Weekend tasting event

We have a fun and challenging event coming up on the farm this weekend, inviting a small group of chefs and foodies over to conduct some taste-testing on our farm’s products as compared to grocery store equivalents.

As scientists, we’ve always been interested in using experiments to get evidence for claims. This is certainly relevant to direct-market farming, as one of our justifications for this business is the higher-quality food we produce. It’s pretty easy to demonstrate that in-season, local, fresh product is better than the shipped-in equivalent, but what about when it’s preserved and used out of season? And what about products we can’t sell but want the right to, like our cheese? With this in mind, and with the kick in the pants from a fascinating recent article in The Atlantic, we set up this tasting luncheon on Sunday with the following menu:

Chert Hollow Farm
Tasting Meal Menu

Edamame
Comparing quality of frozen edamame: Store-bought organic shelled or unshelled, and farm-frozen shelled or unshelled.

Polenta
Comparing fresh-ground farm cornmeal with Bob’s Red Mill cornmeal. Served both plain and with homemade tomato sauce.

Chicken eggs
Comparing basic boiled eggs, both farm-fresh and Organic Valley.

Goose/Chicken eggs
Comparing flavor of each source in basic omelets with farm-dried tomatoes and Goatsbeard cheese.

Venison & Goat meat
Two comparisons of these meats, raised/hunted and butchered on-farm: slow-cooked medallions in a red wine marinade, and ground as mini-burgers on farm-baked bread.

Cheese
Tasting four sources of cheddar:
– Ireland (via. World Harvest)
Morningland Dairy (MO)
– Cabot Creamery (VT)
– Chert Hollow Farm (MO)

Pickles
Tastings of store-bought okra pickles, farm-made okra pickles, and farm-made green bean pickles.

Green beans
Comparing frozen organic green beans with frozen heirloom farm beans, topped with homemade Hollandaise sauce.

Soup beans
Comparing store-bought organic pinto beans with farm-raised mixed heirloom dried beans.

Sweet potatoes
Roasted sweet potato fries, using store-bought vs. farm-stored.

Dried tomatoes
Store-bought organic sun-dried tomatoes compared with farm-grown dehydrator-dried tomatoes; served as main topping on baked flatbreads.

Chamomile tea
Store-bought organic chamomile vs. farm-grown and dried chamomile.

We’re absolutely fascinated to see how this turns out. It will be a blind test, with each course labelled only by letters and guests given scorecards to record ratings and other notes. I have my expectations on how various items will be scored, but the whole point is that I’m hardly an unbiased source. We can’t wait to have reasonably fair raw data to look at, and report.

All the results will be live on the blog next week. Where our products rank higher, great. Where they’re indistinguishable, that’s good to know and customers can still feel better supporting a local farm. Where they rate lower, we need to work on improvement and/or alter our price & marketing claims.

4 thoughts on “Weekend tasting event

  1. I'm impressed that is a great idea! – I saw penn and teller do one of their shows on organic vs non organic and they did blind test in a similar manner and according to them most people chose the non organic by taste…interesting – I would be interested in knowing your ideas on that if you have seen the show

  2. Haven't seen that, but I have run across various such tests of organic vs. non-organic. I think the problem with such setups is that there's often a lot of variables not being considered. For example, if two tomatoes are being compared and both come from large corporate California farms one of which happens to be organic, I don't think you'll notice much difference. "Organic" in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean it will taste better. If they've both sat on the shelf for weeks since being shipped, and were both nearly the same corporate hybrid variety, and were grown in near-identical soil, there likely won't be much difference. In addition, depending on where the produce is purchased, the organic may be worse. I've been in many grocery stores where the produce in the small organic section is nasty, because not enough people are buying it regularly enough to ensure the turnover needed to keep things fresh. So of course in that case a taste test wouldn't favor the organic.This is why we're not really considering the "organic vs non-organic" question, but more the source, the initial quality, and the handling afterwards. It's a question of small-farm, well-handled, fresh-preserved, high-end variety vs. corporate farm, lots of handling, standard-variety. I'll need to write more about this, but do you see what I'm getting at? There's far more likely to be a difference between small farm – large farm than organic non-organic. IMO.

  3. For me personally, the 2 things that I look for in my food are local and well-handled. I really don't think I'd be able to taste a difference between organic and standard-grown vegetables. Organic is nice and important, but if I had to choose between organic vegetables from California and standard vegetables that are local, I'll choose standard almost every day of the week. However, the well-handled portion is important as well. Take for example some Amish produce. Some Amish communities (certainly not all) use a LOT of pesticides. After all, they're protecting their livelihood, which is typically how it's justified when it's being considered for use in a community. I don't consider that to be well-handled. Not that all pesticides are bad necessarily, it's just that the fewer of them that are used, the better. Pierpont Farms for instance uses mostly organic practices and I feel more comfortable eating their food than organic from California. I think that the local food in this test is going to shine in most of the cases.

  4. Just for reference, plenty of folks at local farmers markets use lots of pesticides/herbicides too. Just like any business, you learn things from the inside that customers on the outside don't always know/think about. Greenwashing happens at farmers markets just like anywhere else…Overall I agree with your larger point, but I do feel like the few folks like ourselves and Pierpont who really do work to be clean end up hosting a lot of other folks on our coattails who do not, but get the "townie" benefit of too many media reports saying local farmers are always more organic, when that's just not true. I've also been amazed at the poor handling practices on some local farms, such that their products to my eyes look worse than those at a store, and certainly don't have much shelf life. If that's who someone buys from, no wonder some people think local/organic foods are a scam. Just like any other business, there are good and bad operators, higher and lower quality products, and cheaper and more expensive options that usually correlate to the former.