At Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts, Rick and Lora Lea Misterly are living examples of how to eat locally and sustain the earth.
ONE OF THE characters in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” mentions that in India, it’s sometimes considered a purification ritual to go home and spend a year eating everything from one place. This past summer, I went home to a place I’d never been and spent a week eating foods that were grown right there. I was at Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts in Washington.
I wasn’t there for a purification ritual, but I did leave refreshed and renewed by the experience.
The school was founded by Rick and Lora Lea Misterly, who launched Quillisascut Cheese Co. in 1987. A few years before, they’d bought 26 undeveloped acres in Rice, a tiny town in the foothills of the Huckleberry Mountains south of Kettle Falls and east of the Columbia River in Stevens County. Eventually they bought another 10 acres and gained a reputation not only as cheesemakers but as authorities on issues of sustainability and the local food movement. With a herd that’s grown to 37 milking goats, Misterly makes about 5,000 pounds of cheese every year.
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Most of the Quillisascut cheeses are based on a recipe for manchego, which is a sheep’s-milk cheese from the central plateau of Spain. “I started out wanting to make a cheese that was like something I could buy at the store,” writes Misterly on the Quillisascut Farm School Web site. But at some point, “I realized that there is a lot of industrialized cheese being made; what there is a shortage of is simple, honest farm-made cheese. When I started making cheese using the manchego recipe, I thought it really clicked with the milk from our animals and so I have stuck with it, modified a little to make it fit with our farm and production. We call it curado to reflect that early Spanish influence and separate it from the industrial import.”
Curado-style cheese from Quillisascut captured the imagination of Northwest chefs like me when we were looking for more indigenous products to express our emerging regional cuisine in the late 1980s and early ’90s. The idea for the farm school developed a little later when the Misterlys came to realize that other people might benefit from a taste of the life they were living year ’round.
In “Chefs on the Farm,” a new cookbook published by Skipstone, an imprint of The Mountaineers Books, Lora Lea Misterly explains the concept: “Everything is connected here. The soil feeds the plants that feed us. We are merely the walking, talking result of that connection.”
And that is precisely the experience I had when I spent that summer week on the farm. Along with about a dozen others, most of them culinary students and professional cooks from other restaurants, we harvested vegetables and fruits from both the Misterlys’ own garden and their neighbors’ orchards. We milked goats and made cheese; butchered a goat and used the various cuts in different meals, plucked and eviscerated ducks for a dinner that began with duck-liver pâté and included pan-seared breasts of duckling. We baked breads in the wood-fired oven and put up jams from fruit we harvested in the orchard.
Greg Atkinson is a chef instructor at Seattle Culinary Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Chicken Stew with Ricotta Chive Dumplings
Makes 6 servings
Chef Kären Jurgensen designed this recipe for spring when green garlic and “salad onions” are in season, but the dish is equally delicious at an autumnal table where the welcoming flavors of onions, carrots and turnips recall the warmth of summer. It’s the perfect way to coax a second meal from a roast chicken. Pull off the leftover meat and make a simple stock by simmering the carcass for an hour or two with a bay leaf. If no spring onions or fresh chives are available, use regular onions and fresh sage leaves instead.
For the dumplings
2 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup fresh chives (or sage leaves), chopped
1 cup cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
For the stew
2 tablespoons chicken fat (or olive oil)
2 spring onions (or regular onions), chopped
1 bunch baby carrots (or ½ pound other carrots), cleaned and sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch turnips, trimmed and quartered
1 stalk green garlic (or 4 cloves regular garlic, peeled), thinly sliced
4 cups homemade chicken broth
4 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Combine the ricotta cheese, chives, egg, cornmeal, flour and salt for the dumplings and keep the mixture in a mixing bowl in the refrigerator.
2. To make the stew, melt the chicken fat or warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the onions, carrots, turnips and garlic in the fat until the onions are soft and translucent. Pour in the chicken broth, and when the liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken and thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Using a two-ounce scoop or a rounded tablespoon, drop the dumpling mixture into the stew. Cook for seven minutes, then turn the dumplings over and cook 5 minutes more. Serve hot with two or three dumplings and an ample ladle full of stew in every bowl.
— Adapted from a recipe by Kären Jurgensen in “Chefs on the Farm”