing Roots Farm. Located in Troutdale, Oregon (close to Portland), Dancing Roots is a small family farm providing fresh produce for many local restaurants, individuals and households through their CSA program.
The "Farm to Fork" movement and events really defines the craving for hyper-local cuisine in our area. The interest in where our food comes from, how it's grown and how quickly it gets to our table has taken on a new level of excitement. This need and interest in localism is driving folks out in droves to these beautiful farm-to-table dinners at little farms all over the country.
As I entered Dancing Roots Farm this was my first view of the property. It was the obvious and perfect first impression of a place where a small, hard-working family was growing hundreds of varieties of vegetables and other produce to fill our tables.
My attendance at this dinner was not just by chance, but an extension of my current work with Sargento cheese. My year long journey, where I am investigating culinary trends (read about it in my first post), brought me out to the farm. I was looking to see if some of these emerging trends were being incorporated into dishes served at this very popular type of sit-down meal.
As you can see, we had the most beautiful weather. In Oregon, you just never know what mother nature is going to throw at you, but this was just a gorgeous evening. As guests of the dinner arrived, wine and passed appetizers were served in the fields.
The enthusiasm for this unique type of agri-tourism was obvious in everyone's light-hearted attitudes and demeanor. Dinner patrons mingling and making new connections set the mood for a perfect evening of sipping wine in the warm, September sunshine.
The simplicity of gleaming glassware created an alluring view of man-made objects set against beautiful, homegrown fields. Somehow it looks like they belong together.
The perfect "chips", salmon in flavor, served casually alongside chilled, white wine.
Beautiful appetizers continued to be passed.
Love is in the details and sunflowers wrapped in a rustic coffee bean sack stood out nicely.
After appetizers were served, we were invited to walk through the fields and witness first hand the hard work and dedication of this farm. The heirloom tomatoes and peppers were abundant on the vines. This meant treading lightly through the dirt as the plants were loaded with ready to harvest crop.
Walks through the grow houses were equally impressive. Look at those tomatoes!
A smattering of details....
Not being able to see the end of the table impresses the scale of this meal and is the signature look of these gatherings.
The meal is prepared outside under tents. In the background you see Chef Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen and The Bent Brick with his team prepping the meal for hundreds...not an easy task under any conditions.
The sunflowers were a beautiful backdrop against the blue Oregon sky.
The meal is served family style on the large, white platters you see here.
After making our way to our seats, the first course was served. We started with a salad and I'm happy to report many greens, bitter and otherwise, were used in this salad. Experimentation with bitter greens is a culinary trend we are seeing across the country. Kale opened the door to all kinds of ideas and recipes using greens for flavor and color. This salad surpassed all expectations when it came to enjoying what fresh food tastes like.
The creative second course continued with the greens theme, obviously an abundant item grown on a farm. It was highlighted with baby octopus, vegetables and a stunning vinaigrette. This was a dish I would not have expected but was the perfect nod to farm freshness. I loved the idea of using hearty, farm grown food and pairing it with an unexpected character from the sea. So inspired! And again, we are seeing culinary trending happening in this dish.
In between courses we were able to listen to heartfelt speeches by those that made this night happen.
Winemaker and co-owner of Dominio IV Wines entertains us with his own personal wine and farming stories. Dominio IV wines were served throughout the evening and paired with each dish.
The main course consisted of a braised like, smokey, spit-fire pork over polenta and peppers. It was stunning and bursting with flavor. While this dish didn't exactly fit into our food trend model, it did contain inspiration from food trends we are seeing across the country; braised meats, smokiness, street food and habanero chilies in the form of other peppers.
Farm owners and hosts for the evening told their story of why they do what they do. They thanked us for supporting local agriculture, helping to keep the choices alive when it comes to where we get our food supply. They were extremely passionate as you would expect.
This shot speaks for itself.
We were lucky enough to end the evening with some insane "brick" brownies and Tomato and Sweet Basil Ice Cream from Ruby Jewel, an ice cream company sourcing ingredients from farmers and food artisans in Oregon and around the Northwest. This was such a unique dessert offering and hit it on the nose when it came to my culinary trend investigation. Herby sweet desserts are dominating at restaurants across the country, especially in ice cream. It was fun to find it here on the farm and it was delicious.
The sun began to set over the fields and brought our evening to a close. I couldn't have asked for a more inspired night of food and friendship and can't believe this evening was actually part of my job. How lucky am I?
Since my work is with Sargento, I am always thinking of how I could have paired these creative, trending dishes with cheese. If I had made these same recipes at home, would I have added cheese and what kind? And this is not saying these dishes needed any help, trust me, they were amazing in every way possible. This is just my own exercise in creativity.
With our first course salad I would have likely sprinkled Sargento's Hard Grating Parmesan into the greens. I love a salty, cheese taste to accent flavors already present. While it wouldn't have changed the existing taste, the Parmesan would have given an extra edge of yum.
Now, the seafood and greens dish did not need any help when it came to flavor, but if I was pressed to make a cheese decision, I would Incorporate Sargento's Artisan Blends® Shredded Wisconsin Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. It's creamy, but distinct in it's flavor profile. If you have not experienced this cheese blend before, I encourage you to play with it in your food creations at home. I promise only good things will come out of its use.
Our main course, set atop a bed of polenta with dry jack flavorings. Could I have gone further with the cheese? Always. Always. Who doesn't love a creamy polenta with an even creamier, cheesy addition as part of the mix. I would have gone cheddar, extra sharp. No questions asked. The end.
Ice cream and cheese. Have you tried it? You should, it works. With tomato and basil ice cream it's a no brainer, Sargento Fine Cut Shredded Mozzarella Cheese would be my first choice. Honestly I'm dying to try this. The perfect caprese ice cream...I know it would work.
Disclosure: I am currently working with Sargento cheese over the next year as a Flavor Journey Correspondent. While I have been compensated for my time, as always, all opinions are my own. Please support this wonderful family brand that supports the creation of stories such as these.
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