Yum! Invasive Fish Species!

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

I want to eat all the invasive fish species. Not right now, of course. But over time.

Did you know many common fish like tilapia and smallmouth bass are actually invasive species? Probably not. Over time and generations, it’s been forgotten that these fish are not native. That takes the stigma out of eating them. After all, who wants to eat something considered “invasive”?

I do. Because invasive fish are wild caught, rather than farmed. Eating them is helping the environment along with providing nutrients. I want to try all of these fish fried, in ceviche, grilled, smoked, maybe some fusion methods of cooking I’m not yet privy to.

Technology is helping me, and all of the invasive fish lovers out there, get one step closer to that delicious, nutritious dream.

The New Yorker describes the case of the lionfish, an invasive species plaguing parts of the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States. USGS created an app that helps researchers and fisherman track lionfish. The app lets users document how fish many are in a given area and what methods are used to catch them.

For many fishermen, either professional or hobby, this app could turn fishing for invasive species into a high-precision endeavor. But first, in the name of sustainability, the market for invasive fish species must be established close to home.

Chicago’s WGN TV reported 15 million pounds of Asian Carp are caught annually by one seafood processor. But the market for Asian Carp, a name that refers to four types of fish invading U.S. waterways via the Mississippi River, is in China. It’s fantastic that there’s a market for these fish. But it seems excessive that they’re shipped halfway across the globe when the healthy appetites of Midwestern fish fries could polish off tons of them.

If companies like Sea to Table can partner with local sustainable fisherman to overnight their catch to restaurants around the U.S., certainly a Midwestern seafood processor can flash freeze Asian Carp and sell it throughout the region.

It may take a media campaign from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and it will definitely take the opening of many minds, but we owe it to our waterways and overall ecosystems to eat invasive species near the regions they’re invading. Not only does it save fossil fuels, but it raises awareness.

Current cultural food trends, like local food and foraging, as well as developing cheap food sources, feed right into eating invasive species locally. C’mon foodies and food advocates: give an invasive fish species a taste.

For more information on eating invasive species, check out conservation biologist Joe Roman’s website and call to action, eattheinvaders.org.

From Sea and Fishery to My Belly

LogoI choose my food very carefully. I’m not a foodie; I’m a food advocate. I advocate for food to be transparently produced with the highest ecological and animal welfare standards. I want to make the best choices for the planet and the animals on it. I’ve had the opportunity to research, write or live every aspect of the food production, manufacturing and distribution chain. An attitude of stewarship, from my experience, is best when paired with consideration to human physiology and cultural practices.

For years, I ate a vegan and vegetarian diet. After growing up on a cattle farm and eating an abundance of steaks, roasts and ground beef for the first 17 years of my life, I gradually exited the meat game when I moved away to college. I still remember finishing off that last packet of chicken-flavored ramen. PETA’s seminal shock-umentary “Meet Your Meat” and a growing knowledge of industrial CAFOs were enough to put me off of carnivorousness.

Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to kick my food-based activism up a notch in grad school. I went full vegan. Pollution from dairy farms and the oddity that humans are the only animal that drink milk beyond infancy, let alone the milk of another species, seemed counterintuitive. But my body reacted instantly. Since all of the information I’d seen on veganism indicated that it was the healthiest thing a human could do for their body, I attributed the onset of acne (which I’d never experienced at the age of 22) to stress from my first desk job, an internship. However, it was likely due to stress on my body from cutting out a source of nutrients that my ancestors had evolved to utilize.

About eight years later, I found myself constantly famished. In the meantime, I had relapsed into carnivorous territory for a few years in New York (after successfully maintaining a vegan diet for months in Costa Rica, which was no picnic). A move to Madison, Wis., later and this glutton for punishment went vegetarian and then vegan again. But when an herbalist suggested I cut soy out of my diet, I realized I had to start eating eggs or spend most of my time hungry and hunting for food. A month later, I stood bewildered in the dairy aisle, confounded by choices of eight different concentrations of milk. After the dairy experiment, I was still not in the best health and remained quite hungry, so I got on the pescatarian bandwagon. (Most restaurants in Madison have amazing fish frys on Friday evenings. That and the cheese curds encouraged some dietary shifts.)

As I integrated more healthful sources of animal protein into my diet, I felt it my responsibility to stick with the most local and organic options. I buy organic whole milk from Sassy Cow Creamery and organic, soy-free eggs from M&M Farms. (I recently made huevos ranchers with two types of eggs: M&M’s and a leading national organic brand. M&M’s yolks were much oranger and the shells were stronger too.) I willingly pay more for these products because, in a capitalist economy, every dollar is a vote. I vote for sustainability.

I feel priveleged because I realize the opportunity to vote with your food dollar is a luxury for many. I have access to these products and the money to spend on them. I make it a priority. College loans can wait: I need fresh food!

I’ve extended that effort to the seafood that I eat. I take the same attitude with fish as I did with meat. I eat it at restaurants, which makes it a bit trickier to get information on where the fish was sourced from. Some of the best fish frys are at local mom-and-pop joints with other priorities than sustainability. But there are plenty of local-food restaurants in town whose fish frys I’m destined to try. Seafood is new to me and it’s a learning process I enjoy.

As part of the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association, I’m committed to sharing the same information I look for when making choices about what I eat. I hope to enlighten and am always interested in questions and feedback. Thanks for joining us on this sustainable seafood journey! I’m sure it will encourage us to be more mindful of not just the food we eat, but the world in general.

Check out the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch App to help you make the most sustainable seafood purchasing decisions.

From Farm to Fromage: Cypress Grove Chevre

TurningoutTruffleTremorBy Holly Henschen, Editor

This story originally appeared in the July/August print edition of Food Manufacturing. 

Growth can be stressful for food manufacturers. Particularly for artisan producers with traditional processes that can be hundreds of years old. But Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, Calif., anxiously awaits its upcoming expansion. The footprint of the specialty goat cheesemaker’s facility will nearly double, thanks to an investment from its new owner. And the new space? It’s connected to their current building. It’s anomaly in the stressful acquisition trend, but Cypress Grove Chevre has absolutely nothing but praises for its parent company.

In the 1970s, Mary Keehn built the foundation of Cypress Grove Chevre with her own two hands. First, they were offering food to a semi-feral goat on her neighbor’s land in Humboldt County. The single mother simply wanted fresh milk for her four daughters. But she ended up a goat breeder with an oversupply of milk. A stint in regional cheese sales and a trip to Europe later, and Cypress Grove Chevre was born in 1983. The company’s signature cheese, Humboldt Fog, consists of two layers of chevre, each coated in vegetable ash per French custom. Named after a local daily weather occurrence, Humboldt Fog is one of 13 Cypress Grove Chevre cheeses and 13 SKUs distributed in 50 states and Southern Canada. Two aged cheeses, Goudas to be exact, are produced by the new parent company. One is made from goat’s milk and the other from sheep’s.

In 2010, after 27 years in the business, Keehn sold to Swiss cheesemaker Emmi. Now, Cypress Grove Chevre’s new creamery nears completion. The company also boasts a 32-acre, 550-goat dairy which supplies a portion of Cypress Grove Chevre’s primary ingredient.

The market for specialty cheeses like goat cheese has grown noticeably in the last decade. Total U.S. retail sales of natural and specialty cheeses were $15.7 billion in 2013, according to Packaged Facts. The new facility will help Cypress Grove up their supply in response.

“We have a plant that is currently operating over capacity and have an opportunity to meet market demand,” said David Estes, operations director at Cypress Grove Chevre. “Emmi has provided us with the capital and expertise to meet this demand and at the same time up our game in terms of food quality and safety with improved infrastructure and manufacturing systems.”

“[Emmi] very much treat[s] us as an autonomous brand and take[s] a hands-off approach to managing the business,” said Janne Rasmussen, marketing manager at Cypress Grove Chevre. No staff changes were made among the company’s 50 employees when it was bought.

The new addition will bump the facility’s footprint from 14,000 feet to 27,000. The Cypress Grove Chevre creamery, nestled in a residential area of the bohemian town Arcata, was built in 2004.

The property contains two barns that were once part of a cow dairy, the only source of milk in the area in the early 1900s. Cypress Grove Chevre restored the surrounding land and got permission from the city to build on the condition that the architecture stayed true to the agricultural setting of the parcel. Before 2004, Cypress Grove Chevre operated in nearby McKinleyville, where the dairy is now located.

The New Digs

From the beginning of the cheese-making process to the final steps, Cypress Grove Chevre’s new facility will allow for more precision in production and consistency.

“We did want to ease into the future. It’s a 10-year plant,” Estes said. “Moving in is going to be half of the challenge.”

The new plant has three main sections: a raw milk plant, fresh cheese production and aged cheese production. Multiple hygiene rooms separate areas that hold different types of cheeses to avoid cross-contamination from different cheese making spores associated with each type of cheese. The raw zone is completely separated from the rest of the plant and even has a separate entrance.

Humboldt Fog Growing MoldExpanded Capacity

The new facility will accept milk deliveries from conventional 6,000-gallon trucks, an upgrade from the current 3,000-gallon capacity. From the truck, milk will be pumped into the milk silo before pasteurization.  The HTST pasteurizer uses less water and energy and offers much more control than the currently used pasteurization method. Preparing goat milk for cheese production is a slow process compared to typical large-scale cheese manufacturing.  It takes more than 36 hours to go from pasteurized milk to fresh cheese that is ready to be packaged.  For soft ripened cheeses, the process takes an additional 17 days before packaging.  The new method and capacity will allow for a 250 percent output increase for both types of cheeses.

Cypress Grove Chevre’s dairy is experimenting with out-of-season breeding as goat milk is in limited supply. Goat cheese is a highly seasonal product. Though June is the peak of milk production,the cheese is most heavily consumed from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

Food Safety

Food safety measures are embedded in the infrastructure of Cypress Grove Chevre. The process rooms in the new facility are essentially their own buildings within the exterior building and allow for stringent environmental controls. Utilities are housed in the attic space and routed directly down to the point of use so utilities materials within the production areas are minimized. Corner mount lighting fixtures minimize the potential for cross-contamination from ceiling condensation. A building management system carefully balances the pressure differentials rooms to minimize the potential of airborne contaminants to infiltrate the most sensitive process rooms. The entire plant is built for regular wash down, but will be operated as a “dry” plant during operation.

Quality Control

More precise temperature and humidity controls in production areas will avoid product loss, improve product consistency and extend cheese shelf life. The European-style curd press, which separates the whey from the curd, will allow for much more exact moisture levels in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. For the soft-ripened cheeses, a new drying room and ripening caves will allow for more controlled ripening environments and will translate into a more consistent finished product.

“We will be able to more precisely dial in every step of our cheesemaking process and will ultimately result in a better product to the final consumer,” Estes said. “With a little packaging innovation here and there, we may be able to extend shelf life.”

The fresh cheese has a shelf life of at least 12 weeks, while aged cheese has a shelf life of 6-8 weeks uncut.

Digital-Edition-250x311The Mission Remains the Same

Cypress Grove Chevre’s artisan practices will remain unchanged in its new facility. Soft, aged cheeses like Humboldt Fog, are turned, packaged and wrapped by hand. Some varieties are even hand-labeled. In fresh cheese production, herbs, like lavender, dill and chili threads, are hand-sprinkled for flavor, aesthetics and taste.

Estes is allotting a realistic amount of time for production trials before processing is fully converted to the new facility. After all, it takes time to get things just right in a new home. Mid-August is realistic for starting the transition, he said.

“It could be months before we’re fully dialed in and satisfied with our trials,” he said. “Quality is everything.”

With a new owner, Cypress Grove Chevre is getting ready for the future by investing in a new facility. As part of a new family in a stable specialty market, the cheesemaker is upping its game for the longer term with innovative technology in the food-safety savvy facility, securing even more longevity in the specialty cheese market.

Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association: Under the Sea and Onto Your Plate — Responsibly

Logo(July 14, 2014) Something’s fishy.

The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows annual world fishery production of 158 million tons, up an astonishing345% from fifty years earlier. Global per capita consumption of seafood has nearly doubled to 19 kilograms annually in the last 50 years, and by 2050, the population is expected to balloon to 9 billion. Despite the vital importance of seafood as a world food supply, there is relatively little conversationoutside the scientific, activist and conservation communities about how to replenish and maintain it. Everyone plays a role in the health of the oceans, and with more information, can contribute in ways that accumulate to make a sizeable difference.

Enter the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association (SSBA). Five independent bloggers from the worlds of food, science, culture and regulation have banded together, each creating weekly blog posts to bring seafood sustainability into ongoing conversations about food, corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Together, their social media channels reach roughly 50,000 subscribers, a substantial audience and robust network for the SSBA to begin its campaign.

  • Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts, an award-winning food and drink writer and a sake educator.
  • Holly Henschen of The Futurist Farmgirl is a long-time food journalist, nature-lover and former Midwestern farm dweller who’s written for publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Food Manufacturing.
  • Tom Siebertz of Chews-Worthy, formerly of the NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service, is a regulatory & food labeling specialist, as well as a student of food science, business and regulatory affairs.
  • Jason Simas of The Food Safety Blog is founder of Grant, Hamilton & Beck communications consultancy and directs social media communications for the food safety and sustainability life science company iPura Foods.
  • Kerrie Urban of Urban Foodie Finds co-founded Blog and Tweet Boston and writes on topics such as organic vs. natural foods and sustainability, as well as local farmers and small businesses.

The growing world population taxes water supplies, as well as the wildlife and food sources that inhabit them. Sustainable practices are vital to cultivating the seafood that remains and ensuring these creatures continue viable food sources for years to come. Look forward to cogent conversations from the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association that aim to integrate this imperative topic of choice into the growing movement toward responsible food.

Visit the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association members on their respective blogs and on Twitter at #SSBAFish.

Contact: Jason Simas


(805) 438-4268