File This One Under Food Porn (Whole Grain Food Porn, That is)

photoHello August!: A page from Cayuga Pure Organic’s 2010 Pin-Up Calendar. Available While Supplies Last at The Brooklyn Kitchen for $13 and Cayuga’s Manhattan and Brooklyn Greenmarket stands. Photo courtesy Felix Teitelbaum.

It’s already February, but if you don’t yet have your 2010 wall calendar, we’d like to recommend the one featuring pin-ups from Cayuga Pure Organics.  Cayuga–at left is Mr. August, aka co-founder Erick Smith looking mighty fine spread out atop Cayuga’s black beans–is a 600-plus acre organic farm near Ithaca that specializes in beans.

Really beautiful beans: Pinto, black, red, soy, navy, all almost as lovely as Mr. February (Eric the horse wrangler, shown with his animals) or Mr. June (Greg, the miller, shown with his bags of grain) or Ms. July (Adrian, who is captured at work with some pintos in the Beanery).

But Cayuga also works to market and distribute incredibly flavorful grains and flours–buckwheat, rye, cornmeal, polenta–milled by nearby Farmer Ground Flour. (All of which are sold at their city Greenmarket stands, and all of which have gotten the NY Times Dining section seal of approval, BTW.)  And that’s why we stumbled upon our sexy Cayuga bean calendar a few weeks back we had the good fortune to sit in on a discussion and tasting of locally grown grains, sponsored by Greenmarket, The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York and The Northeast Organic Wheat Project.

The latter, with help from Cornell University, has several test acres of  grain growing in Upstate New York. That’s because even though our great-great grandparents probably made their homemade loaves from the acres of grain that used to be grown in New York and Pennsylvania, there’s currently not much local wheat or rye or spelt or corn destined to become bread or flour or even whiskey.

The above parties would like to see that change, so the mini-conference, which was held at FCI, brought together grain-growers and millers like Farmer Ground Flour and Lakeview Organic Grain in Yates County, bread makers like Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street and Orwasher’s Bakery, the FCI’s pastry- and bread-baking instructors and even Tuthilltown Distillery in attempt to get everyone involved in the grain-growing chain together talking in one room.

The issues are complex–for starters, grain is hard to grow; just because you can grow grain doesn’t mean it’ll be good grain; and high protein hard winter wheat, considered best for bread, hasn’t been what typically grows well here. (Soft winter wheat, best for crackers and pastry flour, is). Plus there’s often a disconnect between what researchers study and what farmers grow and what the baker or distiller needs until they all actually start working together… and until you can actually taste and tweak the results.

That was part of the goal for the day, obviously, so test breads were baked by Orwasher’s and Sullivan Street using the flours grown by a few local farmers in attendance, as were cookies and muffins made by beloved City Bakery, tortillas and cornbread from local cornmeal and our favorite, hand-made whole grain pastas of spelt and emmer wheat (also known as farro in Italy) made by the chef at Manhattan’s i Trulli. The pastas–nutty, rustic, chewy, complex–we tasted that day made were made with Cayuga-sourced grains and were just as delicious, we dare say, as the Cayuga Pure pin-ups.

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