Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ducks and mushrooms, on the plate and in the forest

Duck and mushrooms pair well together on the plate, but how about on the farm?

Local mushroom grower Steve Gabriel produces shiitakes at his forest woodlot farm. In the shade, gourmet morsels sprout from neatly stacked maple logs, but people aren't the only ones who enjoy the 'shrooms. Slugs sometimes get to them before Steve does. And slug-eaten shiitakes are not salable.  

So Steve, co-founder of the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute, looked for a natural solution. He set out to study how well four duck breeds worked as slug patrol, with funding from a USDA grant. Then, with the help of Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg, he hosted a tasting of the four breeds and asked a dozen or so people (including me) to offer opinions on taste, aroma, appearance, and more.

The chef prepared the meat in a simple braise and presented it on platters. Some was deep dark red, some was pink. Some had fine texture, some was chewy. Some had a thick layer of fat under the skin, others didn't. Some was flavorful, some was mild. I think that the range of taste and appearance surprised us all.

Steve and his assistants are still crunching the numbers, so he doesn't know yet whether or not the best mushroom protectors are also the tastiest. 

I'll keep you posted. 

CCE Meat Specialist Matt LeRoux notes his preferences at a local duck tasting.