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Preparing local produce for winter use

University of Montana’s executive chef says flexibility is key when storing local produce for winter.

While produce may be in peak season right now, some chefs are already thinking ahead to preparing locally grown fruits and vegetables through the winter.

University of Montana Executive Chef Patrick Browne and his staff are already fast at work flash-freezing fruits and fermenting greens and chilies—sourced from the campus’ garden and from Montana farmers—to be menued during the off-season.

By keeping a flexible game plan, Browne’s staff has been able to prepare produce “on the fly” and experiment with fermentation processes.

When Browne receives a sizable produce shipment from a local farm, his staff will determine the best processing method for the product received. One of the biggest challenges is timing, as staff won’t know what’s about to be delivered until a few days in advance. Thus, they have to plan processing around both delivery and staffing schedules. Browne will often designate a few student workers to vacuum seal and freeze produce like berries, kale and chard, a process that may take a few hours.

For a more labor-intensive job, like cleaning 10 pounds of basil leaves for scratch-made pesto sauces, Browne will round up a group of student workers to process the basil as cooks take on regular prep for daily meals.

“It’s quite the juggling act,” Browne says.

Browne also found that flexibility is key as his staff transitioned into preserving local produce via fermentation. When he receives a shipment of kohlrabi or Napa cabbage, his chefs will create a kimchee that combines local ingredients.

While the staff’s fermenting endeavors are still on a small scale—mostly kimchees and hot sauces—there are already plans to create more complex options, such as fermented mushrooms, that can be added to menus this winter.

“Whatever’s around, we just kind of use it,” he says. “We’re trying to just have things in our arsenal that we can pull out and use for different [items].”

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