Desert to Dish: Farm Excursions
On day two of the Omni Scottsdale's Desert to Dish culinary event (for the previous evening's Welcome Reception, see this recap), five groups were invited to accompany each of the visiting chefs on a Farm Excursion to tour local purveyors from which Executive Chef Cairns sources. We would "explore Arizona’s diverse agriculture landscape...with a unique selection of the finest farms and local purveyors in the area, for an all-day outing which will include tastings and private tours developed exclusively for this weekend." Our group of food and travel writers and photographers were joined by Dallas Chef Brian Luscher, and our itinerary included Arizona Micro Greens, Blue Sky Organic Farms, and the Arizona Cheese Company (other tours included visits to Queen Creek Olive Mill, Crows Dairy, Hayden Flour Mill, True Garden, and more).
Arizona Micro Greens in Phoenix was founded by brothers Joseph Martinez and David Redwood and operates out of the greenhouse at the George B. Brooks Sr. Community School. They focus on sustainable practices and as we snacked on fresh sunflower, mustard, radish, arugula, onion, and cilantro micro greens, we learned that they supply many restaurants and can be found at local farmers markets. We were all impressed with the varieties grown, and the intense, pure flavor found in these delicate greens.
Our second stop was Blue Sky Organic Farms in Litchfield, where 100% of their produce is certified organic. RJ Johnson led our tour of David Vose's 35-acre family farm, whose quality produce is enjoyed not only locally, but in Boston, New York, and San Francisco.
Blue Sky Farms isn't limited to crops. You'll find 1000 chickens, 250 ducks, 10 goats, and bees (ask RJ about his plans for flavored honey).
Currently, Blue Sky Farms is growing kale, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, fennel, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, beets, herbs, strawberries and more.
As RJ (a former chef) stressed to us the importance of organic gardening for both flavor and health, we enjoyed an amazing farm-fresh feast:
- Tartines on spent grain Noble Bread with Abby Lee Farms tomatoes, Urban Table pimento cheese, and AZ Micro Greens.
- Kale, carrots, Willcox apple, and cucumber salad with a creamy roasted shallot-parsley dressing
- Arugula salad with Crow's Dairy goat cheese, cashews, and dried sour cherries tossed with an apple cider vinaigrette
- Jacques Pepin-inspired deviled duck eggs finished in brown butter with an herb pesto.
Each of us were generously gifted a loaf of the delicious Noble Bread. On our way out, we also visited the Blue Sky Farms store, open Tuesday through Saturday, 12-5 pm.
Our last stop was at the Arizona Cheese Company in Tempe. All their cheese is made from fresh Grade A Arizona milk from local dairies, and they're the producers of the popular cheese curds seen at farmers markets and on menus around the Valley.
Due to proprietary information within the facility, we weren't able to take photos on our factory tour, but learned a lot about the scope of their cheese production. In addition to cheese curds, they also produce cheddar cheese, Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, blue cheese, and gorgonzola. Our tour ended with samples of Danzeisen Dairy eggnog, mocha and rootbeer-flavored milks, and AZ Cheese Company cheese and crackers.
We were also sent home with gift boxes. Thank you Arizona Cheese Company!
We ended our day with a deeper appreciation for the hard-working farmers, growers, and cheese-makers in Arizona. We also looked forward to the menu for the finale dinner as each visiting chef was tasked to use ingredients found along his Farm Excursion for a special dish.
Desert to Dish schedule of events (click for recap and photos):
Thursday, October 22nd: Chef's Kitchen Welcome Reception
Friday, October 23rd: Farm Excursions and Supporting Culinary Dreams Reception
Saturday, October 24th: Master Culinary Classes and Sonoran Showdown finale.
This was a complimentary media invitation.