While some of the guests were county residents, most came from Western Oregon where Plate and Pitchfork dinners have gained a reputation for gourmet meals that celebrate the food grown on local farms and ranches.
Ranch owner Cory Carmen attended and provided Carmen Ranch beef for a dinner at Sun Gold Farm in Forest Grove last year. She was impressed with the event and inspired to work with Plate and Pitchfork to bring the idea to Wallowa County.
In addition to Sun Gold Farm, dinners have been staged at Smith Berry Farm in Hillsboro, Viridian Farms in Dayton and Champoeg Farm southwest of Wilsonville where chickens, turkeys and eggs are produced.
Plate and Pitchfork founder Erica Polmar said she believes it is important to know who produces the food we eat and what the methods of production are. The knowledge contributes to the health of individuals and to the health of communities, she said.
Her goal is to help consumers choose food free of chemicals and growth hormones and to provide them with information about all the steps in the process that brought their food from the field to their plates.
Food producers have begun to realize how important this information is to consumers. Stone-Buhr Flour includes a product code on each bag of flour sold that can be entered into a link on the company website, allowing consumers to locate the farm that grew the flour in the bag they purchased.
Wallowa County grain grower Kevin Melville markets his products through Shepherd’s Grain, a Pacific Northwest-based organization that is Food Alliance Certified and works to create a relationship between the grower, the baker, and the customer.
White tablecloths, crystal stemware and fine china on tables in the middle of green pastures created the setting at the Carmen Ranch. Six-course meals by guest chefs from Portland area restaurants and wine pairings coordinated by Bethel Heights Vineyard in Salem provided a unique culinary experience for diners.
A tour of the host farm or ranch is part of the event to acquaint guests with the food producer, the history of the operation and its methods of farming and harvesting. The farms range from a few to several hundred acres and all are committed to using sustainable farming and business practices.
Plate and Pitchfork, developed eight years ago by Polmar and Emily Crowley, is driven to reinforce the connection between the farm and the food on our plates.
Wallowa County food producers for this, the first Plate and Pitchfork dinner held outside the Portland metro area, included Backyard Gardens of Joseph, Arrowhead Ranch owned by the Reininger family, Stein’s Distillery and Carmen Ranch.
Berries, blue plums and honey from Troy were used in the desserts. Val’s Veggies in Baker City also contributed vegetables.
Beth Gibans of Backyard Gardens, who also helped to serve the dinner, said it was interesting to be involved in both ends of the marketing process: production and catering.
Producers were selected, according to chef Paschal Sauton, from a list of growers supplied by Carmen. He contacted them to order the vegetables and greens he needed and they were available when he arrived to begin preparing his dishes for the dinner.
A portion of the proceeds from the farm dinners is contributed directly to organizations that support small farms, environmental literacy and food security. This year the summer farm series will benefit the Sauvie Island Center and Oregon Tilth’s Organic Education Center. This year more than 800 children will participate in the education programs at Sauvie Island Center with over half coming on scholarship field trips from Title 1 schools in the North Portland area. For some of these children, it will be their only outdoor field trip of the year.
Dinner at the Carmen Ranch Sept. 11 began at 4 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres prepared and served in one of the pastures west of the ranch houses. Chef Sauton of Carafe Bistro on Market Street in Portland created crab with horseradish cream and tomato aspic, breaded beef fried in duck fat, and rabbit rillettes with apple chutney.
Heather and Austin Stein of Stein Distillery in Joseph served “dirty martinis” using vodka made from rye produced on the Stein farm in Joseph. The main courses included beef tartare with poached quail eggs, short ribs seasoned with ginger and garlic, grilled beef heart and steak marinated for four days in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and lavender, created by Aaron Dionne, executive chef of Bon Appetit at Lewis and Clark College and Left Bank Annex.
A dessert of honey and walnut strudel served with fresh peaches with huckleberry sauce by Faith Dionne of Bees and Beans, followed by her signature caramels made with wild blue plums, honey and black pepper, provided the final course. A raspberry cordial from Stein’s Distillery rounded out the meal.
Acquainting guests with the food and production process on the ranch, owners Carmen and Dave Flynn showed guests an experimental hog-raising project and introduced them to the Angus and Hereford cross steers who peered curiously at the visitors.
Flynn explained there are 1,800 acres of deeded ranch land and nearly 5,000 more acres leased from various family members. The Carmen Ranch beef is raised on land that has not been sprayed with pesticides for at least five years. Cattle are moved to a different five-acre pasture every two days to sustain the grazing conditions. Portable fencing facilitates the rotation.
The cattle are held on the ranch for 18 months and then harvested on the ranch in a painless, low-stress manner by Kevin Silvieria of Wallowa. The meat is processed at Silvieria’s plant, Valley Meat Services, only a few miles from the ranch. A small percentage of Carmen Ranch beef is sold in halves and quarters to individuals and most of their product is sold to high-end restaurants and wholesale markets in the Portland area, Flynn said.
Guests can purchase tickets online from the Plate and Pitchfork website at $125 to $150 per plate for a variety of locations. Each event is unique to the site as each produces a different food and employs different chefs to prepare the dinners.
As for the Wallowa County event, Sharon Forster of Enterprise and Portland said the appetizers were most impressive. Kathleen Negus of Enterprise said the caramels were “to die for.’’
The Crenshaw family of Wallowa could not agree whether the beef tartare, the ribs or the steak was most memorable. All agreed the dinner was an experience not to be forgotten and ideas are formulating to re-create the event in the future.
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