Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Summer Stuffed Peppers

Take advantage of summer’s vibrant organic produce with this easily adaptable dish (great for outdoor dining or potlucks). Sweet roasted red peppers are stuffed with nutty barley, sautéed vegetables, fresh herbs, pine nuts, balsamic and Parmigiano, then finished off with an oozing layer of melted Comté cheese (mozzarella would also do the trick). Serve the stuffed peppers as an appetizer or as a main course with a light to medium style red.

Serves: 2 as main course, 4 as appetizer
Prep time: 45 minutes (includes cooking barley and roasting peppers)
Cooking time: 15 minutes

  • 1/2 cup pearled barley
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing pan
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1/2 small yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeds and ribs discarded, diced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 very small or 1/2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary and oregano
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (heaping) shredded Comté cheese
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup pearled barley with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook 15-17 minutes, or until water is just absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Brush a small pan or casserole with oil. Cut the red peppers in half lengthwise (through the stem). Remove and discard the stems, seeds and ribs. Bake cut side down for 15 minutes; turn the peppers over and cook an additional 15 minutes. Set aside (keep the oven on).
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, yellow pepper, and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and pine nuts and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and cook 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into the bowl with the barley. Add the chopped herbs, grated Parmigiano, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the egg.
  4. Sprinkle the pepper halves lightly with salt and pepper, then divide the barley filling among the halves. Do Ahead: The peppers can be stuffed one day in advance then covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.
  5. Sprinkle the shredded Comté evenly over the top of the peppers and bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and lightly toasted in spots. Serve warm.

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Heritage Foods represents artisanal family farmers raising heirloom breeds of turkeys, chickens, pigs, lambs and produce in traditional ways on family farms. These products have an inherent flavor missing from factory-farmed foods. Their meats are found in some of New York’s finest restaurants. Explore their site, read how Heritage Foods came about, and check out the chefs that are part of this cycle of taste. Get to know the farmers devoted to saving heirloom breeds.

They are offering readers of the Organic Wine Journal a 20% discount on their first order. Click here to go to their site and redeem your coupon.

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Strawberry Almond Shortcakes

For seasonal eaters, nothing is more delicious than the very first strawberry of the season, eaten straight from its container. Except, perhaps, this. Strawberry shortcake tastes even better than you remember with a moist, almond-scented (and surprisingly easy) biscuit, berries that have been macerated in a splash of sweet wine, toasted almonds, and a generous billow of whipped cream. Spring (or shall I say, summer?) has officially arrived.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 14-16 minutes

  • Parchment paper
  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons natural cane sugar (such as Florida Crystals)
  • 3 tablespoons sweet dessert wine (optional)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup natural cane sugar (such as Florida Crystals)
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • Scant tablespoon turbinado or demerara sugar
  • Toasted sliced almonds
  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the strawberries, sugar and sweet wine (if using).
  3. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with the almond extract. Refrigerate. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed and cut to the size of small peas (alternatively, cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a fork or pastry cutter). Scrape the dough into a bowl. Using a fork, mix in the sour cream until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until it just holds together, about 4-6 turns.
  4. Divide the dough into 6 roughly equal portions. Very gently shape each portion into a 3/4-inch thick disc (a light touch makes for flakier biscuits). Line the discs on the parchment-lined baking sheet leaving 2 inches between each. Brush each biscuit with cream and sprinkle with turbinado or demerara sugar.
  5. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden with dark brown peaks.
  6. Cool the biscuits for about 4-5 minutes (or until you can handle them without burning your fingers). Carefully cut each biscuit in half horizontally. Place the bottom halves in the center of each plate. Top each half with berries and some of their juice, followed by a sprinkle of toasted, sliced almonds and a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Perch the other biscuit halves on top and serve. Do Ahead: The biscuits can be made 2 hours in advance and left at room temperature. Reheat in a 450˚F oven before serving.

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Acclaimed organic chef Akasha Richmond has been catering to Hollwood’s A-list for over fifteen years, but one doesn’t need to be a celebrity to eat at her new restaurant, Akasha, in LA. We chatted with the chef about her commitment to sustainability, the challenges of opening a restaurant, and why she would never go 100% organic.

What inspired your passion for sustainable cooking?

I grew up in Florida, and my mother got into natural cooking when I was in Junior High. She was one of those people that made her own bread and yogurt. I started cooking when I was 10 and taught myself out of cookbooks. I later went to college in San Diego and came to LA in the early eighties to study yoga. This was before I really thought about food as a profession. I ended up working at a vegetarian restaurant that was frequented by many celebrities. Michael Jackson used to eat there every day, and I took care of him. He was my first celebrity client. The year Thriller came out…

That’s quite the first client.

He was into the whole healthy thing. Now it’s called the organic movement; back then it was called was called the “natural foods” or “health foods” movement. The word organic used to have a really bad connotation: i.e. restaurants that served brown rice and sprouts. But organic has gotten major branding in the past couple of years. As you know, it’s now good.

Are you working towards an organic certification for your new restaurant, Akasha?

No, I wouldn’t even consider it—no one would want to pay those prices. We’re not a high-end restaurant; we’re an everyday restaurant. But we are committed to sustainability: from the organic waitstaff uniforms, to eco-efficient equipment, LED lighting, biodegradable containers, local ingredients… even down to the salt and organic pepper. We source as much as we can from California, but obviously coffee, sugar and chocolate aren’t. I start with the local, seasonal produce as a base and we build around it.

Things must be easier to source today than they were when you started your catering business back in the eighties.

Oh my god, it’s night and day. What’s great now is that a lot of products are available for food service that weren’t available before, like 50-lb sacks of organic sugar. But it’s still the beginning—there are certain things that I have a really hard time getting. Whole Foods has made foods accessible for retail, but for foodservice not everything is readily available. So there are things you can get, but you have to buy them in retail packages, like corn syrup, frozen French fries, certain cheeses.

And Akasha isn’t exactly a small operation—you’re doing as many as 300-400 covers on weekend nights with 150-200 covers for lunch.

It’s a lot. It’s been a learning process. We just opened so I’m still working out things that I think are problems… like this chicken salad that I’m eating right now which has way too much chicken in it. In the beginning, there’s something else every day.

What inspires you as a chef?

Ingredients. I am so excited for corn to come into season. I love corn. I love sautéed corn, I love creamed corn, I love corn fritters, I love corn in frittatas; I like all kinds of corn. I love corn on the cob. Don’t you love corn? I love corn.

I do love corn. But it’s not summer yet. What are your favorite things on the menu right now?

Pan Seared Wild Halibut; Sheep’s Milk Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi; and Baby Artichoke, Morrocoan Olive and Plum Tomato Sauté.

Akasha’s wine list features a good selection of organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines. What’s your favorite?

My favorite wine is Zind Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris and anything Robert Sinskey.

Do you feel that LA is a leader in the organic/sustainable movement?

I think that LA is maybe the leader in the produce section, but honestly there are great restaurants all over the country. New York, San Francisco. Unbelievable.

Any fun stories about working with celebrities?

Can’t share—I’m still in business in this town.

9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
ph. 310.845.1700

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Cheese reminds me of people. In the California sunset hue of the Aged Mimolette I recognize my own father; the firm but delicate nature, the coarse exterior (but sweet to those who know it best), even in its scent. Served on a platter, the Mimolette resembles a slice of cantaloupe, so it seems as if it’s smiling. Triple crème Brie looks like the giant marshmallow from Ghostbusters, and the eight month Manchego looks like an old man in a certain light. Particularly the profile. The Pecorino Gran Cru has a striking resemblance to a Victoria’s Secret model; the body is outrageous and those salt crystals get me every time. Fresh chèvres are tender as newborn babies in mangers.

The Purple Haze, from Humboldt County in Northern California, is Jimi Hendrix resurrected in cheese form. It crumbles in your mouth like Castles Made of Sand and the boom of herbs beat into your palate like a Bold As Love guitar solo. This small, circular-shaped goat’s milk cheese is flavored with wild fennel pollen and lavender; so the same herb-driven audience drawn to Jimi’s music will find their fix here. Like Hendrix, this cheese has its tender moments, as well as its insanely heavy ones. The feminine and fragrant blossoms can lighten up a basic spinach salad, or, spread on a grilled vegetable sandwich, can make it quite romantic. Pair it with a Zinfandel and a concert at Woodstock.

The Red Hawk, from Point Reyes, California, resembles Teddy Roosevelt, the rugged individualist of presidents. Teddy mastered life in the saddle, driving cattle, hunting big game, and even captured an outlaw. Red Hawk is the western pioneer of today’s cheeses. Made by the Cowgirl Creamery, it leads American cheese lovers in the same youthful and progressive style as Roosevelt led our country. It is a triple cream, washed and bathed in a brine solution which promotes the growth of a bacterium that tints the rind red. Made with organic milk produced by the Straus family dairy on the pristine Tomalas Bay in California, this cheese was awarded Best-In-Show at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference in 2003. It follows Roosevelt’s famous cheese maxim, “ooze softly, and carry a big stink.”

Yancy’s Fancy Buffalo Wing Sauce Cheddar Cheese, from New York, would have to be the notorious Anna Nicole Smith. Infused with the hot sauce generally used for chicken wings, it gets its fair share of jokes as the “trailer trash cheese,” but I absolutely love it; the same way the media made fun of Anna Nicole but secretly loved her. The cheddar itself is unimpressive, but the flavor and silliness from the hot sauce makes everyone smile. It’s amazing on nachos or tacos, served with cold sour cream to cut the spiciness. New York magazine used a photo of Anna squatting in a short skirt and cowboy boots while eating chips for their story called “White Trash Nation.” She could have been eating this cheese instead. I don’t think Yancy’s has the same Marilyn Monroe aspirations that Anna did, but it is still a very fun and playful cheese.

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Farro Salad

This spring salad is picnic fare at its finest—rustic yet refined, scrumptious yet simple. If you haven’t yet tasted farro, you’ll definitely want to give this a try. Farro is an ancient Italian whole grain with an irresistible nutty and slightly sweet flavor. Bianco Sardo is a hard sheep’s milk cheese from Puglia that is salty and a tad floral—if you can’t find it, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano will make a good substitute. Enjoy this salad on its own or as a side dish with poultry or fish. It’s best savored outside on a warm spring day, preferably with a chilled glass of Italian Pinot Bianco close at hand.

Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

  • 2 cups farro
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), tough ends cut off
  • 1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium yellow beets (about 1 pound without greens), roasted, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice*
  • 1 cup freshly grated Bianco Sardo cheese (about 1 ounce)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (1 1/2 – 2 lemons)
  • 1 plump garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, cover the farro with cold water and soak for 25 minutes. Drain, then place in a medium pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes, skimming any foam from the surface. Drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook 2-3 minutes, or until vibrant green and crisp tender. Transfer to the ice bath. Once cool, remove (reserving the water) and pat dry. Add the onions to the ice water and soak for 10 minutes.
  3. Slice the asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces and fold them into the farro, along with the red onions, beets and cheese.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil while whisking. Pour the dressing over the farro salad and toss well. Preferably, let the salad sit covered at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours to let the flavors meld. Do Ahead: The farro, beets, asparagus and dressing can be prepared the day before and stored separately (covered) in the refrigerator.

*To roast beets, place the cleaned beets (green stems removed) in a small oven-safe dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast in a 400˚ F oven for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Cool, then peel.

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Also known as gnudi, these ricotta dumplings are “little pillows of love,” as a good friend lately proclaimed. Rich in flavor, yet brightened by a hint of lemon and fresh herbs, they make for a gorgeous first or main course (and best of all, they’re thrown together in under 30 minutes). Pair with a light style red or citrusy white.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

  • 2 large cage-free eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta (scant 2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped herbs, such as thyme, chives, tarragon and mint
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached flour, plus additional for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons organic olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons organic unsalted butter
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and dust it lightly with flour. Put a large pot of salted water over medium-high heat to come to a boil.
  2. Beat the eggs with the salt and nutmeg. Mix in the ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic and herbs. Gently stir in the flour to form a soft dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch rod, then cut each rod with a sharp knife or pastry cutter into 1-inch pieces.
  3. Line another sheet pan with parchment paper. Cook half of the dumplings in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the dumpling to the parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Repeat with the rest of the dumplings.
  4. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until nutty brown and fragrant. Stir in the lemon juice (the butter will bubble and sizzle). Slide the dumplings into the pan and cooked until just coated and warmed through. Remove the pan from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Shower the dumplings with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.

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Raw Cheese Power

A great cheese should have depth, uniqueness, and a sense of humor. Raw milk cheeses are epitomic of these attributes, as they not only outshine pasteurized cheeses in flavor, but are more as nature intended. Just like a fine wine, raw milk captures the essence of the geographical region from which the animals ate their grass and feed, producing a specific and authentic flavor specific to that region, known as terroir.

Unfortunately, the FDA prohibits the sale of raw milk cheeses aged 60 days or less in the United States, from fear that raw milk cheeses contain bacteria which can cause salmonella. This only adds to raw milk’s notoriety. Now, raw milk cheese has become the cheese you wouldn’t want to bring home to your parents. It’s dangerously sexy. You can find them if you know the right people, but I’m not mentioning names here.

The FDA’s regulation becomes problematic when dealing with fresh, young cheeses which rely heavily on the quality of milk used. Pasteurization leaves cheese with a cooked, less potent flavor. Plainly put, pasteurized cheeses can be boring. It’s like buying the Greatest Hits album of your favorite band instead of the original albums you loved.

Still, there are exciting cheeses that do meet the age requirement. The Queso Clara, a raw goat’s milk, is the “little black dress” of cheese; no closet or cheese plate should be without it. While Spain excels in sheep’s milk cheeses, such as the Manchego, their goat’s milk cheeses, while less mainstream, are equally reputable. The Clara’s texture is dry and a bit flaky. Its rind is rustic and gray and the flavor is exciting. Your taste buds are greeted with an herbal, complex tang typical of a gammy goat. Then, a fruity and sweet essence melts upon the tongue, transforming suddenly and forcefully into an electric bang, where the raw power transforms from subtle to blatant, and the soil from which the goats ate their fresh grass is pronounced. The finish is earthy, with caramel notes, and it bids your mouth goodbye like a gallant lover, leaving you satiated yet wanting more. When eating the Queso Clara, I like to picture the little goats lazily munching on green grass, possibly retiring for a siesta after their large lunch. It’s up to every cheese eater to conjure their own fantasies; some like to picture the milking process, but those are generally men looking for a mother figure. Try serving with a warmed baguette and crisp green grapes, or drizzled with a bit of raw honey for a truly decadent experience.

The Ossau-Iraty is a raw sheep’s milk cheese that is not only distinct and challenging, but seems to be touched with the supernatural. This cheese was my first love. Originated in the West Pyrenees, Ossau-Iraty, whose name “Ossau” comes from a river and valley in Bearn, France, is made exclusively from the milk of ewes of the local breed known as the Basco-Bearnaise or Manech. This breed is characterized by their black or red heads. In this case, blondes don’t always have more fun. After the cheese is removed from their special caves they are hand rubbed with salt, and then later rubbed with brine-soaked cloth for a period of four months. The final result is a nutty yet fruity cheese, subtle without lacking tenacity; a cheese I would describe as voluptuous. Superb paired with olives, prosciutto, or fruit; not to mention a sophisticated grilled cheese on French baguette. As for wine, a Sauvignon Blanc or a simple Chardonnay would make a first-rate combination.

Anne Greenwald works the cheese counter at Whole Foods Market, Columbus Circle, in New York City. She invites you to stop in and try some raw milk cheeses with her, including some of her other favorites: the Point Reyes Blue, from California, the Rolf Beeler Gruyere, from Switzerland, and the Gabietou, from France.

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