A few weeks back I went down to meet Chef Alex Seidel of Fruition Restaurant (http://fruitionrestaurant.com/) at his farm and sheep dairy. These days “locally grown” and from the farm ingredients are all in vogue and many restaurants in the area boast of using them. However, very few actually have gone so far as to open their own farm to ensure they get exactly what is needed in their restaurant at the peak of freshness and Chef Seidel is one of them.
When I was heading down there I had in mind that he was doing goat's milk cheese, which I was pretty excited about having tried several varieties before. But, I was surprised to find out when I got there that I was mistaken, and it is sheep’s milk cheese he is making. Which, after getting a bite of his freshly made ricotta chesse was very happily surprised by. I asked him why sheep and he let me know that they have a much higher fat content in their milk (8 percent vs 2-3 percent) and that makes a better cheese). He had just gotten the sheep in the week before and already he had begun making ricotta and hopes to make some hard cheeses in the near future.
While he was walking me around the farm, I was amazed at how much work had been done. Most chefs don’t have tons of time really away from the restaurant in the first place, but the amount of work that has been done there at the farm just makes me think the man must never sleep. When I mention this, Chef Seidel quickly mentions that he has had a lot of help from his sous chef and friends and even crews from different restaurants in the area have come down to lend a hand. To give you an idea of the work involved the dairy just a few months ago was a bare bones structure with dirt floors. Now it is fully tiled with a fairly ingenuous milking station and a sterile fully tiled room set up to make the cheese in as well as 2 aging rooms. Considering they did all the work themselves it is pretty amazing.
When we arrived, the first thing we did was go over to the two “covered” growing areas which are flanked by a cherry tree and black berry bushes. I put covered in quotes as currently they are not covered at all as a 90 plus mph wind storm ripped the covers right off them earlier this year. Still there are several varieties of vegetables growing. Another thing I found pretty cool is none of the people working the farm have any farm experience prior, as they all come from culinary backgrounds. So you can tell a lot of work has gone in to get the necessary knowledge to make this work.
Next stop was the barn which they also had to redo the outside of and a lot of the inside as it had fallen in to disrepair. Inside is a chicken coop with several different types of hens and roosters from which Chef Seidel gets his eggs. And of course sheep, which milled around eating a bit. I asked Chef Seidel why he decided to make the farm and besides for of course wanting to use the freshest local ingredients he could, he also said it was a chance for continuing education for the community (he had a Denver school class come down and interact with the animals and dig up some root vegetables) but also for him as a chef.
After the barn we headed over to the greenhouse where just a huge amount of micro greens were being grown. It was a lot of fun going through there and sampling a few of them. The farm supplies 40 different local restaurants with their greens. After this it was into the dairy to watch his cheese maker working on the latest batch of ricotta. The ricotta that comes from his restaurant can be found at many local restaurants. In fact, I ran across some at Argyll restaurant just last week.
What lies ahead? Well, he is planning to get some tables and cooking areas set up to have farm dinners in the future and hoping also to increase the varieties of vegetables and cheese he is making. If you have not yet had a chance to give Fruition a try I would highly suggest you do soon.
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