After attending an Outstanding in the Field farm dinner in southern California two months earlier, I was interested to see how a Plate & Pitchfork farm dinner would stack up. OITF leads events throughout the United States and the crew travels in a large bus; Plate & Pitchfork is an Oregon-only series of dinners. Both pull local chefs and wineries to cook and pour at different farms, so each evening is its own unique experience. Plate & Pitchfork had me at “hello” with their informational email: “children, no matter how small and adorable, may not attend dinner.” First of all, apologies to my many friends with (indeed) adorable children, but you gotta love the blunt. Second, this must be in the best interests of the farm and hosts; there is enough chaos at these dinners that it would probably become some version of a food-loving wedding reception if children were allowed. (And no one needs little Jimmy falling in the pig mud.)
The dinner was being held at Champoeg Farm in Willamette Valley, where Mark Anderson’s family has been farming since 1856.
Appetizers arrive and people begin to do the “how can I casually move into her pathway?” dance. Here, chicken liver pâté with pickled Oregon cherries and Nostrana‘s “irresistible” signature spread (overheard as ingredients: hard-boiled egg, anchovy, extra virgin olive oil, herbs, garlic).
The appetizer that really had people in a frenzy was the delicious Champoeg Farm pork sandwich with aioli and mizuna. The pork was delicately spiced (no siege of coriander here) and the bread had the perfect toasted crunch. (I think we may have been guilty of the “pathway dance” since we had three of them between the two of us. Dare I say it was my favorite thing they prepared all night? Hmm.)
Orientation was led by the woman who started it all eight years ago. She did an informal poll to see who had come the farthest—alas, we were beaten out by someone from New York.
Matt led us on a tour of the farm before dinner. Here, we learned about “meat chickens” (or chickens raised for meat). He utilizes the pasture method, moving their open-air pen every day; that way they can feed on the grass and fertilize the land. Since these are 9-day-old baby chickens, they are given a feed with “whole soy” grain—the key words being “whole soy”—apparently regular soy, including the soy we eat, is often processed with a petroleum additive. Ugh, will it ever end?
Though he doesn’t look it now, this Berkshire pig was pretty entertaining. Startled by the unusually large crowd, he wiped his face on Matt’s leg.
Matt at the hen coop, where no antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed in their feed. Several hens tend to escape each day and roam the property but by sundown they all scramble back under the fence to their huts.
The adult pastured chickens and ducks. Those clouds… only in Oregon!
On to dinner! Instead of the signature “one long table” that OITF has, Plate & Pitchfork divides people into groups of eight. Our table mates were all from Oregon or Washington and, like everyone we’d met on the trip from Portland to Willamette Valley, they had many eating and drinking suggestions for us.
A Love & Squalor 2009 Riesling arrived for the appetizer. Love the shirt: “Get Fresh with a Farmer.”
Red butterleaf lettuce with peaches, walnuts, and sheep’s milk crema. This was satisfying, and a nice use of summer peaches, but I wouldn’t have minded a little salt and pepper on the table.
Spaghettini with albacore, peppers, eggplant, olives, garlic, and lemon. Sorry, this was the worst dish. Despite having all ingredients I adore, it was dry and bland, and the pasta was mediocre supermarket-quality (Barilla? De Cecco?). I even drizzled some oil that was meant for the bread and it didn’t help much.
Champoeg Farm chicken with Chester blackberry mustarda; grilled potatoes with sea salt and olive oil; grilled corn and sweet onions with bacon, tomato, and basil This dish redeemed the spaghettini, and the warm corn salad was a winner at our table.
As the evening wound down, we heard from the winemakers—two personable young men trying to get their respective wines off the ground—and heard a pitch to donate to the Sauvie Island Center, which provides hands-on food and farming education to elementary school students. The program sounds great, and members of our table all made donations, but P&P could have done a better job of prefacing the fact that someone from the program would be attending and requesting on-site donations, despite the fact that Sauvie Island Center is already listed as a “beneficiary” of the dinner series.
Overall, I’d say the Plate & Pitchfork dinner was more organized than the Outstanding in the Field dinner, but the food was better at the latter. That said, it was fun to learn about the various animals Champoeg Farm raises, and how admirably Matt Anderson is doing it. I have walked away from both dinners with nothing but respect for the devotion these farmers have to their product and refusing to cut corners, and both dinner organizers deserve thanks for a wonderful time raising awareness about responsible farming and eating.