The goal of this project is to create a multi-course meal from the 12 acres of land I live on. This is not just a subsistence meal, it should be a memorable feast worthy of at least a Michelin star, that won’t happen but that is the quality level I am seeking.
Though at first glance it may seem easy, the difficulty lies in the fact that once you start to think about things, a proper feast becomes harder than you imagine. An obvious issue is the lack of dairy products unless I get a cow or goat, which is unlikely for numerous reasons discussed below. The current plan is to skip the large livestock and that means no butter, cream or milk. Though fat and oils can come from other sources, it is going to require some ingenuity.
Every challenge needs a few rules, and Farm Food Feast is no exception. The first five rules are the most important and set the stage for the meal, provisions 6 to 10 set the expectations for how it will unfold.
1. The Primary Rule
Everything that is to be eaten must be grown, raised or foraged within the boundaries of the property, with two tiny exceptions. The first exception is salt because great food needs some salt. If I lived near a body of salt water, I’d make my own, but l do not. Interestingly, the largest underground salt mine in the world is located only a 75-minute drive away, but alas, I can’t dig deep enough to get at the ancient salt layer.
The fermentation cultures are necessary because the quantity of harvestable food may not be sufficient for experimentation with wild ferments. For example, it can take a year or two to produce a reasonable balsamic vinegar with a known bacterial culture. Taking a risk on wild fermentation could waste two years of ageing, making the vinegar unusable. I may try wild fermentation if there is an adequate quantity of grape must, for example, where a poor fermentation doesn’t destroy a year’s harvest of said grapes. Same with a sourdough starter, I’ll try it but still reserve the right to use purchased yeast if necessary.
2. The Meal Will Be 12 Courses
This is a big meal, but the best way to grasp terroir and hyperlocal ideology is to taste as many food types grown on a small plot of land, and a 12-course tasting menu seems the best way to do it.
3. The Feast Will Serve 16 People
There should be a few seats for followers of this project (that might be you), a few professional chefs, a restaurant reviewer and some of my cocktail peers/friends. If I can pull it off, I’ll add more people.
4. A Minimum of Two Alcoholic Drinks Must Be Served
There will be at least one cocktail—probably more—and wine. Food and wine are one of nature’s perfect pairings, so we must do it, it wouldn’t be a world-class meal without wine. As for cocktails, I’ve been making, talking and writing about them since 2003, so it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make at least one. And yes, that will mean I need to do some distilling, which is an excellent topic for a video(s). Making a cocktail from scratch (gathering, distilling, fermenting, shaking and drinking) appeals to me. Also, I will be planting an amaro and vermouth garden and figuring out how to make coffee and tea—without coffee or tea. If you have followed Art of Drink previously, you’ll enjoy this aspect of the project.
5. Bread Must Be Served
History and bread go together, and bread is often a symbol of a shared meal. Plus, fresh-baked bread tastes great, so it will be on the menu.
6. Any modern technology can be used to produce the ingredients.
This project is about terroir and aspirations, not simple living or affordable food production, though there are elements of everything in this. But, for my purposes, if I need equipment to do something, I’ll buy it and use it. For example, if I need to press oil from pumpkin seeds, I can use a cool Japanese mini cold press vegetable oil extractor.
7. Ingredients can be prepared ahead of time
Most people realize many foods are seasonal, and if I want to incorporate them into the menu, I’ll have to make them ahead of time. e.g. strawberry coulis preserved in June and served in September.
8. Livestock must have been on the property for at least three months
A simple rule to ensure that the food is produced here. Free-range chickens typically take 10 to 18 weeks to become sizeable enough to prepare.
9. I can get external expertise with any aspect of the work.
For example, if I need guidance on pond maintenance, I can hire a pond guy to help me out or get a professional chef to help me with recipes.
10. I can get help or hire staff for the Feast.
Serving 12 courses to 16 people, solo, would tax even the best chefs, so I suspect I will need to employ some professionals to help me out.
This note isn’t a rule, but large livestock like cows won’t work well for me. First, they are too much work for what I need. Second, I’m not sure my property can handle cows; it’s mostly woodland. And third, cows are herding animals so you should always have two. It has been proven that cows are happier with friends, and it seems cruel to keep a solo cow just for the production of cream, butter and cheese. But that also means no cream, butter or cheese for this adventure. We can get creative and I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get around those delicious ingredients. Part of the fun is being inventive.
The expected time for the final meal will be mid to late September, possibly the first week of October sometime in 2023 or 2024 (maybe 2025). September provides the best harvest time, which will maximize the number of fresh ingredients I have access to. There are still some hurdles, like getting the fruit trees to produce and ensuring the trout in the pond are of decent size. But that is also the point of the project, can we get everything timed for the perfect meal? Let’s find out!
To follow along check it out at https://you.tube.farm