Sippin’ soda in the vineyards

By Shane Sanderson

HERMANN, Mo. — Skip the grocery aisle and head out to Missouri wine country to find craft sodas to whet your whistle. Here are my two favorites found in the shadows of grape trellises—

Black cherry Wurst Soda from Hermann Wurst Haus, Hermann

The walls of the Hermann Wurst Haus are lined by awards owner Mike Sloan has won over the years for his bratwurst. Sausage, bacon and numerous flavors of brats pack meat coolers. Make sure you don’t overlook the sodas.

The brat-shop stocks five in-house flavors of soda, all made with cane sugar—black cherry, root beer, orange, cream and grape–no cola on the menu. I went for the black cherry option, which the house advertises as “reminiscent of fresh picked cherries.”

The taste has almost none of the bite I typically associate with a black cherry soda. The mouthfeel is light, moderately carbonated, accentuated by a subdued sweetness. The color is rich, dark ruby.

The flavor doesn’t quite touch the experience of eating cherries by the side of the road in front of an Ontario, Canada, cherry farm, but it comes as close as a soda can.

You can find the full line of sodas at Hermann Wurst Haus on 234 E. First St. in Hermann, or you can order it online.

Country Folk Cream Soda from Crown Valley Winery, Ste Genevieve

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Tiffany Campbell, bartender at Crown Valley Winery in Ste Genevieve, says the in-house cream soda is their most popular soft drink. Photo by Shane Sanderson

Intricate wood carvings on the bar stand in striking contrast to the cutting-edge stainless refrigeration systems poking out over the catwalk from the lower floor of Crown Valley’s massive wine operation. Try sipping cream soda in the midst of the fermented products next visit, not wine.

Crown Valley stocks nine in-house flavors: eight “Country Folk” options—black cherry, root beer, grape, orange, cream, diet root beer, two colas, and Fizzy Izzy root beer. After resisting the temptation to try Kickin’ Cola, I grabbed a cream soda.

The rich amber color of the soda sparkled in the light. After cracking the twist top, I was blown away by the crisp cream flavor. There is no mistaking this cream soda for anything but. On the back of the sip, however, surprisingly nuanced flavors of pear and spice come through the soda’s mellow sweetness. Mild carbonation keeps the drink refreshing, not heavy.

You can find the sodas online, or at Crown Valley’s winery or distillery, both in the hills outside Ste Genevieve.

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Building community one barrel at a time

By Thomas Hellauer

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John Stricker places a barrel over flame to toast it to winemaker specifications at Oak Cooperage.  Photo by Thomas Hellauer

HIGBEE, Mo.— Jack Zike first walked through the doors of Oak Cooperage 26 years ago. Now, he’s the second-longest tenured employee still working there. “I’ve seen people come and go,” Zike said.

What keeps him coming back? “I like working with wood and my hands,” Zike said. And, he feels he’s never worked a day in his life. This attachment to the Cooperage is obvious to see in the team working inside the cluster of warehouses.

Echoes of buzzsaws and sawdust preside as workers roll numerous barrels onto different machines. Each smack of the mallet spouts a tiny volcano of sawdust into the air at one station. Barrels over the fire release the savory smell of oak, evoking fond memories of campfires. Zike even stops the tour to make sure we each get a sniff of our own inside a newly toasted barrel.

Nearly all of the twelve-man crew it takes to run the Cooperage are Higbee residents. Even the ones that drive in, however, are no strangers to Zike. He knows where each of them lives and just about how long their respective commutes are. This connection is part of his contribution to the cooperage culture that benefited him when he started two and a half decades ago.

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Jack Zike tests a barrel for leaks at Oak Cooperage. The curved shape of the barrel can withstand great force to hold its contents safely inside. Photo by Thomas Hellauer

When Zike started fresh out of high school in 1990, “the Cooperage was just about the only business in town, pretty much.” He knew of older classmates who had begun working there themselves, offering strong recommendations. He feels it was a good way for area youth to stay out of trouble, gain experience and earn money. Still a major employer for Higbee, Zike hopes to see this community mentoring continue.

“We have one university student. He only works three days a week though to make a little money on the side,” Zike said. He encourages local Higbee youth to work there as well, as the workers at the Cooperage did for him so many years ago. Much of the workers have little training before starting and learn through the demonstration and patience of others.

“Whether is just for the school summer or whatever, we want them to have that opportunity,” Zike said.

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Into the barrel-making world of Oak Cooperage

By Lauren Casey

HIGBEE, Mo.— Higbee fits most traditional expectations of a small mid-Missouri rural town, with flat farm land stretching out of view and, according to the 2013 US census, a population hovering around 560 for the past seven years. If you are unfamiliar with Higbee, there is little reason to know about the gem that sits on Highway A, just north of town. It is the best kind of find, one that you smell before you see, like great barbecue joints or a wood fired pizzeria, Oak Cooperage and their white American oak barrel operation perfumes the air of Higbee with scents of toasted marshmallows and still-too-hot-to-touch, just out of the oven, bread.

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Oak Cooperage inspiration near the wood pallets. Photo by Lauren Casey

The Oak Cooperage, formerly known as A&K, has been producing artisan American oak barrels for wine, bourbon and whiskey dating back to 1972. In 2015, the cooperage was sold to Silver Oak, a California ­winery and leading producer of the beloved Cabernet Sauvignon – a grape varietal that plays well with oak flavor notes.

Jack Zike, one of less than an estimated 50 master coopers in the world, has been a contributing member of the cooperage team for 26 years. When conducting tours, Zike walks visitors through the five stages of barrel making: setting up the barrels, bending the staves, toasting the oak, hooping the barrels and perfecting the finish.

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Master Cooper Jack Zike explains stave selection and barrel sealing techniques to MU food writers at the Oak Cooperage, Higbee, Mo. Photo by Lauren Casey

Preparing the wood to make the barrels consumes the most time—two years-plus at Oak Cooperage. The Cooperage mostly sources its oak from Missouri, but some is harvested in Iowa and Illinois, Zike said. It takes 80 years for an American oak tree to be large enough to be used to make barrel staves, and each tree generates between two and four barrels, Zike said. Once cut, the oak is then aged or “seasoned,” outside for two years, then placed in a drying room for 14 days. The process makes it possible for flavors drawn from the oak to subtly integrate into wine and ensures the wood’s proper moisture content of 12-14 percent.

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Master Cooper Danny Orton picking the staves. Photo by Lauren Casey

After the staves have been cut from the aged wood, the master cooper’s work begins with assembling the barrel from the different sized staves. Danny Orton, another master cooper, carefully hand selects the 32 staves for each barrel. All staves are not created equal, and double checking quality and placement is key to creating an optimal barrel.

On this particular tour, John Stricker, another cooper, was both hooping and toasting the barrels – a process that appeared to go seamlessly hand in hand. Maneuvering the 125 pound barrels between four separate fires and two large machines seemed like art or dance. Once the external temperature of the barrel registered 300 degrees F, they were ready to be hooped, topped with the caps and checked for leaks.

At the last stop in coopering, the barrel imperfections are perfected. Each barrel is hand sanded to ensure Silver Oak level aesthetics are achieved. After a laser brands the barrel tops, the finished products are stored in the warehouse until exactly 276 properly aged and dried barrels are ready to go– the perfect fit in for a California-bound freight truck.

The process is spectacular to witness: small-town men and women in rural Missouri creating beautiful artisan products for high dollar wine makers out west, whose 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet retails for $125 per bottle. If you are ever in the area, or even if you are just really excited about wine, call for a visit the incredibly talented and friendly staff over at the Oak Cooperage. Your mind and nose will thank you for it. The Cooperage will take visits by reservation only at 660-456-7227.

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Food writers go to ground in Missouri wine country

IMG_4844[1]HIGBEE, Mo.–Come along for the ride as eight journalist’s thoughts turn to Missouri wine country this spring. First stop: Oak Cooperage in Higbee for a tour of the barrel-making workshop. While wood staves toasted, Lauren Casey, Rachel Dotson, Devon Yarbrough, Rachel Sishler, Felesha Lee, Thomas Hellauer, Shane Sanderson, and Alyssa Salcido (below) prepared to cover all things wine — from grapes to glass with stops in-between for Missouri food specialties. Stay tuned to see where they pop up and what you should put on your must-do list.

~Nina Furstenau, instructor

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Note to self: Ireland food story worth a nibble

CORK, Ireland – the MU food writers visited Irish food pioneers, ate their way through excellent meals, visited farms and created another few pages of food story over the last 2-1/2 weeks. Check out the re-cap here:

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Fresh, good and Ballymaloe

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A cooking demonstration at Ballymaloe. Photo by Caitlyn McGuire

By Caitlyn McGuire

MUNSTER, Ireland – Along a narrow road through the rolling hills of Ireland lies a global culinary destination. Ballymaloe Cookery School attracts students of all ages from around the world. The school opened in 1983 and is located on its own 100 acre organic farm. Fresh ingredients from the farm are used by students daily, and the MU Ireland food journalists used them ourselves.

A cooking demonstration began our culinary adventure. A skilled chef showed us how to make white soda bread and scones, pea and coriander soup, chargrilled chicken paillarge and meringue roulade with strawberries. All in one hour.

After seeing her brilliant presentation, the pressure was on us to perform. We continued to the kitchen and split off into different groups for maximum efficiency. There, other experienced chefs instructed us on how to turn the beautiful ingredients in front of us into the wonderful foods we had just seen.

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Soda bread made all ways. Photo by Caitlyn McGuire

The white soda bread took my breath away. This simple recipe of all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk created perfect pizzas, savory scones, fantastic fococcia-like creations and more, but that’s all we could fit in the ovens.

The recipe goes like this: begin by mixing the dry ingredients – 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda – into a large bowl. Once mixed, being careful not to add too much baking soda, add 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups buttermilk or sour milk. Shaping your hand like a claw, swiftly mix the ingredients until just moist (6 – 8 rotations) to create the delightful and fragile dough. Then, gently move the dough onto a floured surface, and shaped into a round about 1-1/2 inches thick. If you are keeping it as a simple soda bread, be sure to cut a deep cross onto the top to let the fairies out, the Ballymaloe recipe states.

But our important decision was to decide what to form of bread we wanted to make.  Personally, I chose a pizza shape and patted the dough out, layered it in tomato fondue and sprinkled a hefty amount of mozzarella over the top before popping it into the oven.

The breads need baking at 450 F for 15 minutes, and then a 400 F oven for an additional 6 to 30 minutes – you can check the bread by turning it over and thumping. It should sound hollow when done.

Within a half hour, my beautiful pizza emerged. The combination of Irish white soda bread and fresh ingredients was utter bliss.

If I don’t come back to the States, you can find me cooking at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

 

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Organic seeds of change

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Madeline McKeever, owner of Brown Envelope Seeds, in her largest polytunnel. Photo by Kristin Kenneally

By Kristin Kenneally

SKIBBEREEN, Ireland – Originally owner of a 12-cow dairy operation, Madeline McKeever has now become Ireland’s biggest organic seed seller – well actually its only organic seed seller. McKeever has been selling heritage seeds, grown in Ireland to ensure the best growing results, to the public since 2004.

The road to success has been an interesting one to say the least. McKeever started organically growing seeds in 1999, when she registered with the Department of Agriculture. When selling seeds to Polish growers in the past year or two, the Polish government asked for McKeever’s grower number and she realized that she never received an official number in 1999. Once again, McKeever called the Department of Agriculture to come and visit to certify the property as an organic seed farm.

“They sent a young man out to the farm,” said McKeever. “He couldn’t find anything wrong with the farm, but of course they had to change something. Now we have to have temper-proof envelopes,” she said with a laugh. “I have to make sure no one switched cabbage seeds with cauliflower seeds.”

McKeever sells her Brown Envelope Seeds at the Skibbereen Farmers Market as well as online. She sells over 25 types of seeds, such as aubergine, beet, leaf beet, spinach, beans, squash, gooseberries and tomatillos, among others, depending on the time of the year.

As Brown Envelope continues to grow, McKeever hopes to bring an element of tourism to her farm. “I hope to get Sunday brunches to the farm,” said McKeever. “Then after the brunch people can run around the barn and communicate with the donkeys.”

Based off her past successes, I think that McKeever will have quite a successful farm brunch on her hands.

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Brown Envelope Seeds catalog for 2016. Photo by Kristin Kenneally

 

 

 

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Gluten free baker takes the cake

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Michelle Mansuy of Michelle’s bakery at Midleton Farmers Market. Photo by Maria Kalaitzandanokes

By Maria Kalaitzandonakes

MIDLETON, Ireland — Tucked in between icy fish stalls and heaping piles of fresh veg in the Midleton Farmers Market, Michelle’s Bakery sticks out. It’s an eclectic mash up of signs, desserts and doilies. Delicious chaos. There’s a huge chalkboard sign that hangs precariously behind the table, showing off the handwritten names and prices of the sweets. Little perfectly baked pies and tarts sit in rows and stacks, beckoning. A sign on the left proclaims, “Carpe the hell out of the diem.”

“A gluten free welcome to ya,” owner, Michelle Mansuy said.

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Gluten free baked goods at Michelle’s. Photo by Maria Kalaitzandanokes

Mansuy has run this stall for four years and has only been baking for eight. She was self-taught, explaining, “I learned how to cook how I learned how to knit. At first it is complicated, but then you begin practicing and now I simply love knitting orange jumpers.”

A witch themed wind chime blows in agreement, and a regular customer comes up to request a gluten free strawberry and cream cake for her mother’s birthday.

“Of course dear,” Mansuy agrees. “Now, you know where I live right? Come and pick it up Thursday afternoon.”

Mansuy makes treats for those who suffer gluten intolerance or those who prefer to avoid it. Coeliac Society of Ireland estimates that one in 100 people in Ireland are coeliac, and a further 7 percent of the population claim gluten sensitivity. Mansuy said she hope her stall can break stereotypes of gluten free foods.

“People say gluten free cannot be delicious, but the proof is the in the pudding,” she laughed.

Mansuy is the perfect pastry shop owner. She has dark hair, a gorgeous French accent and an obsession with the band Pink Martini. She bakes early in the morning with the band cranked to full blast. And she is always smiling.

“Days are only gray if you allow them to be,” she said. “Especially if you eat dessert.”

Every bite I took was delicious. The oat bars were tender and fruity. Her chocolate tarts were creamy and mellow. The fruit tarts were to die for.

Mansuy’s secret ingredient must be joy.

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Sine Metu – no fear and the slide of history

By Morgan Gunnels

MIDLETON, Ireland – Jameson Whiskey may be known for its smooth flavor, but its history has been one bumpy ride.

John Jameson founded the company in Dublin in 1780 with great success. According to www.thejournal.ie, Irish whiskey led the world’s spirits trade until the early 1900s when political unrest brought production nearly to a halt. The Jameson distillery was overtaken by volunteer troops during the 1916 Easter Rising when men used the building as a makeshift barricade to protect them from The British Army. Andrew Jameson, grandson of John and managing director, wasn’t able to return until a week later to recover the business. Although times had been tough, Jameson found inspiration in his family motto sine metu, meaning without fear. The motto is printed on every bottle of Jameson to serve as a reminder.

Jameson uses water from the Dungourney River, which flows through the distillery, housed in Midleton since 1975, and a combination of malted and unmalted barley, sourced from farms within 100 miles of Midleton. Maize, the third Jameson ingredient, can’t be grown locally because it is a sun-loving crop, so it comes from farms in southern France.

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Jameson visitor’s center in Midleton. Photo by Morgan Gunnels

The company uses a triple distillation process to make their whiskey smoother. After distillation, the whiskey ages in oak casks imported from the U.S. and Spain. ­­While the whiskey matures, about two percent—the “angel’s share” according to the brewers—is lost to evaporation. Though the length of the aging process can vary, in order to be legally identified as Irish whiskey, the spirit must spend at least three years maturing on the island of Ireland.

 

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Holy cow, Ireland

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Cattle roaming the rolling green Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Maria Kalaitzandanokes

By Tori Lock

 

CORK, Ireland – Coming to the Emerald Isle, I immediately thought of a large green patchwork quilt with hundreds of spots and when we stepped off the plane, the foreign air was rich with the scent of my favorite livestock- cattle.

Ireland’s dairy and beef industry are vital components to its economy. The rich, rolling farmland around the southern Munster and Leinster provinces suits the production practices of cattle perfectly; unlike sheep, cattle need good land to thrive. In many ways, cattle are symbol of prosperity. It’s no surprise that they feature prominently in Irish folklore and history.

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St. Brigid of Ireland is patron saint of dairymaids, cattle, midwives, Irish nuns and newborn babies. Photo courtesy of Catholic.org 

Cattle speckle Irish history as well as hillsides here. Their products are a golden staple in Irish culture. There is the famous Butter Museum that wouldn’t be in existence without dairy cattle, a pub in Cork called the Holy Cow and even Saints in Celtic history who are devoted to cattle. Saint Brigid of Ireland is patron saint of cattle and dairy and many farmers ask for her blessing. Traditionally, many Irish bake oatcakes to welcome St. Brigid on her feast day.

Being surrounded by such a rich history of the cattle industry makes me feel right at home in the heart of cattle country.

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