Food always tastes better, and is better appreciated, when you know the farmer who's grown, crafted or raised it. That goes as much for chefs and wholesalers as it does for retailers and consumers. But even those in the business of trumpeting Western Pennsylvania's family farms were surprised by the turnout last week at a food event at Chatham University's Shadyside campus.
Some 300 gathered in the school's Anderson Dining Hall for the inaugural Local Food Showcase: A Grower/Buyer Event on Thursday, put on by Penn State Extension-Allegheny County. That doesn't include 40 vendors who came from as far away as Sligo, Clarion County, and Adams County in the middle of the state to promote what will be landing in CSA subscription boxes and local farmers markets and stores during the 2010 growing season.
Among the products available for tasting was a tasty braciole made from grass-fed beef born and raised at Hillsprings Farms in Bolivar, Westmoreland County, and lamb from Jamison Farm in Latrobe. Attendees also were able to sample a variety of fresh whole-grain breads and farmstead and artisan cheeses, including those made in Scenery Hill by Emerald Valley Farm. New this year is the farm's "summer escape" cheese, a seasonal fromage blanc made with organic garlic scapes, extra-virgin olive oil, parmesan and pesto.
The show also showcased a variety of homemade jams and jellies just begging to be spread on fresh bread, including a wonderfully tart sour cherry jam made by Friendship Farms and a hot pepper jelly from Latimore Valley Farms in York Springs, near Harrisburg. A bit more unusual were the eight beer-infused jellies handcrafted by Linda Croskey of The Purple Spoon, which will be available for the first time this year in 10 stores and markets in the North Hills. Not that she's a novice: She's been making jam in small batches for 27 years, when ingredients are in season, starting in spring with dandelion.
Co-sponsored by Parkhurst Dining Services (it provided Cuban-style sliders on cornbread buns) and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, the event also served as a springboard for Chatham's new Master of Arts in Food Studies, the inaugural program of the university's new School of Sustainability and the Environment. To begin this fall, courses will emphasize how food -- from farm to table to compost -- affects people and the global environment.
The program is headed by Alice Julier, who taught gastronomy at Boston University and has written extensively about food, gender and inequality.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com or 412-263-1419.