Garth Brown

Farm owner/farmer (Cairncrest Farm)
Cooperstown, New York

GB

Back in my college days, I had one friend who used to grind his own coffee beans and didn’t take milk or sugar because he enjoyed the taste of the coffee itself… who knew about Belgian beers and how to sear a duck breast. Garth and his roommate Josh made a weekly pilgrimage from Morningside Heights to the East Village to savor Chikpea’s fine falafel sandwiches.  Because good food doesn’t have to be fancy.

After college, Garth moved to Alaska (because why not live in Alaska at some point in your life?) where he worked in a restaurant, then returned to New York and learned coffee roasting at By Aldo. He and his wife Alanna then spent time in France apprenticing with a Pyrenean cheese maker before settling in central New York, where they now live, with their 19-month old daughter Arden, and co-own Cairncrest Farm… which brings me to Garth’s latest adventure…

Garth and his brother Ed have embarked on a bold mission: to subsist for one year solely from products grown/raised/hunted/fermented at Cairncrest Farm.* What does this include? Beef, venison, turkey, duck, chicken, herbs, vegetables, and right now, a whole bunch of root vegetables. What does this NOT include? Dairy, olive oil, beer, wine, chocolate, coffee and most other food vices. BUT NO COFFEE?? Nope, no coffee. I asked Garth about the booze situation and he assured me that he had stocked away at least 30 gallons of hard cider, made from both wild and orchard apples. Well, at least he can drink away the pain of having no coffee. Without further ado, hablamos!

Coffee or tea?

I would definitely say coffee, in my normal life coffee, but right now peppermint tea is the best I can do. We pick peppermint that we grow around the farm.

Beer or wine?

Well, in college, I was crazy about beer and drank lots of good beer. But nowadays, I prefer wine. Right now, hard cider is the only thing I can do – we crush apples and make hard cider. There are tons of wild apple trees around, but we also used orchard apples because this past year we had a bad apple season.  It’s kind of sad how much less flavorful the cider made with orchard apples is.

Describe your typical breakfast.

I usually eat two meals a day so I don’t eat first thing in the morning. For my midday meal, which is my first meal, I almost always eat eggs and typically some sort of meat – either leftover roast from the day before or I have duck breasts I’ve been curing lately, or sometimes bacon. Usually I’ll have kale and a root vegetable.  I’ve got a lot of rutabagas.**

What is your earliest food-related memory?

I think it’s baking a cake for my pet mouse named Snowdrop, probably when I was 4 or 5.

Describe your ideal sandwich.

My ideal sandwich would be a really good Reuben because Reubens have the biggest divergence – like a bad Reuben is really awful. I knew a place in Alaska that made Reubens with really cheap corned beef, canned sauerkraut, store-bought Russian dressing.  But if you have a quality corned beef, good sauerkraut, a strong swiss cheese, good rye bread and homemade Russian dressing, it’s the best. It has the cured meat, the sauerkraut thing going on, and I love cheese. Also, I love any sauce made with homemade mayonnaise… That’s another thing I miss – Alanna makes really good mayonnaise.

Where would you travel to eat?

I’d say Valle d’Aosta. It’s similar to where Alanna and I went to learn to make cheese in France.  The farm we were on made far and away the best cheese I’ve had in my life – all we did was eat cheese and bread.  I’d like to go to Valle d’Aosta, to learn about their cheese. And it also has an incredible charcuterie culture. I’d like to learn that too.

Name 5 people you would like to invite to a dinner party.

Rather than celebrities or anything, I’d have people whose thinking and work I find interesting:

  1. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Sabarin: he wrote a book in 1825 called The Physiology of Taste which is tremendously entertaining and I agree with his thoughts on food and food culture. It seems like he’d be an extremely interesting person.
  2. Wendell Berry: in a lot of ways he’s the patron saint of local agriculture movement.
  3. Simon Fairlie: he’s a British guy who writes a lot about food production and food policy with an eye on sustainable food systems. He writes incredibly incisively about the issues that I care about and he does it in a way that is well reasoned … like lots of things about alternative agriculture sound good but he works through the implications in a clear way.
  4. Darina Allen: she’s an Irish woman whose book is called Forgotten Skills of Cooking. She also has some sort of restaurant and school*** where she teaches the things we’re doing [on Cairncrest Farm] – food preservation, traditional cooking, very much with an eye on farmstead production.  I enjoy her writing and think she’d be very engaging.
  5. Aldo Maiorana: he’s the coffee roaster I used to work for. In all matters of food he is very knowledgeable and incredibly entertaining.

What are you in the mood to eat right now?

I smell my wife melting chocolate now, so a bar of really good, dark chocolate.


 

* Read about the mission of Garth and Ed and see pictures of their farm on their blog, Cairncrest Farm.
** See an example of what Garth eats here.
** Check out Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School.
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