February 25, 2008

PBS came to Kentucky last August under the guise of Zero Point Zero Production, Inc., the company that produces the popular public television series, “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie.” The first of two episodes the crew taped during their stay hits the airwaves on KET Friday, Feb. 29.

The episode, “Bovine Rhapsody,” travels from Tuscany to Morocco to the heart of Kentucky, focusing on the influence of cows on local cuisines. In Kentucky, the show visited J.D. Country Milk in Logan County, owned and operated by Willis and Edna Schrock and their eight children. The Schrocks produce whole and chocolate nonhomogenized milk that is marketed locally in glass bottles under the Rebecca Grace label. Their white milk is a high-end product in specialty food stores, but they had challenges initially with the shelf life of their chocolate milk. Melissa Newman, University of Kentucky professor in food microbiology and food safety, provided the answer they needed.

“We went down and visited with them, looked at their process and talked to them about how they were making the product. We brought back ingredients that they were using. We bought back the sugar that they used, the cocoa powder they were using, and we brought back some milk samples. Our objective was to identify in the milk what was causing spoilage… and how it was getting through their pasteurization,” said Newman, who was featured in her laboratory in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture. “This was not a food safety issue; it was strictly a quality issue.”

She eventually determined the cocoa had similar organisms as the spoiled milk. Then it was just a matter of trying to figure out how to get the cocoa heat-treated well enough during the pasteurization step to kill off the organism.

It turned out to be a relatively simple answer that stemmed from an “Aha!” type of moment on Newman’s part. But you’ll have to watch the show to find out more.

“Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” is in its second season and can be found on PBS affiliates nationally and internationally on the National Geographic Channel. Each season has more than 100 segments that are taped in locations around the globe.

In August, producer Travis Shakespeare was wrapping up two months on the road. In the year since the series began, he has produced 60 segments and traveled to such distant locations as Peru, France and the Far East. But when he and his cameraman come into town, they are on a very tight schedule, typically only shooting four or five hours of footage for a five-minute segment, “which on paper sounds like a lot, but in fact, it’s not,” he said. “We’re using a single camera to produce the look of a multiple camera shoot, so it’s a pretty rigorous production schedule.”

And it’s not a point-and-shoot type of production, because “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” has a particular high-end look to it that matches its parent magazine’s style.

“It’s not a cooking show, at all,” Shakespeare described the James Beard Award-winning series. “We focus on the top chefs, the top artisans, farming, sustainability, what real parmesan is. Its focus is on the depth of the food subject.”

Newman said that her day-and-a-half spent with the television crew was eye-opening, particularly the attention to detail that required take after take.

“The people were very nice and very artistic, and it was very interesting to watch their minds and their wheels go,” she said.

An upcoming episode titled, “The Inventors,” featuring UK horticulture professor and director of the College of Agriculture’s sustainable agriculture degree program Mark Williams, is not yet scheduled for airing. The segment with Williams focuses on his retrofitting of old farm equipment for a new organic farming system. “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays on KET2. Check local listings for complete details.

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