Benefit for dairy farmers who are cream of the crop


By Janet Kwon

With the center table decorated with delectable eats, crowds buzzed around to taste a bit of everything. Although the diverse offerings ranged from heirloom tomato quiche to mini-gelato pops, the central theme of the menu was dairy — specifically milk, butter, crème fraiche and Chenango jack from the Evans Farmhouse Creamery, an Upstate dairy farm in Norwich.

The event, “Bread & Butter,” offered a smorgasbord of dairy-centered dishes from five local restaurants: The Tasting Room, Brown Café, Little Giant, Il Laboratorio del Gelato and Sullivan St. Bakery. This dairy lover’s dream took place at Chef Colin Alevras’s The Tasting Room on Elizabeth St. and cost $20 per head, and the funds went to support the Evans farmers, Dave and Sue Evans, as they were chosen as delegates to represent New York in Terra Madre, a biennial food conference held in Turin, Italy. With ticket sales from more than 150 attendees as well as additional donations, approximately $2,000 was raised at the event, said event organizer Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheesemongers.

Saxelby nominated the Evans as delegates to the conference in May of this year, and the couple was accepted early July.

Saxelby, who just recently opened her specialty cheese shop, Saxelby Cheesemongers, in a small corner of the Essex St. Market, felt that the Evans would be perfect candidates to go to the food conference because she felt that they would get a lot out of it and learn valuable information to take back with them. The United States contributes more than 500 representatives — 40 of whom come from New York State.

A main requirement in the delegates selection process is that they need to be “influential farmers, academics and cooks that showcase exemplary practices in sustainability,” meaning that their food has good taste quality, they use fair labor practices, they allow accessibility to all types of communities and are environmentally conscientious, said Cherise Mayo with Slow Food, a nonprofit organization under which Terra Madre is held.

Terra Madre held its maiden conference in 2003, where more than 6,000 farmers, chefs and educators from more than 150 countries attended. The conference is an opportunity for small-scale food producers to come together to share their farming philosophies and practices.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” admitted Dave Evans, 44, speaking in a phone interview from his Norwich farm. The fourth-generation dairy farmer said that he hopes to “find out what other farmers are doing there and compare to what we’re doing here.”

The main reason that Saxelby wanted to nominate the Evans was because of their boldness to go “against the grain” in their farming efforts.

“We’re basically trying to help stimulate the farming economy by showing people that there are alternative ways of farming. We work together with other farmers and try to educate consumers about what we’re doing to best learn what the consumers want. We’re always learning from the consumers,” Evans said.

Saxelby first tasted the Evans’ products while working at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker St., and she met the farmers March of this year during a farm tour.

“I was so impressed; all of their products are so wonderful…they’re honest-to-goodness dairy farmers,” Saxelby said.

Chef Alevras of The Tasting Room is also a fan of the Evans’ products.

“It’s important to me that we know where our food comes from. These are people we trust, and we know that they care about what they’re doing,” said Alevras, who made butter soup, clams with butter sauce, French breakfast radishes with butter and salt and poundcake with buttercream frosting, showcasing the Evans’ butter for the fundraising event.

Alevras said that he’s a regular at Saxelby’s shop, where he stocks up various products from the Evans’ farm.

Saxelby said she admired the Evans for going against the “big herd” mentality of industrial farming.

“They had that real vision to want to change the way they do things — they made it an amazing thing — I just thought it would be so inspirational for them to go [to Terra Madre] and meet others like them,” Saxelby said, adding that the Evans “are really teaching their community a lot about what’s possible in farming.”

From behind the rustic wood counter at Saxelby’s store on Essex St., a sky-blue sign hung on the wall advertising Evans Farmhouse yogurt at $1.89 per container. Saxelby, 25, rightly owns the title of cheesemonger, for she has traveled as far as Paris and Italy and as close as Colchester, Conn., studying the “art” of cheese making.

“Making cheese is a total art, done with love and conviction. You have to be very thoughtful about it and very patient. It’s all about craftsmanship,” said the former New York University art major. “The two [art and cheese making] are similar, but food happens to be an art that everyone can enjoy because you can eat it,” she said. Smiling, she sliced a morsel of cheese and handed it to an eager customer to taste.