Illustrating a Unique Farmer-Chef Connection

A couple weeks ago, fourth-generation dairy farmer Nate Chittenden and his family took a very special trip down to New York City from their Upper Hudson Valley farm.

How did a street art mural of Iron Chef @MarcForgione end up on a barn at Dutch Hollow Farm? And how did the portrait of a #CabotFarmer @ChittendenNate and his cow make its way to the wall of the chef’s Michelin-starred NYC restaurant?… Click To Tweet

“The kids got to take the day off from school and they were so excited when a driver picked us up for the ride down from Poughkeepsie,” Nate said. Once in the city, Zach, 11 ½, Jonathan, 8 ½, and Anna, 6 ½, were thrilled to go to the top of the Empire State Building, but there was something else in store that impressed them in a different way.

This June, in honor of National Dairy Month, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has partnered with nearly 40,000 family farms, processors and dairy brands to spotlight the many people who are devoted to dairy. As part of the Undeniably Dairy campaign, the Chittenden family’s award-winning Dutch Hollow Farm was paired in a unique way with “Next Iron Chef” champion Marc Forgione, whose eponymous, Michelin-starred, Tribeca restaurant proudly buys dairy from the Hudson Valley Fresh group to which the Chittendens and several other Cabot farmer-owners belong.

In May, renowned street artist Nils Westergard painted a larger-than-life mural of Chef Marc cooking on the side of one barn at Dutch Hollow Farm. That particular barn is called Discovery Center and is the destination for dozens of school and other groups that the Chittendens welcome annually to their farm to learn firsthand about dairy.

To complete the project, Westergard also painted a mural at the New York City restaurant of Farmer Nate with one of the family’s beautiful Jersey cows. Seeing himself on the restaurant wall, Nate admits, “was flattering, but it’s almost too much for me.” His kids, however, thought their dad was a rock star.

When they turned the corner and saw the mural, they were amazed and impressed. “They said, ‘Dad! It’s you!’,” Nate recalled with a chuckle. “For them to be so excited and to see the painting in a great restaurant where they’re turning the dairy we produce into delicious food, that’s what it’s all about.”

“The best ingredients start at the farm,” states the mural at the farm—and, during his recent visit, Nate got to taste just one example of how the team at Marc Forgione puts dairy to delicious use in what they call “soup dumplings.” It is a play on the traditional Chinese dumplings that burst with flavorful broth when you bite into them. At the restaurant, fresh ravioli is filled with house-made ricotta, yogurt and cream all from Hudson Valley Fresh. When the ravioli is cut open, its luscious filling flows out to make an incredible sauce for spring vegetables and mushrooms, Nate detailed. The cherry on the top, so to speak, was chef de cuisine Andy Knudson coming out of the kitchen to show Nate that he also uses Cabot butter for the brown butter sauce in the dish.

“At my restaurants,” said Chef Marc Forgione, “I always try to use local products and foster a personal relationship with the farms and purveyors they come from. You can absolutely notice that ingredients taste better when there’s a level of care and passion put into growing and developing them.”

Interacting directly with Forgione at his restaurant and during the chef’s visit to Dutch Hollow allowed Nate to really bring to life his quote on the restaurant mural: “For our family, it all starts with how we care for our cows.”

“We want everyone to know that their dairy is coming from a good place,” Nate said. “These great ingredients that chefs are using, and that the public can buy, start on farms where we take care of our cows.”

City folk—and even some in the country—may not realize how the farmer is involved in every aspect of the cycle, Nate said: from nurturing the next generation of milking cows to cultivating the most nutritious hay and other feed, while maintaining a closed loop by utilizing the herd’s manure to fertilize their fields.

At Dutch Hollow, three generations work together: Nate and his two brothers, Alan and Brian, along with their parents Paul and Melanie, now retired “so they’re down to 60 or 70 hours a week,” Nate joked. Several of the next generation are also involved and one niece was just married on the farm this month.

“We’re proud of what we do and have always been inspired by the connection we all share,” Nate said. And if, by chance, the Chittenden family ever forgets how much their hard work is appreciated 150 miles away in the city, now they have a permanent reminder on their barn.

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