Wake Up and Smell the Fake Coffee

I drink fake coffee. In fact, I’m drinking it right now.

The blasphemy, the horror! Won’t someone think of the coffee-guzzling American children?! (I kid. A little.)

“What’s the point?” was a response I heard often when I opted for decaf in public. But drinking a coffee substitute is generally so baffling that people are more intrigued than turned off. Several have even been keen to sample it.

decaf_comicCaffeine and I have a love hate relationship. I love caffeinated beverages, but they hate my relaxation and sleep. Tea works for me. Decaf, which still contains caffeine, and diet soda, even precious Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, do not.

I wasn’t always this way. In my youth, I slurped multiple espressos and French press-fuls a day. In fact, I reported or the world coffee market. I was co-chair of the Fair Trade Coalition chapter in college and successfully campaigned to get it in our student union and a local, small-town grocery store. Coffee and I go way back.

But somewhere along the line, I developed a sensitivity to the drink of the gods. It took many incidents to come to terms with the fact that the magic bean cramping my style. Particularly because coffee has always held a place of comfort and sustenance in my palatte. First, I down-shifted to occasional decaf, but knew in my heart that it had to go.  For weeks after giving up low-octane coffee, I yearned for it. A whiff of fresh beans in a friend’s tote or simply walking by a coffee shop set off a cavalcade of obsessive cravings. I desparately needed a hot cuppa! With a splash of soy creamer.

dscf2079Then, friend turned me on to my fake coffee of choice: Dandy Blend Herbal Coffee Substitute. I had actually scoffed at it about four months prior. Dandy Blend is roasted dandelion root, roasted chicory (the same stuff that makes world-famous Cafe Mundo coffee distinct) and roasted barley and rye (don’t worry, it’s gluten-free). Dandelion is known as a rich source of B vitamins and a liver cleanser in Chinese traditional medicine.

The instant powder is also less acidicless acidic and, I’m going to aruge, better for the environment.

Coffee is actually the most water-intensive commodity in the world. Water is not only used to cultivate the crop and prepare its end product, but to process it. In the commonly used wet process, or washed method, the ripe crimson coffee cherries that surround the raw beans are poured into a vat, which is then flooded with water. When immersed, the pulpy berry eventually separates from the bean and floats to the top, along with any of the thin skin that surrounds it, known as parchment. This berry scum is skimmed from the top, along with any of the lighter, deficient beans. Then the water is drained and the beans are dried. If every bean that’s roasted and ground to make your coffee undergoes this process, that’s a lot of H20 in your water footprint.

Let’s also not forget that coffee is among the most widely-used and socially-acceptable drugs in the world. Ahem. 

ea1da4b156b73f0c9ab52c2491c3f479But back to fake coffee. Dandy Blend is one of several coffee substitutes. Celestial Seasonings has a tea called Roastaroma (which is a little to grain-flavored for my liking). There are a few I have yet to try that include ingredients like dried figs and sugar beets. If you’re feeling jittery and not sleeping well, I suggest you give one a shot. If you’re drinking decaf, make sure you’re drinking water-decaffeinated coffee rather than chemically-decaffeinated. I think it’s obvious why.

Drinking fake coffee is much like drinking non-alcoholic beer (which I’ve done once, out of curiousity, but if that’s your thing, right on). It’s bizarre. You expect to get a buzz going because your body associates that effect with beer. But nothing happens. Of course, there will be no caffeine high from a coffee substitute.

Nonetheless, on a March day with a winter storm raging outside, fake coffee does something for me that a cup of tea can’t. But I’m still going to have tea next.




Food Resolutions for Thought

How’s that New Year’s Resolution going? Perhaps you vowed to drink less or hit the gym more? Maybe you promised to eat healthier food.

f3b8The Washington Post must have resolved to knock it out of the park with food-related columns and articles this year. For instance, food isn’t healthy, NOT EVEN KALE. Before you toss the device you’re reading this on away from you in disgust, check out the article. Or read my summary: foods hold different nutrients. It’s how we nourish ourselves with them makes us healthy. The whole of our diet matters more than kale or bacon alone.

Moving on, this WaPo column, The surprising truth about the food movement, details the chronic over-hyping of the Food Movement, the fruit of self-sufficient ideas planted by Back-to-the-Land hippies in the 1960s. Their ethos grew into the ideologies behind bestsellers, such as anything by Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and the evolution of New York Times columnist Mark Bittman from a foodie to the founder of vegan-ish-ism.


The Food Movement’s message is loud clear: people want real food. Real food is nutritious, lacks pesticides, local and doesn’t hurt anyone in its production. It’s also nice to the animals you’re eating. Wild is better than farmed. Foraged is best. (Note: This last point may be a sentiment confined to Wisconsin thing.)

But, in general, Americans aren’t so clear about whether they want a food movement. The amount of processed foods purchases barely budged from 2002-2012.

What’s more: it’s a bit of nostalgic fantasy that Americans in general have the time and money to buy, prepare and eat all whole, local, sustainable foods while living modern lifestyles. Who has time to prepare 21 fresh meals each week? Who’s going to give up their guilty-pleasure Girl Scout cookies and Bagel Bites? Luckily for today’s Americans, it’s that whole-shebang diet, not just an heirloom tomato or a Twinkie, that makes up our diet.

So, the column continues, food manufacturers are producing the next best thing to Food Movement-friendly, whole foods: processed perishables produced with more natural ingredients that are closer to foods than, as Polan would say, food-like substances.

Nonetheless, people are thinking more about food, and it’s grown into a conversation that’s taking root in public policy. SNAP money is redeemable at farmers markets. More insurance companies (at least in the Madison, Wisconsin, area) are offering to pony up for part of your CSA (community-share agriculture, which is kind of like a ritzy subscription to a farm). As increasing numbers of consumers seek sustainability and food transparency, the big players in an industry starved for profits are listening more closely.

Campbell’s Soup Co. announced it’s in favor of GMO labeling on products, a food fight that’s been raging nationally for more than a decade. Kellogg’s has resolved to remove all artificial ingredients in its cereals by 2018. Food industry consultancy and thought leader Euromonitor named sustainability one of the top trends of 2016.

The WaPo column says these food formulation changes are a pittance in regards to the big picture. But I disagree.

Food tells a story about how we once lived. The United States was, at one time, a patchwork of farming communities. But we’ve been uprooted. The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census showed that those who count farming as their livelihoods is decreasing rapidly as farmers age.

Humans, being the hunters and eaters that we are, have been disconnected from our natural habitat. Our bodies weren’t designed for a leisure-rich technological age. But reconnecting to our food, even if it’s just through naturally colored Annie’s Homegrown White Cheddar Bunnies crackers, is important. It reminds us of where we came from. Because that means we’re thinking about it. We want to be healthier, like nearly every New Year’s resolutioner.

Change to a more nutritious food system won’t happen overnight. But moves toward more natural products, ingredients and production methods help us feel more connected to the land that sustains us, the land we’re all joint stewards of. And that keeps us thinking.

So maybe you haven’t completely followed through on your New Year’s Resolution. But you’re thinking about it, right? An extra trip to the gym and a few fewer drinks or donuts each week make a significant cumulative difference. Small changes incrementally result in a new norm, leading to large and long-lasting results.

Fat-Free to Fat Bomb: Amber waves of grain meet everything coconut


stop-the-insanityAmericans and food: we’re a fun pairing. Take a hodge-podge of cultures, unleash them on a virgin landmass, throw in a few major wars victories and you’re in for an interesting culinary ride.

My most recent food musing is how the pendulum has swung toward eating fat. For background, I recommend In Defense of Food by Michael Polan. Polan explains how American dietary habits were politicized through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Association. Essentially, what we consider rule-of-thumb healthy eating habits resulted from elites bargaining for daily food recommendations that benefited their states’ agricultural producers. National health and food trade associations also lobbied to represent their interests. Polan’s take-away is that the fat-phobia that manifested in the last quarter of the 20th century led to high levels of heart disease. This is because fat is actually healthy for your body, moreso than cheap grains, which have been sustaining societies since agrarianism became the norm, ca. 8,000-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Fast forward to 2015 and spin 180 degrees toward the Atkins Diet, which (still) hasn’t died out, and prevailing Paleo, Ketogenic and Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diets. American culture has a habit of moving from one end of a spectrum to the other every 20-25 years or so.

lchf diet

Historically, dietary trends have shifted with populations and the available resources. In the past, when nutrient-deficient sugar was scarce and costly, Americans walked, biked and performed manual labor on a daily basis. At that point, people ate whatever they could get, which was undoubtedly in season. But these days, sugar is abundant, the food on store shelves has enviable travel experience no matter the time of the year, and we’re generally parked in front of screens during the bulk of our waking hours. Cue the low-energy diets, please!

No matter which lineage of LCHF diet one follows, fat, rather than carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and sucrose), is the your primary source of energy And not just animal fat, mind you. A major market has developed around the new superfood, coconut. Truly, calling coco a superfood in today’s environment is an understatement. The wondrous coconut, which, like quinoa, is technically a seed, is a source of products including: coconut water, oil, sugar, flour, butter, milk, “milk” and shredded coconut. Once a niche product found in the international food aisle, coconut product are now a money maker throught the perishable goods market, which has thin margins and requires constant innovation to increase sales and show profits.


The world coconut market reached $71 million in 2014, showing a compound annual growth rate of 103% from just two years earlier, according to a recent report from IndexBox Marketing. Top coconut exporters are Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico, with the latter two countries boosting their market share in recent years. (Note: I did not create that image. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic.)

China is the leading importer of coconuts, accounting for 87% of the global market. Take note of your lables: many coconut products are produced in China, as well as their countries of origin, for example, the Philipinnes. The United States, along with Australia and Italy, each accounted for 2% of global coconut imports. The combined imports of these countries totaled 93% of the world market in 2014. The United States’ coconut imports rose 2 percentage points from the the previous year in the same timeframe.

If you’re a coconut oil user, I urge you to purchase the Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade variety. It’s a bit pricier, but the Fair Trade certification guarantees that the people producing the product are being paid a living wage and the company is investing in their community. You can pick it up at your local food co-op or Whole Foods.

You can also use it to make fat bombs, which are actually much more delicious than they sound. Eat your fat bombs with a side of social responsibility, I say! (Note: I was introduced to coconuts by my holistic chiropractor. She suggested them, so I consume them under doctor’s orders!) I’m experimenting with some fat bomb recipes I’ll share just in time for holiday merrymaking.

I can’t help but wonder where our culture will be dietarily in another 20 years and what the hot superfoods will be. Dare to venture a guess? Leave your ideas in the comment section below!

Here’s another use for coconuts and a few thoughts about their export…

Wicked Gardener

The next cover of

The next cover of “Worst Homes & Gardens.”

My name is Holly and I’m a bad gardener. But let me explain.

Despite my best intentions, the ol’ community garden plot slowly grew into a weed jungle again this year. You leave a piece of land to its own devices for a week and it does its damnedest to erase all evidence of your interference. (Also, you sow your seeds on Labor Day Weekend and then vacate out of state for a week or two, as I have the past few years, and … yeah.) The plot was lousy with the scourge that is bindweed, aka Convolvulus arvensis, a cousin of the morning glory that invades the soil and winds its way up plants, pulling them down, strangling them in the process and blocking their sun exposure. The only known ways to kill bindweed are 1) RoundUp, which is strictly verboten in the community garden and nothing I’m inclined to use; 2) Pouring boiling water all over the plot, which, like a normal garden, isn’t flanked by electric outlets and I don’t own a cauldron; and 3) Covering the 17’x10′ plot with a black tarp or sheets of plastic for, oh, say three years.

The other way to get rid of it: hours upon hours of weed pulling all summer.

Now, let’s stop and think about summer. Just yesterday, the blitzkrieg of weddings, birthday parties, cookouts, campouts, neighborhood festivals, street parties and such had many of us booked up for weeks on end. If you have time for weed pulling in the summer, you are likely retired or an extreme introvert who wouldn’t mind being introduced to this garden plot, thick with accursed weeds, that I waited three years to get.

Did I mention the plot is about 1.5 miles from my house? Definitely not too far, but given a day at work and an evening activity, I generally made it to the garden once or twice a week early in the season to check the weed progress and water the tomatoes, peppers and cabbage.

There were several survivors. Plenty of summer squash and zucchini, a decent amount of kale and rainbow chard, and the odd wild raspberries made stopping by the garden a bit fun. I also discovered two tiny peppers and a lone radish. All delicious. Maybe it’s my agrarian genes, but there is no satisfaction like eating food that you and the earth collaborated on. And I assume the brussels sprouts are still growing …

Out of shame of its shabbiness, I often visited my garden under the cover of night. The weed bed was beneath a streetlight, glowing yellow on the bikepath beside it. I would fill my plastic grocery bag with what I could carry while swatting at the army of mosquitoes intent on inserting their thirsty probiscuses into my flesh.

Next to the the seasoned lifestyle farmers of Madison, Wisconsin, my paltry plot was an eyesore on the verdant landscape. Beautiful strawberries in the early summer, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, peas, green beans dancing up poles and enough tomatoes and peppers to exceed every salsa and marinara sauce canning dream. And nary an unchecked weed.

Madison is a master gardener’s playground. I simply cannot compete. Next season, I’ll plant some store-bought herbs and tomatoes in buckets and pots on my porch. There’s plenty of to sunshine be soaked up around the flat. Plants located just steps away have a much higher likelihood of flourishing.

Until then, I will machete my way through the weeds to recover the wheelbarrow and shovel I bought at the beginning of the season, presuming they’re still in there.

I hope to convert the wheelbarrow into a kayak cart (or bribe a friend to). But that’s another blog post.

Here’s a ’90s video for you. (Before Scott Weiland got too deep into the Layne Staley bit!)

Paleo Gimlet a la Friday

Gimli probably wouldn’t care much for Gimlets, but I do. So there. Did his axe have a name? I can’t remember it. For some reason, I remember weapon names. For instance, there’s a hair salon about a mile away called Glamdring, which is Frodo’s sword. Apparently they cut your hair with Frodo’s sword.

It’s Friday night and I’m burned out from the ol’ working week. Yet there’s still some life in me! So I sat a spell (ok, laid under my down comforter and looked at FB), then trotted over to the liquor store, followed by the food co-op for some gimlet fixins. Cheers to the liquor store proprietor who helped my tired soul chose this drink over white wine.

Behold! The paleo gimlet recipe I whipped up! Gimlets: no calories, no carbs, super easy! Sidenote: I’ve always wanted to name a pet Gimlet, ever since I had my first one in some fancy bar near Washington Square Park. My memory of the night is blurry, but I was in love. With lime and vodka in a martini glass. Without further ado…


1 oz. vodka (Just buy good vodka. I’ve been digging Real Russian, the name of which doesn’t do it justice. It’s made by a Ruski. Tito’s (Texan) Vodka is highly regarded by people I regard highly. Ketel One’s quite passable.)

0.5 oz. lime juice

2-3 oz. club soda (I used lime-flavored Klarbrunn, which is my local sparkling soda from Watertown, Wisconsin!)

2-3 drops of liquid stevia or the equivalent of powdered stevia

Mix in a shaker with ice (or, if you’re minus a shaker like me, in your Kleen Kanteen!) and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lime if you’re feelin’ fancy.

Then write and listen to the new Sleater-Kinney. The combo is to die for. Have a great weekend!

(Gimlets always make me think of Gimli, the dwarf from LOTR. You know, son of Gloin? I’m really not that big of a stereotypical nerd. I just retain words and literature. Cheers!)

In Which I Fall into Food

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don't buy it, food elitist! Unless you're speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you're a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don’t buy it, food elitist! Unless you’re speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you’re a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

The coming winter will soon find itself in my firm mental embrace and me swathed in layers of materials designed to evade its cold clutches.

But til then, fall is rockin’ the food kasbah. Listen up!

Rainy Saturdays are the best time to visit the Madison Farmers Market. My eyes were relieved to see no more than 2, possibly 1, strollers around the entire Capitol Square! Our haul included 1 medium buttercup squash ($4), 3 small spaghetti squash ($2), a vege-fractal broccoli romano (broccoli romanesco if you’re Americani or simply anywhere but Roma) ($4), one 4-pound, local, antibiotic-free chicken carcass ($12) and one Chai-der from Espresso Royale ($3ish). Yes, that last one is a mix of chai and cider. You need it inside of you. Oh! And the best farmers market find was a Hen of the Woods mushroom, ½ pound at $6 a pound. Local food proprietors claim that this is their season to flourish. A fantastic risotto was made with the chickeny hen and a few shitakes for good measure. The next day found the chicken (roasted), buttercup squash (also roasted) and broccoli romano (sautéed in butter) in tonight’s dinner, inspired by this bitchin’ recipe and wine suggestion compliments of the Willy Street Coop and Star Liquor.

Want to try: “cheddar” cauliflower. It’s orange cauliflower. I uncertain if its taste varies from the uncolored counterpart. It may be a well-engineered Sconnie food ploy… Please advise if you have insight.

As climatical greyness encroaches, I’m picking through what remains of my backyard and community gardens. A multitude of baby kale spurred a stem-in roasted kale chip experiment. Tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and salt and baked at 400F for about 12 minutes, the stem added structural integrity to the wee leaves. Do it! A bunch of purple kale and a generous half cup of Thai basil remain for the backyard haul, in addition to a few green-and-yellow, tiger-striped heirloom tomatoes that escaped the clutches of squirrels who eat one bite and leave the rest to rot. Squirrels …

A jog past the community garden Sunday yielded a cup of Brussels sprouts, a few nearly-ripe San Martino tomatoes and last fresh raspberries I’ll pull from that and surrounding plots this season. The former were toted home in an unused doggie bag donated by a kindly passerby. After a season of mythically proportioned weeds, I’ve decided to give the bit of land another go. A season of late planting and unexpectedly draining travel messed up my gardening groove. And a new job. That’ll do it! I’ll garden more prioritiously next year. The satisfaction of preparing and digesting nourishment from plants coaxed out of the earth with nature’s permission is incomparable.

As the summer slides into fall, I look forward to clearing my plots of the detritus of plants that were born and flowered that year. I’m grateful for the opportunity to interact with nature on a more intimate level next year, with a more knowledgeable, understanding care and respect. With a better idea of what to expect.

TL;DR: Squash is brilliant, as will be what lies ahead.

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 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.

That Other Thing Making Us Fat

Newsflash: Food isn’t the only thing making us fat! To food and health personalities like Mark Bittman, Katie Couric and Michael Pollan preaching against typical eating habits: I hear you. But it’s not just the food.

Allow me to indulge myself with an anecdote related to obesity. I grew up on a farm. So did my father, his father and my great-grandfather. They got up before the sun every day to milk cows by hand. Then they did it again in the evening. My great-grandfather drove mules to plow, plant and harvest crops on hundreds of acres of land each year. My great-grandmother raised chickens and a garden for fresh vegetables. Somewhere along the line, indoor plumbing and electricity came along. And now machines do much of the back-breaking work on farms and in day-to-day life. But a few generations later, my family generally eats the same as they did when manual labor was the easiest sort to come by. And it’s not just my family.

Technology and urbanization aren’t the only things changing the way we live (and die) in developed economies. Take this unpopular sentence: The price of food in the United States is relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world. Americans spend less than 10 percent of our incomes on food.  In Japan, that spending level falls in the high teens. The Economist postulates that, as countries develop, citizens there spend proportionately less on food. We’ve also seen that obesity tends to climb in more developed countries. Let’s not kid ourselves: Americans like things cheap. So we buy more food. Human bodies are designed to seek out the most energetically rewarding things to eat. So we eat fat and sugar because it makes us feel good.

In a recent column, long-time New York Times food spokesperson Mark Bittman says that sugar and processed foods are causing weight gain. These energy sources alone are not the only nefarious influences plaguing the bodies of citizens of developed countries.

By and large, these citizens — Americans included — generally spend the majority of their waking hours in front of computers. It’s unhealthy for our bodies and throws our natural energy cycles off. We drink excessive amounts of caffeine to stay awake and motivated in the sitting position, which stresses our adrenal glands and taxes the quality of our sleep. That makes many people so tired that when they’re done sitting at a desk, all they have energy to do is to go home and relax in front of the computer or TV. The Washington Post says all of this sitting leads to organ damage, muscle degeneration, foggy brains and bad backs. I can surely attest to that last symptom. Americans also typically have fewer vacation days and use fewer sick days. That’s more time we’re soaking up screen time and fluorescent lighting in our offices with windows that can’t open to let in fresh air.

I imagine you’re reading this sitting at your desk, a similar place to where I’m writing it. Or perhaps riding on public transportation. So why don’t you take another quick trip with me?

I recently spent five days camping in the lush and rocky state and national parks west of Denver. Aside from several hikes that lasted as long as I usually occupy my desk chair, I had to walk to a water pump and exert more energy than turning on the tap to get H20. I gathered kindling and helped build a fire at night. I hiked all day, like humans were generally designed for. I barely looked at my phone, let alone a computer screen. I probably lost a few pounds in the process and I felt great besides. I was in the sun and the fresh air, the way nature intended. I have yet to see any research on the influence of fluorescent lights and central air on obesity.

We don’t need a war on “Big Food” to lower obesity rates in the U.S. We need to reevaluate our lifestyles as a culture. The warlike option is the easier one, which is why Katie Couric’s recent documentary “Fed Up” places the blame for obesity on food manufacturers. In addition to bowing to consumer demand for more natural and organic foods, the industry needs to stick up for itself and point a finger at how Americans live instead of just what they eat.

Overeating unhealthy food isn’t helping, but it’s also not the one-and-only culprit in the U.S. and global obesity epidemic. It’s our current lifestyle in the industrialized world and the fact that our bodies evolved to survive the wilds of nature, but we now use them, generally, to sit in buildings. That other thing making us fat is how we live.

2014: The Year of the Label

What’s in a name? Or, more appropriately for food manufacturers, what’s on a label? In 2014, this question will be analyzed from angles we’ve yet to imagine. 

While the federal government struggles to implement the Food Safety and Modernization Act, industry groups and large food processors are taking up the mantle to define food labeling. For some large processors, the sustainable practices often associated with this type of labeling, as well as the larger consumer movement for food information, have become part of corporate strategy and reliable ingredient sourcing. Food manufacturers are wise to keep a close watch on these developing trends to best position their operations for changes in both labeling and the product content it describes.

GMOs: General Mills kicked off 2014 by slapping “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients” labeling on boxes of original Cheerios. The breakfast classic’s primary ingredient, oats, made the transition simple because that crop’s never been genetically modified. But, like green grocery innovator Whole Foods’ demand that suppliers label GMO content by 2018, such moves by big players are a bellwether of what could become the norm.

Food manufacturers are keeping a hawk’s eye on GMO labeling policy. Campbell Soup Co. Vice President of Manufacturing Mark Cacciatore said in an interview in December “… we need consistency in legislation. It would be chaos for us if there were different [GMO labeling] requirements in different parts of the country.”

Last year, 26 states introduced GMO labeling legislation, sparking several highly publicized and narrowly defeated votes. Only two states succeeded: Maine and Connecticut passed GMO labeling laws that go into effect only if four other large states also implement labeling laws. Several states are already proposing laws regarding GMO agriculture and foods this year.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is pitching a federal GMO policy that would make the labeling voluntary, preempt state laws on GMO labels and shift much of the responsibility of OKing GMO foods to the Food and Drug Administration.

Natural: In the same proposal, the GMA wants the FDA to define the term “natural” and preempt states from defining the word. The FDA admits “natural” is difficult to define. It hasn’t objected to foods labeled “natural” if they’re free of added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. But that’s advice, not law. In the last year, well-known manufacturers including Pepperidge Farms, Naked Juice, Ben & Jerry’s and Frito-Lay dropped the word from their labeling and marketing as suspect ingredients were called into question amid a flurry of class-action suits. 

Sustainable: McDonald’s recently vowed to source only “verified sustainable beef” for its burgers by 2016. This year, the fast food giant said it aspires to support development of global principles and criteria for that beef. “Sustainable,” like “natural” is another labeling term that lacks uniform definition.

Nutrition Labeling: Facts Up Front, the front-of-package nutrition labeling initiative spearheaded by the GMA and Food Marketing Institute in 2011, is expected to unleash a $50 million ad campaign. Supporters including General Mills, Kraft and Mondelez International will likely fund their own promotion of the labeling. The GMA said as many as 80 percent of products from participating manufacturers will display Facts Up Front by the end of 2014.

Food Date Labels: In its campaign against food waste, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has honed in on food date labels printed on packaging. Often interpreted by consumers and retailers as expiration dates, the council and some manufacturers say this date instead indicates peak freshness. As the date comes and goes, confused consumers toss the food out due to safety concerns. This could add up to hundreds of dollars’ worth of annual waste for American households. The NRDC calls for a simpler date labeling system for food. Though the FDA and USDA regulate food label dating, they don’t define the date terms, leaving it up to states. Lack of an industry-wide definition equals more food in dumpsters, according to the NRDC. 

Food labeling is the industry topic to watch in 2014. Food Manufacturing will keep you posted with daily news, articles and blogs at http://www.foodmanufacturing.com.

This article originally appeared in Food Manufacturing’s January/February 2014 print issue.