Wednesday, March 22, 2017

JJ Farm in Hualien County

Various kinds of cattle, especially water buffalo, have long been a feature of Taiwan's countryside. Oxen were brought to the island in the 17th century by the Dutch, who controlled an area roughly equivalent to today's Greater Tainan. As recently as the 1970s, a good many Taiwanese farmers were still using ungulates to plough fields, turn millstones and pull carts. These animals also supplied manure, but few farming families drank milk, and because of a food taboo that still persists among some Taiwanese, even fewer ate beef.
Before the Japanese seized control of Taiwan in 1895, the only milk production was by the handful of Westerners living on the island. In 1870, British missionaries running a hospital in Tainan established a small dairy ranch so they and their patients could enjoy fresh milk. But the first large-scale operation was established in 1896 by the Japanese, who believed reliable supplies of milk were necessary to keep their soldiers healthy and to help the wounded recover their strength.
Since World War II, the Taiwanese diet has become more like North America's. People eat more bread and less rice, and milk is sold in every supermarket and convenience store. Most of the milk powder consumed in Taiwan is imported, but a lot of fresh milk comes from domestic producers, among them JJ Farm (吉蒸牧場), located very near the Xiuguluan River Rafting Service Centre in Hualien County's Ruisui Township (花蓮縣瑞穗鄉). JJ Farm, which produces over 5,000kg of milk each day, is open to the public seven days a week from 8 am to 5.30 pm. The farm has over 600 milk cattle, fed on local grass and manufactured feed imported from New Zealand. 
As you'd expect, JJ Farm pasteurizes the milk is sells directly to visitors and indirectly through supermarkets and department stores – but does it differently to most dairy companies. Rather than heat the milk at a high temperature for a very short time, it applies a lower temperature (65 degrees Celsius, which is why their milk products bear prominent '65C' logos) for a longer period. This, it's claimed, means more of the nutrients found in raw milk are retained. In my opinion, JJ Farm's milk has a delicious aroma and a fuller taste than most milks available in Taiwan.
The farm also sells milk cookies (unlike most brands of milk cookies, which are made with milk powder, they're made with fresh milk) and steamed milky buns. Anyone who loves dairy products will enjoy both. If you're hungrier, order a set meal (NTD150) or a milky hot pot (NTD280). There's also milk candy, ice cream and coffee; sit upstairs on the veranda for good views up and down the valley.
It's not possible to get very close to the dairy herd. The cattle spend most of their time under a shelter which protects them from both strong sunshine and rain; the building is equipped with huge fans for when the weather gets too warm for comfort. But if you've young kids in tow, be sure to take them to the farm's petting zoo, where there are ponies, goats, a peacock and evem a mountain boar. 

The easiest way to reach JJ Farm is to enter the grounds of the Xiuguluan River Rafting Service Centre, then turn right when you reach the riverbank. Keep going and you'll very soon see fibreglass cows and the two-floor restaurant/sales centre. Even if you're not much of a cyclist you'll have no problems getting here from central Ruisui on two wheels. 

If you simply want to enjoy a milky hot pot, there's no need to go to JJ Farm. Green Genie (綠精靈), which has various meal sets, all priced around NTD300, is less than 300m from Ruisui Railway Station at 52 Chenggong North Road. It's open 11 am to 9 pm daily, but takes a break from 2 pm to 5 pm on weekdays.
This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Eating sugarcane and buckleberries


Sitting down to a multi-course meal recently, this dish appeared in front of me. At first glance, I assumed the main ingredient was bamboo, but it turned out to be sugarcane. Harvested when still very short and soft, it was first boiled then added to a stir fry with slices of turnip, a few slivers of carrot, some chili and a generous amount of Chinese buckleberries (Cordia dichotoma). The buckleberries are the brown spheres about the size of peanuts. After cooking they're very soft, but contain a large pit (and thus little in the way of flesh). They're not at all sweet and tend to take on the flavours of the foods they're served with. 

Chinese buckleberries are hard to farm but often gathered from the wild. I've eaten them dozens of times over the past two decades, sometimes added to fried eggs or piled over a steamed fish. Most Taiwanese refer to them by their Taiwanese name, phoa-po-chi (破布子). Archaeological evidence indicates the Siraya indigenous people in what's now Greater Tainan were eating them regularly at least 600 years ago.