VERONA, Wis. (AP) — There’s a good chance that many of the suddenly trendy vegetables that foodies latch on to in the next decade will benefit from research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While plant breeders at many public universities focus on improving field corn, soybeans and other crops used in food manufacturing or livestock feed, those in Madison want to produce better-tasting vegetables.
The university has long had ties to the vegetable processing industry, as Wisconsin is among the top two or three states in producing canned or frozen sweet corn, green beans and peas. But vegetable breeders say the local food movement has created additional opportunities with a boom in organic farms, farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants. The challenge is coming up with varieties consumers like, even if they can’t always articulate what makes one ear of corn better than another.
“Apples are almost the only fruit or vegetable that when you go to the grocery store, you see 30 different apples all by name,” said Bill Tracy, a sweet corn breeder who chairs the university’s Department of Agronomy. “We could do the same thing for corn, and I’m not saying we need 30, but we could have a corn that’s perfect for roasting, or soup use.”
Horticulture professor Julie Dawson is leading a project in which vegetable breeders work with local farmers and chefs to figure out what makes vegetables taste great and then produce easy-to-grow varieties with outstanding flavor. Participating chefs receive weekly deliveries of produce that they evaluate on a 5-point scale for qualities like sweetness and texture.
Dan Bonanno, the chef at A Pig in a Fur Coat, estimated he’s tasted 80 varieties of tomatoes — “I never knew there were so many different tomatoes” — since mid-July. For him, the big find has been a sweet corn bred to have a less sugary taste and firmer texture than most popular varieties.
“I ripped open the husk, took a bite, and it was like eating a pear,” Bonanno said. “It was so juicy … I’m like, wow, you can make a very nice sauce or gelato with it because it’s already naturally sweet and buttery and it had so much water.”
Very sweet corn, which most Americans have become accustomed to, becomes mushy when stirred into a dish like risotto, Tracy said, and the sugary taste may conflict with other ingredients.
“If we understand what chefs want, we can produce it,” he said. And, Tracy is confident chefs will be able to sell those new varieties to the public, given how they have popularized ramps, broccolini and other once-obscure fruits and vegetables.
On Wednesday, chefs, farmers and members of the public sampled and rated Tracy’s corn, along with multiple varieties of tomatoes, peppers and melon at a university farm in Verona. Dawson will use the information to see how closely the chefs’ opinions match that of regular eaters and develop an evaluation system that can be used early in the breeding process to select the best-tasting prospects from hundreds of cultivars.
“The flavor is much harder to fix at the end,” she said. “If you have the flavor, the other things are easier to fix.”
That’s where farmers come in.
Mark Voss has been testing five varieties of tomatoes at his urban farm, which supplies Madison restaurants. He looks for resistance to disease and good production, but taste and aesthetics are important, too.
The varieties include a few big tomatoes with bold flavor as well as some smaller, cocktail tomatoes that he’s “not so passionate about” because they “take a long time to pick.” He prefers bigger fruit with thin skins and a lot of flesh — characteristics that make tomatoes more likely to bruise during shipping but aren’t a problem when he’s selling locally.
“I think there’s an inverse relationship between bruise-ability and flavor,” Voss said.
That’s the kind of feedback Dawson is seeking. “Because really,” she said, “it has to work for farmers as well as chefs.”
If You Go …
Two more public tastings are scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 22 and Oct. 24 at the UW West Madison Agricultural Research Station, 8502 Mineral Point Road, Verona, Wisconsin; 608-262-2257; http://www.news.wisc.edu/23065.
Follow M.L. Johnson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MLJohnsonOnline.
EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The owner of bikini coffee stands in Washington state banked more than $2 million in just three years because her baristas were also selling sex acts, according to local prosecutors.
Snohomish County prosecutors charged Carmela Panico, a 52-year-old former nude dancer, with promoting prostitution and money laundering, alleging that she operated drive-thru brothels throughout the county north of Seattle, The Everett Herald reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1lliY1P ). Her baristas made money mostly on tips, saying they could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, authorities said. The women said they could make up to $14 for baring their breasts or genitals and charged more for sex acts, according to charging documents.
“Panico’s businesses were driven by prostitution and lewd behavior,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Bob Hendrix wrote in the documents. Panico was charged Thursday, the newspaper reported.
Her attorney told Snohomish County Superior Court that she left the coffee business and sold some of her stands and leased others.
Authorities allege that she didn’t report her full earnings to the Internal Revenue Service by dealing in large amounts of cash. A search at Panico’s home last year resulted in the seizure of nearly $250,000.
The investigation has also led to the prosecution of a veteran sheriff’s sergeant. Darrell O’Neill is accused of tipping off Panico and her workers to police scrutiny in return for sexual favors. O’Neill resigned after his arrest last year and has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled for November.
Authorities allege that baristas had a certain dollar amount they were supposed to make for Panico, and the rest the women could keep.
“The sales goals were effectively rent that the girls paid to have the opportunity to perform lewd conduct or acts of prostitution,” Hendrix wrote.
The documents say that Panico could deduct money if the women failed to wear high heels throughout their shifts, did not have a tan or failed to put on makeup.
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com
POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. (AP) — Setting aside for a few hours the pressures of trying to calm the world’s trouble spots, President Barack Obama assumed the role of spectator for something more joyous: the wedding of the first family’s longtime chef and friend.
Chef Sam Kass and MSNBC host Alex Wagner tied the knot Saturday at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a farm-to-table restaurant in Pocantico Hills, just north of New York City.
The president and his chef have a close relationship, which Obama highlighted earlier this month when he spent several hours at dinner at Kass’ apartment amid the turmoil in Iraq, Ukraine and Ferguson, Missouri.
It’s long been said that time is a president’s most precious commodity. That Obama would spend five hours at Kass’ home on one of the aide’s final evenings as a bachelor was a testament to their bond.
Obama’s rounds of golf are often his only other outings that last as long — and those games sometimes include Kass.
Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, attended the ceremony and reception at the restaurant, which is a favorite of both Kass and Mrs. Obama. The first lady hosted the spouses of world leaders there in 2010.
Obama wore a dark suit, and Mrs. Obama and their daughters each wore sleeveless black dresses. The first family spent about six hours at the wedding. Obama had no known role, other than to give his best to the bride and groom. The Obamas returned to the White House early Sunday.
The union of Kass, 34, and Wagner, 36, also served to highlight what some contend is too much togetherness between the media and the people they report on. Naturally, the guest list was expected to include staff from both the White House and the liberal-leaning cable news outlet, with people from both sides breaking bread at the same dinner table.
Kass began preparing meals for the Obamas when the family lived in Chicago and the Obamas persuaded him to join them at the White House. He is now among the Obamas’ longest-serving aides.
Besides cooking for the family most weeknights, Kass also serves as senior nutrition policy adviser and executive director of the first lady’s anti-childhood obesity initiative.
It’s not unusual for presidents, including Obama, to attend or participate in weddings.
Obama hosted a Rose Garden wedding last October for Pete Souza, the president’s chief official photographer.
In June 2012, Obama, his wife, daughters and mother-in-law attended the Chicago wedding of the daughter of White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
In May 2008, George W. Bush was in office when his daughter, Jenna, married at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bill Clinton was best man for his brother, Roger, in March 1994.
Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, participated in the August 1984 wedding of their daughter Patti Davis. Reagan spoke one line in the ceremony. He responded “Her mother and I do” when asked who would give away the bride.
Associated Press news researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.
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Bottle shock. Crushed. Shaken, not stirred. Whatever word you choose to describe it, the 6.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Napa Valley early Sunday morning has left behind more than spilled wine. More than 100 homes and buildings red-tagged. The facade of the beautiful Vintners Collective building gone. Homes shaken off foundations, cracks in walls, chimneys toppled. Countless glasses, plates and other personal possessions shattered. Gallons and gallons of wine lost.
All this happening as harvest is underway. Winemakers who lost tanks and barrels are scrambling to find ones they can borrow or rent so they can press, ferment and store the new wines coming in as we speak.
Some producers lost freshly made wines from the current vintage, but they also lost library wines — collections of wine going back years, if not decades. Wineries also lost wine in barrel that hadn’t made it to bottle yet, as barrels toppled from stacks five and six high. As if we need to be reminded, these wines can never be replaced.
Winery Shake Up
Monique Soltani of WineOh! TV headed up to Napa with her camera as soon as she could to document the aftermath and check in with vintners most impacted by the quake. At Bouchaine Vineyards, they lost at least 8 barrels of wine. A barrel holds 25 cases worth of wine, or 300 bottles. That’s roughly 2,400 bottles. Keep in mind full wine barrels weigh about 600 pounds. How lucky that the earthquake struck in the middle of the night when no one was in the winery.
The situation is all to familiar for winemakers at Matthiasson, Cornerstone Cellars, The Hess Collection, Sebastiani, Lagier-Meredith, who found toppled jumbled wine barrels, damaged tanks and wineries flooded with wine.
Of those affected, many are small operations, mom and pop, family owned wineries, eateries and boutiques.
Ceja Vineyards is one of those. Their tasting room is on First Street in downtown Napa. They lost 12 cases of wine and every Riedel wine glass. The very heavy statue of Bacchus toppled over and broke its head and neck (it weighs about a ton). At their property in Carneros, a big Buddha statue was knocked over. Amelia Ceja and her family are not deterred. They’ve been harvesting all week as they deal with the clean up. Amelia says, “We are ready to receive visitors and locals alike with open arms and our legendary Ceja hospitality!”
Hailey Trefethen and her mother arrived at their family winery shortly after the earthquake occured. “We noticed right away that something was not right,” she says. They found the base of the 1886 historic landmark winery building which houses the Trefethen Famiy Vineyards tasting room in tact, but “as you go up from the base to the second floor the building shifted four inches,” Hailey says. “The top two floors are still in line.”
Courtesy Trefethen Family Vineyards
The Trefethen building is one of four wineries designed by Hamden McIntyre, who also created the distinctive stone winery buildings at Far Niente Winery, Inglenook and the Culinary Institute of America (formerly Christian Brothers winery). It survived both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, and hopefully this one.
The historic building is red-tagged and no one hss been able to enter it to survey the damage.
“It’s safety first,” Hailey says. “We have a construction crew and structural engineers shoring up the building to make it stable so the engineers can go in and assess damage.” Right now they are setting iron into 12 feet deep concrete footings. “They are optimistic which makes us optimistic the building can be restored.”
Courtesy Trefethen Family Vineyards
The other winery buildings are fine and while some tanks pulled away from walls and were dented, no wine was lost. Trefethen started harvest on Friday. “Things are getting back to normal,” says Hailey. “Through all of this our team has been incredible and I am forever grateful.”
Courtesy Trefethen Family Vineyards
Folks in Napa and wine country are a resilient bunch, ready to lend a hand even when their homes or businesses have been hit hard. And, they’re not about to let an earthquake get in the way of what’s shaping up to be another spectacular vintage. They’ve cleaned up, and opened doors to their wineries, restaurants, hotels and shops as quickly as they can.
How You Can Help
What they need is our help, because Napa is open for business. Now more than ever is the time to drink Napa wine, buy Napa products, dine in Napa restaurants, visit the wine country. Most of these wineries don’t have earthquake insurance. It’s just so expensive, and really, who thought Napa was on a major fault?
In addition to all that, Elaine stopped by Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant, a shop at the Oxbow Market that carries small production Napa wines. They’re having an earthquake sale, for wines “kissed by” the quake with damaged labels but not broken. Like Elaine, I encourage you to go buy wine, especially from wineries who were impacted the most.
“No one has earthquake insurance because it doesn’t make economic sense,” Elaine says. “So small businesses are having to just swallow the losses. Buying from Napa small business online, or any Napa label is helpful.”
She also stopped by The Vintners Collective, where the facade of this beautiful old building came completely off in the shaking. This collective tasting room is home to very small production wineries who don’t have tasting rooms of their own. So check out their website and find those producers to buy wine from and help them all get through this.
Other small wineries that you may not have heard about have also been affected, including Lightening Wines, who had equipment damaged and lost part of their 2013 vintage.
Winemaker Joe Wagner of Meiomi rushed to his St. Helena winemaking facility Sunday morning to find the power out and two severely damaged tanks leaking wine that was ready to be bottled. Each tank holds 25,000 gallons. “The weld seam at the ankle at base had split open, up to a one by three inch hole,” he says. “Wine was spewing out of those.” Four other tanks were also leaking.
Thinking quickly Joe found hoses to transfer the remaining wine in tanks to empty tanks. He called in his crew, got extra tanker trucks to the wine. He used gas-powered ag pumps to move the wine and save “somewhere around 20 to 30,000 gallons of wine that would otherwise have gone down the drain.” He credits quick response from his crew, the arrival of a generator and welder to repair the tanks. “At the end of the day we lost about 28,000 gallons of Meiomi 2013 Chardonnay.” That’s about 15-20% of his production. He also lost about 1,000 gallons of Napa Valley 2012 red and Oregon 2013 Pinot Noir.
Joe says the best way to support the community is to visit Napa and enjoy the wine, food and all the other things Napa has to offer. “This is a small setback,” he says.
“The really big thing to drive home is that Napa is open and ready for business,” Elaine says. “We do need help but for those that can visit, we need that most of all.”
Winemaker Bridget Raymond reports minimal damage to her wine label Courtesan Wines. But she has friends and a client who weren’t as fortunate. So she’s created a fund to help raise money for the community.
Most importantly, says Bridget, “Napa is open for business.” When you donate to the Napa Earthquake Community Fund, you can choose from various “rewards” for wine tasting experiences throughout the valley. 100% of the money raised goes directly to affected by the earthquake. “I set up this page,” Bridget says, “so I know that 100% of the funds will go to those who need it and might otherwise be overlooked.”
The first $1,000 raised will go to the family of Nicholas Dillion, the 13 year old boy injured by bricks falling from the fireplace during the quake, to help with medical costs. The rest of the money raised will go to local charities that help with food and childcare of volunteers,” Bridget says. “People such as Nola Rawlins who lost her home in a fire, and local businesses or small winemakers hit the hardest who have no insurance..”
You can help out by donating to the Napa Earthquake Community Fund.
The Napa Valley Vintners has created a community disaster fund, donating $10 million to the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and they encourage those who want to help to contribute. You can donate to Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Clinic Ole is offering help to low income and vineyard workers. Shelter for people who lost or are being temporarily displaced from their homes is being provided by the Red Cross’s Napa County chapter.
Buy and Open a Bottle (or Two) of Napa Valley Wine
At Back Room Wines in downtown Napa owner Daniel Dawson specializes in small production, unique wines. He lost some bottles — about 50 according to the shop’s Facebook page – but nothing major in the scheme of things. Now is the time to stop by, browse his well-edited selections (also available online), taste a few wines you may not have heard of, and support this local business and wineries.
The one thing I hear over and over from vintners is that one good (and fun and easy) way to help out is to buy and open a bottle or two of Napa Valley wine this weekend. My friend and publicist Monty Sander reminds us on his Facebook of the “open that bottle night” that the wine writers John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter promoted every year in their Wall Street Journal column. Well make this Labor Day holiday weekend “open that bottle of Napa wine night” — especially a bottle from one of the wineries hardest hit by the earthquake.