For the past several months I have focused my thoughts and my cooking sessions almost exclusively on what my local stomping grounds can supply our restaurant, Broadway East in NYC. Ive worked and reworked my menus to use what produce, grains, legumes, fish, meats and cheese I can predictably procure within a five hundred mile radius from October through December. Im cutting myself some slack here. What were trying to do at the restaurant is create the most energy efficient restaurant, use the least amount of carbon in the process, support our local agriculture, and still turn a profit.
One of my challenges has been sourcing locally produced fresh mozzarella curd for, of all things, pizza. Who doesnt love pizza? Specifically the classic Neapolitan tomato and mozzarella variety. Crunchy crust, smooth savory sauce, and bubbly cheese topping. The holy trinity of the pallet: Crunch, Salt and Ooze. Pizza has become one of America's most cherished dishes satisfying young and old, from fast food junkies to discriminating highbrow foodies to vegetarians and omnivores. But did you know that pizza is one of the crown jewels of the International Agricultural Industrial Complex?
But what about the cheese? Until recently Polly-0 brand packaged mozzarella was all that was available. As a mere child of 5 I gained culinary independence from my mom and sisters when I learned to make sophisticated and modern "Toaster Oven Pizza".
Fast forward 20 years to Americas obsessive love affair with the almighty Artisanal-Industrial Complex (created and marketed to us in no small way by the Italian Trade Commission) with its darling Fair Maiden "Fresh Mozzarella".
In the foodies larder, fair tender "fresh" mozzarella has all but taken over from her tough rubbery processed older sister. In America, what was once an exotic delicacy has now become commonplace for the simple reason that nearly all the fresh mozzarella in the US is made from a single source of cheese curd, Polly-O Brand. And Polly-O is owned by Kraft; the worlds largest food company.
The milk for all of this "fresh" mozz is the product of one of the most powerful branches of The Agricultural-Industrial Complex -- the modern feedlot factory. In this system, cows are force fed a steady artificial diet of indigestible, genetically modified corn and soybeans and routinely injected with hormones and antibiotics. Cows, and by extension human beings, pay the price and bear the suffering from disease and pain the system induces.
At Broadway East we have looked hard at this issue and have decided to try and do something about it. We have found 2 sources for fresh mozzarella curd made from the milk of New York State and New Jersey pasture raised cows -- Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrence, New Jersey and Golden Age Cheese in Woodhull, New York.The curd comes to us frozen. We thaw it in our walk-in refrigerator then submerge it in a large bowl of very hot (180 degree F.) water and stretch and form it into balls. The balls of cheese are quickly cooled in an ice bath, drained, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. They keep well for up to a week.
As for the tomatoes, Guy Jones provided us with beautiful organic Roma tomatoes from his farm in Blooming Grove, NY, just 67 miles from our restaurant. We oven dry and freeze them to preserve for sauce through the winter months.
I may have lost the innocence of my youth, but I have once again gained culinary independence free from the powerful grip of our Industrial-Agricultural Complex!
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