Through FORK Social Lab, we took a group to Fruition Farms on Saturday, to experience a personal farm tour by Alex Seidel, a detailed cheese making demo by Jimmy Warren [cheese maker and shepherd], as well as a fabulous farm lunch. We were there a full 4 hours, and that time was filled with interesting information, stories and clear passion from both Alex and Jimmy. One of the restaurant’s chefs, along with an intern, came down to cook an exciting menu for us: Grilled Vegetable Salad with Quinoa, Pulled Pork Sliders, Potato Salad and Ricotta Cheesecake [made with their own ricotta, of course!] topped with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote and Pistachios. We enjoyed this beautiful meal sitting on hay bales under the sheltering shade of a tree.
Most people know Alex is the Executive Chef/Owner of Denver’s gem, Fruition Restaurant, and has another fun feather in his cap – he was chosen as Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 2010. He’d been cooking for 20 years at that point, so the recognition of Best NEW Chef isn’t exactly accurate; perhaps because of his own restaurant being just a few years old then, this was the reason for the new nod. Still, it’s an acknowledgment of his greatness – a greatness he is humble about, which makes him all the more great.
Fruition Farms is a dairy and creamery and Colorado’s first artisanal sheep one. Laid out on 10 acres in lovely Larkspur, they consider it a community farm – encouraging visits and events of all kinds – from field trips and farm dinners to wine with cheese tastings and weddings. There is a full circle relationship between the restaurant and farm; the kitchen scraps come down for the pigs; each chef spends 4 days at the restaurant and 1 day at the farm each week.
They produce 3 incredible cheeses at the moment: Ricotta, Cacio Pecora and Shepherd’s Halo – the latter two of which are trademarked! Ricotta was where they began, just 3 days after their initial flock of 40 milking ewes arrived. In their first year of production, the ricotta won a blue ribbon in the open category for sheep’s milk and mixed milk cheeses at the American Cheese Society Conference in Canada. I’ve tasted this cheese, and it is, without question, the best ricotta I’ve ever had. I used it in a lasagna recently, and it made the dish. The Cacio Pecora’s translation is sheep farmstead cheese. It’s a raw sheep’s milk, pressed into 6 pound wheels, with a minimum 6 month aging process – though Fruition Farms likes to age theirs between 9 months and a year. Similar in texture to a parmigiano reggiano, it’s beautiful grated on a plate of pasta, or in chunks with crackers and a glass of wine. The Shepherd’s Halo is a soft-ripened cheese, comparable to brie, aged for 21 days and lovely on a cheese plate.
The farm is also growing herbs, edible flowers and vegetables, including arugula and heirloom tomatoes, for use at the restaurant; they have a few hoop houses and a greenhouse where the chefs can lovingly snip and gather. They have a handful of Heritage pigs, and we got to meet the sheep, who are so adorable, I wanted to take one home. To hear a flock bleat, is an amazing sound I will never forget. Alex and Jimmy share a humane philosophy in raising these beautiful animals and respect their need for plenty of space and nutritious feed. They’re currently milking 54, with the goal of no more than 100, and building genetics as the flock grows.
Throughout the day, everyone in our group had faces glowing with gratitude for having the opportunity to get such an up close and personal look into the minds and hearts of both Alex and Jimmy and hear directly about their passion for continual learning, sustainability and what gets on the cheese plate and how. We were all deeply enriched and left with a fuller understanding of a day in the life of a dairy and creamery, the exciting rural goings-on that support a thriving urban restaurant, and an appreciation of two people’s complete dedication to their work.
Note: You can find Fruition Farms cheeses in Denver/Boulder at:
Marczyk’s Fine Foods
The Truffle Cheese Shop
And soon – at Fruition’s new outpost at the new Union Station project