Archive | November, 2012

Wild Hive Farm Polenta

21 Nov


Wild Hive Farm Polenta

A food review by Daniel B.

Don’t go to a farmer’s market desperate for pig skin. The chances are that you’ll leave disappointed. It’s not that there aren’t some great farmers, breeding delicious heritage hogs. There are. It’s just unlikely they’ll have brought any skin to the market.

Those of us who love the “specialty” cuts are accustomed to coming up empty handed.

The thing that set me off on this search was the memory of a fantastic dish. When chef Brian Bowden was behind the stoves at Creo in Albany, he took creamy Wild Hive Farm polenta, topped it with a poached farm egg, and garnished the plate with a brunoise of crispy cracklins made from the skin of a White Clover Farm pig.

While the thing I’ll never forget is the cracklins, the anchor of the dish was the polenta, and the stone-ground stuff Wild Hive Farm makes in Clinton-Corners is quite special indeed.


Polenta is effectively coarse ground cornmeal.

Corn these days has gotten a bad rap from a good man, Michael Pollan. Yes, corn may be in everything we eat. And yes, corn may be grown in monocultures that can be as destructive to the environment as industrial waste. Yes, we should not forget that corn is among the most widely planted genetically engineered crops along with soybeans and canola.

However the best way to nullify the evils of conventionally raised corn is to purchase the locally raised, organic alternative. And that’s what is in every bag of Wild Hive Farm polenta. There are no GMOs nor any synthetic pesticides in their products.

But not all coarsely ground organic cornmeal is created equal. Just take a look.

The grains on the left were purchased in bulk from a natural food’s store. They too are organic and make a fine polenta. But Wild Hive Farm stone grinds their polenta in small batches. Their micro mill produces a product that’s made from 100% of the germ which besides giving you the full nutritional value of the whole grain corn, it also packs greater flavor and aroma.

Seriously, you have to put your nose the the bag and inhale deeply. The smell is fantastic. Besides dried corn, it also gives the distinct impression of roasted nuts.

Now given some of the irregular sized grains, using a traditional method of preparation which involves stirring every ten minutes, takes a little bit longer than usual. Those larger grains are stubborn, and eventually lost their interior rawness after about 80 minutes.

That’s a lot of cooking time. Interestingly, Wild Hive Farm also suggests an 80 minute preparation time, however their method involves giving the grains a soak in cold water before cranking up the heat.

They recommend soaking the polenta for 1 or more hours, and then bringing to a boil while stirring. After it boils you reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Then simply maintain the simmer for 20 minutes, within which you should check on the simmer and stir the pot two to three times.

Regardless of technique the fundamental proportions of most polenta recipes call for one cup of cornmeal to four cups of water, with a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt added to the water. If you like yours a bit tighter, add a little more cornmeal or a little less water. If you like yours a bit runnier, add a little more water or a little less cornmeal.

Polenta is creamy on its own, just from the breakdown of the starches in the grains as they are stirred and simmered in the pot. But to make it really creamy, you could always add some butter and a soft flavorful cheese that melts well. I picked up a wedge of Gorgonzola Cremificato from The Cheese Traveler’s new storefront in Albany. The cheese hails from Lombardi and is made from cow’s milk with a traditional calf rennet.

And mashed into polenta, it’s heavenly. Topped with a poached egg from Cooper’s Ark Farm is even better. Just imagine how good it could have been if I could have found some pig skin. Drat. Next time.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.

Naples Valley Brand Red Pepper Jazzy Jam

6 Nov


Naples Valley Brand Red Pepper Jazzy Jam

A food review by Daniel Berman

I love football season even though I don’t follow sports.

Baseball is played during the summer. And it’s inextricably linked to hot dogs and peanuts. But by the time football rolls around we’re gearing up for winter, and it’s time to start loading up on pizza and chicken wings.

More than anything else, I love any excuse to eat chicken wings. Mostly because I’m a Frank’s Red Hot pepper sauce fanatic, and the classic Buffalo style wing sauce of Frank’s and butter fills me with a deep sense of pleasure and joy. The human heart has a tremendous capacity for love. So there is room for many more pepper sauces in my life: Huy Fong Sriracha, Texas Pete’s, Cristal, Tabasco, Cholula, and more clog the shelves at home.

But there are some places where hot sauce cannot go.


When I first encountered a jar of Naples Valley Brand Red Pepper Jazzy Jam, I knew my problem was solved. I could finally get my spicy red pepper fix on toast!

It hadn’t been for a lack of trying. But slathering Frank’s Red Hot onto an amply buttered piece of toasted bread isn’t quite satisfying. It lacks a certain texture and viscosity, all that can be found in a jam.

Now granted, the Naples Valley product isn’t Frank’s. It has a different profile. In fact opening it up and having a sniff of the red pepper and jalapeno, the aroma was more redolent of a jarred salsa than anything else.

What’s a little bit unexpected is the hit of sweetness along with a tart, bright heat from the jalapeno. It’s pleasantly balancing to the tingling front-of-the-mouth spiciness, and I would expect this jam to go fantastically well with a good blue cheese.

Sometimes pepper sauce is just too thin, sharp and focused.

A splash of Tabasco is great at enlivening fried or poached eggs. but it would difficult to get a good distribution of the stuff on an omelete. But adding this jam to an omelet made with some aged cheddar would result in a much tastier dish than just pepper sauce alone.

Naples Valley Brand products are all made in the Finger Lakes. Robin Voorhees makes them in the kitchen of the Bristol Mountain Winter Resort. She works there over the weekends during ski season at the bar Apparently she specializes in making Bloody Mary’s. Given her penchant for hot pepper jams, this is hardly a surprising fact.

But she’s been at this since 1994, starting with a line of mustards and growing her line of products over time. In truth, any home cook with a modicum of care can make their own mustards and jams. It’s not rocket science. But the more you make them, the better you get.

For me, I’m happy to let someone else do the work. Especially when they are making such fun things that would likely never attempt on my own. Red pepper and jalapeno jam. Breakfast will never be the same.

About Daniel B.

A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.