Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Where Cow Pies meet Computer Chips (plus a Thomas Keller recipe)

Last summer I visited a robotic dairy farm here in south central PA, one of only ten such farms in the U.S. It was a fascinating tour! Almost everything is automated and computerized, allowing a dairy farm of several hundred cows to be run by only 6 people, two of whom perform solely administrative functions.

The cows on this farm have quite a luxurious life, complete with water beds, automated back-scratchers, and a temperature controlled barn. Although the barn was open to the outside with computer-controlled louvered windows, a special ventilation system discouraged flies. It was a hot July afternoon but in the barn it was comfortable and pleasant. Clean too, because even the mucking is performed continuously by machine. Everything about this barn is designed to make the cows comfortable because contented cows give a lot more milk.

The milking was the most interesting part. When a cow feels the need to be milked she walks through a gate into the milking area of the barn. A sensor at the gate electronically identifies her, retrieves her computer files, and then drops a tailored combination of vitamin supplements into a bin for her.

After she has consumed the vitamins, the next gate opens and she walks into the milking room. Her teats are sprayed with an antibacterial cleanser and the robotic milking cups locate and attach to each teat. For whatever reason, not all cows have the same number of teats. Each cow’s teat quantity is programmed into the computer so it doesn’t endlessly search for that last missing teat.

Before the milking process begins in earnest, the computer takes a small test sample of milk to analyze for bacteria, blood or other problems. If there is any problem with the milk, all the milk from that cow is sent to a separate vat to be discarded. The computer alerts the farmer, via cell phone, that this cow needs medical attention.

If the milk is satisfactory it is sent to the common vats to be processed. After the cow is milked and leaves the area, the machine completely sanitizes itself to prepare for the next cow.

If you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend this fascinating tour of Hope Acres robotic dairy farm. (http://www.hopeacres.com/farmtours.html)

After touring the barn I visited the dairy store where they sold all sorts of wonderful fresh dairy products at excellent prices. The tour included a free dish of their homemade ice cream, and oh, what ice cream it was. Made from their fresh cream and quality natural flavorings, with no air added to dilute its luscious richness, it was heavenly. It was July so I tried the raspberry ice cream made with fresh local berries. Since then I’ve tried other flavors, all wonderful. When using fresh, quality local ingredients, the results can only be perfect.

They sold many other dairy products, including milk, creams, and cheeses, In addition to the freshness and the good prices, another benefit of the dairy products sold here is that they go through very little processing, other than pasteurization. Cream that is not homogenized is a better candidate for cheese making and whipped cream than the homogenized and ultra pasteurized versions in the grocery store.

I purchased a container of fresh unhomogenized cream and discovered that it would whip into beautiful mounds, more than doubling in volume, with very little effort. I decided to use it in a Thomas Keller recipe that I had on my “to try” list.

Most French Laundry recipes are overwhelming for the home cook because each ingredient is actually another recipe in itself; and sometimes the ingredients in those sub-recipes are additional full blown recipes. This one is one of Thomas Keller's more accessible recipes for home cooks as it is just one component of a more complex salad. It requires only a couple of ingredients so it is important that each be of the freshest and best quality available.

This simple but elegant green bean salad makes a wonderful summer side dish, served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Although it contains some cream, it is very light tasting and refreshing.

Haricots Verts in Red Wine Vinegar Cream
From Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook"

1/2 pound haricots verts (small French green beans)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the stem ends of the haricots verts and cut the beans into 1-inch lengths.

Blanch the haricot verts in boiling salted water until they are just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes depending on thickness and age. Chill the beans in ice water, drain, and dry on paper towels.

Whisk the cream in a bowl set over a larger bowl of ice just until it thickens slightly and you can see the trail of the whisk in the bowl.. Using the whisk, fold in the red wine vinegar and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Do not overbeat the cream as it will continue to thicken when it is tossed with the beans.

Toss the beans with cream and serve at once.

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