cuisine

The full story

The full story 559 397 Abby

About ten years ago, we heard about a opportunity to become part of the farming community in the Loncomilla Valley, Chile. Friends of ours informed us that their neighbours, the owners of a small farm tucked away in the coastal hills near San Javier, were moving away. Our family had fallen in love with Chile on a recent trip. It seemed as if the stars had aligned and that small farm, Fundo Meza, became our home. At first, our dad (and to-be farm manager) Tom spent some time camping out on the land to get a feel for the fields, before the entire family joined and the hard work began.

And so began our journey into regenerative farming.

We planted our first baby trees in 2008. Since then, we’ve worked with the land to slowly and steadily grow over 8,000 olive trees, from which we produce our delicious extra virgin olive oil. Each olive is harvested by hand on our farm as part of our simple philosophy: we do not add anything synthetic and work with the life of each tree. It takes time, but we learn more from each tree year upon year. Sadly the farm suffered a devastating fire earlier this year, destroying almost all of our olive trees and making our produce minimal. However, our energies are focused on healing the land and subsequent regrowth. You can read more about the effects of the fire here .

Olive trees are only part of the story. We began making natural wine and agraz from the old pais vines that remained on the land. We also work with the bees to produce a small amount of honey and care for our vegetable gardens. Today, we distribute our raw, homegrown products in the UK and Chile.

As we learn more about the web of life and organisms everyday, we also learn more about the vital elements of creating a flourishing farm. We aim to work with all parts of the ecosystem to increase biodiversity on the land. While we initially drew influence from ‘conventional’ organic farming, we have expanded our thinking toward permaculture practices, natural agriculture, solar energy and more.

Without access to irrigation canals, our nearby natural springs and two shallow wells are our only source of water. We’ve embraced this by nourishing our olive trees with little water to eventually become dry-farmed. Over the last decade, we’ve experienced earthquakes and forest fires that have dramatically changed the landscape. Still, we do what we can to work with the land in its natural state, which helps us stay aware and have respect for the lifecycles around us. In doing so, we’ve gone far beyond our farm’s organic origin.

We’re committed to building a holistic ecosystem.

Inspired by certain challenges we met along the way, as well as the observation of the archaic ways in which many farmers record vital information about their farms – we set out to create more modern solutions. Abby, the coder and physicist of the family, developed mobile apps designed as smart and simple farming solutions: Sectormentor, to help us keep track of our fields, and Workmentor, to help us keep track of everyone working in the fields. Through building these tools, Vidacycle Tech emerged as a way for us to empower other smaller scale farmers around the world to be more resilient in the digital age.

Along with these apps, we’ve also built a combination of solar pumps and windmills on the farm that keep our water running. From our windmill pump and our solar hot water, to our organic vegetable and fruit gardens that feed us year around, there are many exciting and forward-thinking things happening here.

We’re keen to nurture our growing community, both locally and globally, as we share our journey. Whether visiting us on the farm or following us on social media – instagram, twitter, facebook – we want to share with you as we carry on learning by doing. Together, we can inspire a better future for people and earth.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire.

The devastating inferno: thoughts from the farm after the fire. 559 397 Abby

I (Abby) wrote this post in January 2017 straight after the massive forest fires passed through the Loncomilla Valley where we live, I was feeling pretty disturbed by the fact that all of our good efforts to work with the land had come back to bite and actually made the fire damage worse for the crops we are meant to be nurturing (and generating a business from)…

At the time we had to go straight into recovery mode as all infrastructure except the main buildings was destroyed (water, electricity etc) so I didn’t get round to sharing about this until now.

Walking back from the spring with drinking water, all the water pipes and tanks melted in the fire.

Everyday we are still recovering from the fire and will be for a while yet, things like the 4km of fence that needs replacing so the neighbours cows don’t come and eat the olives seems an overwhelming task…but there is hope as the rains have come and the land is covered in green once again. The barren trees may still have life in them yet, we will see in the Spring.

And so, back to January this year:

What was left after the fire: a farmer’s nightmare

Just days ago, the fire ripped through our farm from the pine forests, leaving nothing to spare. The entire valley is black. The spines of pines stand like statues. Years and years of life lost in a matter of hours.

Eight years of care, planting, replanting, nurturing, picking off bugs by hand, watering, observing… all singed in a matter of minutes.

Our farm’s vines are burnt to a crisp, their one hundred year old trunks still smoking as bits of ash fleck onto the ground. Their leaves are burnt golden and ready to fall. Where once the olive groves were golden and green, now they are black and brown. Even the water tanks melted completely, leaving behind damp circular graves where water once was. It’s a sad, sad sight.

The grapes, almost ready to be harvest shrivelled on the blackened vines.

We are forever indebted to the volunteer firefighters and our neighbours for working courageously and with perseverance through the night to save the buildings.

The true extent of the damage will become clear next spring, when the olives and vines sprout new shoots of green — or they don’t. The vines that aren’t dead certainly won’t yield many grapes next year, as the plant remembers the stress of January 2017… but what about the year after? Will they ever return to full production? So many unknowns.

Working with nature takes time

Now we must wait — years. It’s so clear: you can’t just ‘pivot’ or take an ‘agile’ approach to farming. Things take time and can’t be sped up. This is even more true with our Vidacycle approach to regenerative farming, which goes beyond organic. We endeavour to listen, learn and work with nature in a way that allows natural lifecycles to flourish. Over the past ten years, we as a family have learned a lot through doing it ourselves, so many things that are specific to this little valley, this particular spot on earth that no one could tell us beforehand. We’ve also learnt a lot from the many amazing fellow smaller-scale farmers around the world and so have developed the farm using ideas of permaculture, natural agriculture and lots of solar energy. We’ve embraced the dryness of the land and the natural water sources, and from that learned to craft beautiful natural products such as our natural TINTE wine, agraz and olive oil.

Fires are natural

The fire of course is part of nature (although many people were arrested for starting the fires) but no one had foreseen how ruthless it would be — the thousands of acres of pine monoculture meant the fire travelled insanely rapidly and burst onto our farm with an extreme heat. An inferno.

A little house used to be right here. This is where the fire entered our farm from the pines and burnt most violently.

Interestingly the fire didn’t really progress much further than our farm. It was amazing how our many acres of native woodlands stopped the fire from reaching our neighbours, it just gradually trickled out, the regularity of the pine tinderbox was not around to carry the fire forward. So yes fires are natural, but monocultures are not, and it seems humans create an uncontrolled hell when we combine the two.

A way forward

At times, farming can feel like a lot of hard work. Looking out over the blackened landscape for months to come will be a constant reminder of what we are working with. And right now things feel kinda bleak.

I can only think our society need new ways of relating to our food and farming systems. We need to share this risk more widely if sustainable farming businesses are to survive. All of our lives depend on food. All our food comes from farms. Let’s celebrate the work of farmers and their commitment to live through the highs and the lows, live with the unknowns and to feed us all.

You can follow our story here and hear live dispatches as the fire happened on episode 18 and 19 of Farmerama, a podcast we help make, sharing the voices of the smaller-scale farming community.

And you can read more about the damage the fire caused and some of the conundrums we found ourselves in here.

Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 2

Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 2 559 397 Abby

This follows on from part 1.

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Jeremy and Joy were the chefs, first up was Joy’s blanched chard and rhubarb toast, with olive oil and agraz dressing, along with the tarragon and radicchio salad with the most amazing olive oil, agraz and shallots dressing.

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The beauty of the agraz in dressings is that unlike lemon juice and vinegar it brings a very refreshing balance without overpowering the flavours of the food itself, it seems to highlight and accentuate just how fresh and tasty the olive oil, lettuce, chard and rhubarb are. The TINTE wine also goes perfectly with this, which makes sense because it’s made from exactly the same vines, just the grapes are now fully ripe and full of sugar – the two flavours are in sync with each other.

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For our main course Jeremy made a mushroom porridge, with chanterelles and black trumpets hidden under a charred red cabbage leaf. Plus little purple carrots with a milky white herb dip.
For the porridge, the spelt was toasted for a few minutes in olive oil and then cooked in water and the short grain brown rice soaked over night in water to soften it up. Both the wine and agraz were added to the rice and spelt as they were cooked to highlight and deepen the flavours.
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The agraz was also used in the beurre blanc which made the porridge ‘creamy’ – unbelievably delicious! We served another Chilean natural wine with this course because we prefer TINTE 2014 before or after dinner.

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Finally for dessert we has almond cake with almond milk jelly, TINTE jelly and a cashew butterscotch sauce. Thanks to The Pressery girls for giving us 1L of their raw almond milk which Jeremy jellyfied with gelatine . The TINTE jelly was a real hit, the rich flavours worked perfectly in a more solid format.

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Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 1

Vidacycle Taster Dinner part 1 559 397 Abby

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One of the interesting things about creating products that are either particularly unique or not well-known by people is that they there is no language set out to describe them. Even the rich orange-pink colour of the wine is complex to convey. Tinte also has a wealth of flavour not found in many more conventional wines as we have stuck to the completely natural process – the farming and care of the vines and the soil determines the flavours, not the addition of yeast and sulphites starting and stopping the fermentation at will. This is natural wine at its best – unpredictable, flavourful and refreshing.

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The other product produced from our 100 year old vines is agraz (or verjus) a little-known waste-product of wine-making. It’s made in early Summer when the vines are thinned and all the lower hanging green grapes removed. These green grapes are sugarless and produce an extremely bitter but fresh grape juice that is used instead of lemon or vinegar to balance sauces, drinks and dressings.

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So we invited round some of our friends who have supported us along the way in making these products to drink the wine and eat food prepared with our agraz, olive oil and TINTE and see what words they used, and what flavours they liked.

Jeremy and Joy were the chefs…read more in part 2.

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verjus, vinegar and lemon juice

verjus, vinegar and lemon juice 559 397 Abby

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When I was thinking about what to make for the tasting dinner I was drawn to look at Alice Water’s book ‘The Art to Simple Food II’, after flicking through the pages to glance at inspiring recipes, verjus jumped out at me in a range of recipes, from dessert all the way to drinks! There were also several of Alice’s recipes that use lemon juice and champagne vinegar – both of these can be substituted with verjus. It was interesting she often coupled it with rhubarb, and I had rhubarb and chard growing in the back gardens so I went for the rhubarb and chard crostini plus the other recipe I liked was the crab salad with tarragon and chicory. Both went down really well and the flavours of our agraz and olive oil really sang through to create a fresh flavour combo! Next time I’m going to try the salad with Manchego cheese instead for a good vegetarian alternative.

Joy

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flavours of changing seasons

flavours of changing seasons 559 397 Abby

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We shared our olive oil, agraz and the Tinte wine with our friend Jeremy, a young chef who has done stints at Noma and Dinner both 2 Michelin Star destinations, and is now opening up his own restaurant Ikoyi. He is amazingly creative with flavours and has heard lots about Fundo Meza for many years…so he is the perfect person to explore different dishes using our ingredients. Joy Rose, part of the vidacycle team and culinary crafter, also made some simpler and super delicious concoctions for starters and a salad. Our friend Claudia also took all these great photos.

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Jeremy made crisped chicken thigh, with agraz brown butter emulsion, and cashew tahini in a cabbage taco and a ‘grapes through the seasons’ dessert, both were indescribably good. We all just sat there in silence for a few minutes, stunned and humbled by the wonderful flavours. The whole evening brought out the power of good quality food and the wholehearted wonder in feeling connected to the land.

You can hear more about Joy’s recipes and thoughts here. Jeremy also talked us through the way he approached each dish…

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Grapes through the seasons – cold pear in agraz syrup and hot pear in Tinte wine caramel with thyme crumble (butter and ground almonds toasted with fresh thyme leaves and salt)

The inspiration for the pear dish is the change of seasons, the evolution of the grapes from unripe, tangy and sharp, to sweet, rich and fermented. The hot and cold elements, the chilled verjus (agraz) pears set against the warm pears stewed in mulled Tinte wine caramel is intended to bring out dominant flavours for the two seasons- refreshing, zingy and cool, versus spiced and warming. The thyme crumble gives the dish some crunch, the slight salinity brings out all the other sweetness, and the fresh thyme cuts through everything subtly, cooling it all down and giving the dish a unique hint of savoury.

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Crisped chicken thigh, with agraz brown butter emulsion, and cashew tahini in a cabbage taco

The chicken dish was just for fun, to taste like a taco but with the complex richness of the agraz brown butter emulsion. I liked the idea of “hiding” everything inside the translucent cabbage leaf. You bite into it and underneath there are all these flavours: the rice roasted cashew tahini, the crispy chicken skin and juicy meat, and then the mildly acidic but butterscotch flavour of the sauce, with some sharpness from the capers and fragrance from the fresh parsley. It’s a complete dish and well balanced, also looks pretty cool.

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Jeremy also created this recipe with our Agraz.

tea

tea 559 397 Abby

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We experimented using the leaves around the farm to make some teas. We used olive, mint, rosemary, eucalyptus, stevia and Meyer Lemon leaves plus some lavender buds as well. Heidi made a smooth, rounded and relaxing combination from stevia, eucalyptus, olive leaves and a bit of Meyer Lemon leaf, it was everyone’s favourite flavour, it just left us feeling imbued with calm.

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beet burgers

beet burgers 150 150 Abby

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Every Summer we are overwhelmed with beets, so we have started to try different ways of preparing them. Nothing beats these beet burgers cooked in the outdoor oven. Plus they are pretty easy to make!

You can find the recipe here.

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humitas

humitas 559 397 Abby

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There are many traditional Chilean dishes that use corn in innovative ways. Humitas are a perfect little package of corn cleverly contained in the corn husks. We used the corn we harvested from the garden, washed the millions of ants off of it, put the husks to one side, cut the corn off the cob, and then ground it up in the food processor.

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We grated up some cheese, chopped coriander, chillies and had lots of salt and pepper to hand and added this to each little corn package. There is definitely an art to wrapping up the ingredients. We found it was really important to keep the husks in water so that they were more maleable for wrapping and didn’t crack. Also we used scissors to cut the end where it was most curved as often this caused the husk to split.

You can freeze them too, so we found it was quite good to make a lots at once and then freeze half of them.

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refreshing simple courgette salad

refreshing simple courgette salad 559 397 Abby

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Courgettes (or zucchinis) aren’t particularly popular with many of the locals here in Chile. However we made this super simple salad using thinly shaved courgettes and they loved it! The recipe is below:

feeds 4

4 small/medium-sized courgettes

6 tablespoons delicious olive oil

2 tablespoons agraz

salt/pepper

grate on lemon zest for added flavour

Take a whole courgette, use a peeler to thinly slice off layer after layer of the courgette (no need to take the skin off or anything like that) into a salad bowl. We’ve found it’s easiest if you turn the courgette around every so often so you are peeling from a different side, keep going until you can’t peel off any more and then compost the left over ends. Do this for all courgettes.

Mix the dressing separately in a small bowl. Start with the olive oil, then add 1/3 as much Agraz, a pinch of salt and pepper and grate in some lemon zest for extra flavour. Give the dressing a good stir together, then pour the dressing over your bowl of courgette strips.

Enjoy the delicious light flavours!

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