hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues December 2017-January 2018


Pub snacks with a purpose

New brand, Battenkill Bites, made by team of adults with disabilities


Scott and Cook are both baker/cooks for Battenkill Culinary Services, a team that includes adults with developmental disabilities. The group makes snack foods for area wineries and craft beer Joan K. Lentini photoKC Scott and Aaron Cook roll out dough to make pretzels in the commercial kitchen at the Cossayuna firehouse. Scott and Cook are both baker/cooks for Battenkill Culinary Services, a team that includes adults with developmental disabilities. The group makes snack foods for area wineries and craft beer makers. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


At 11:30 on a recent Friday morning, Ron Wilson, Aaron Cook, KC Scott and Jen Flory were gathered around the center island in the commercial kitchen at the Cossayuna Volunteer Fire Department, immersed in the art of making crackers.

Wielding rolling pins with Zen-like patience, they quietly rolled circles of dough to the proper thinness. Then their leaf-shaped cookie cutters descended on the pale orange dough for an imprint.

Finally, they placed the delicate pieces of fragrant cheddar dough onto parchment paper. In a few minutes, the raw cutouts would morph into cheddar-ale crackers.

“Make sure you don’t place the crackers near the edge of the baking pan, or they’ll burn,” Sue Quillio quietly reminded the group.

Quillio provides the gentle instructions and passionate inspiration needed to oversee Battenkill Culinary Services, which is a new food-producing division of Battenkill Community Services, the local nonprofit that has been serving adults with developmental disabilities and their families since 1999.

Battenkill Culinary Services employs people with and without disabilities in an integrated setting. In less than a year, its product line – marketed under the name Battenkill Bites – has grown to include handcrafted soft pretzels, spicy cheddar corn crackers, and cheddar-beer cheese dip.
Battenkill Culinary sells its products to area wineries and craft beer makers for their tasting rooms. Its other employees include Christine Cole, Thomas Grogan, MaryRose Kana, Stephanie Madison and Gwenne Rippon.

“We started pretzel production in July, and we’re in the flow with it now,” Quillio said. “We put Pandora on when we get here and groove away.”

Quillio said the operation has allowed its employees’ passion for creative food preparation to thrive, and some of the employees attested to that.

“I’ve always loved to cook,” Cook said as he laid an unbaked cracker on the tray in front of him. “Crackers are my favorite thing to make. … Fridays are a long day, but I love it.”

An opportunity to bake
Battenkill Community Services’ motto is “opportunities without walls.” Over nearly two decades, the organization has grown from a group day-habilitation program to offer day trips, weekend respite excursions and supported employment. The group encourages people with developmental disabilities to pursue passions and fulfill goals through programs that include hiking, swimming, gardening, and theater.

“There are service providers who offer memberships at various places in the community, such as the YMCA, the Schuylerville Garden Club, and Adirondack Productions and Theater Inc., where rehearsals are under way for their spring production,” Quillio explained. “Battenkill Culinary Services was conceived in order to continue to grow and provide increased opportunities.”
Quillio is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and for 16 years ran her own local business, Spoonful Kitchen & Catering, which specialized in locally sourced foods. Given her background, and with many of the people aided by Battenkill Community Services having expressed an interest in cooking, a culinary-based program seemed a natural next step.
Battenkill Community Services asked Quillio to oversee a seven-week series of cooking classes, which concluded with a sit-down lunch for 50 guests at the firehouse.

“I could see a love of cooking was already there, and some individuals already had skills and interests through BOCES’ two-year culinary program,” she recalled as she spritzed a tray of unbaked pretzels with water to keep the dough from drying out as they waited for their turn in the oven. “It was a significant piece in putting Battenkill Culinary Services together.”


Community, customer support
Since Battenkill Culinary Services got started earlier this year, people in the surrounding community have been quick to offer support, both in the form of facilities and sales.
The program uses the Cossayuna fire department’s kitchen on Fridays for a nominal fee. That helps the group meet a requirement of making food for public consumption: a commercial kitchen approved by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

“Fire Chief Pat Donahue and everyone here have been very gracious,” Quillio said. “And the firehouse is central to our deliveries.”

Quillio concluded that area wineries and breweries would be a perfect fit for the group’s products.
“Their tasting rooms had a need for quality snacks, and our products enhance the tasting experience,” she said. “And as New York state continues to support agriculture in this new way, we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”

All Battenkill Bites products are delivered fresh on Fridays to vendors from South Glens Falls to Troy. The supply is ostensibly enough to last the weekend, but the pretzels and crackers have proven so popular that that doesn’t always happen.

“Their soft pretzels go quickly at our tasting room; they’re definitely gone by Sunday,” said Chris Castrio, owner of Argyle Brewing Co. “I’m from Lancaster, Pa., the pretzel capital of the country, and consider myself a connoisseur. Battenkill Bites’ are fantastic. It’s nice for us, because our beer is in all their products.”

In the near future, as Battenkill Bites’ product lines continue to expand, Quillio said the group will be able to offer custom recipes using each brewery’s beer of their choice.

“It will be a value-added aspect to the product, making it quite unique,” she said.
In addition to locally brewed beer in its pretzels, crackers and dip, Battenkill Bites also uses Cabot cheddar cheese and Battenkill Creamery products for its cheddar-beer-cheese dip.


Pretzel production
The week for Battenkill Bites production begins on Tuesdays with preparation of the pretzel dough for fermentation. Employees mix the flour with beer from Argyle Brewing and Common Roots Brewing Co. of South Glens Falls.

“It’s equal parts liquid and flour for a 100-percent hydration, which helps develop the pretzel’s flavor, texture and shelf life,” Quillio explained.

She added that teaching the employees the art of dough wrangling has resulted in more than just added skill sets.

“We’ve learned a lot about one another,” Quillio said. “There are meditative qualities to working with dough and watching how it responds. Dough has a universal appeal -- the resiliency of it, and how it rises and rises and actually lives.”

The fermented dough is made on Thursday, refrigerated overnight, then brought out on Friday to bake into 3-ounce pretzels for area tasting rooms.

“The size of the pretzels fit the price point,” Quillio said. “We wanted to get our products out at a wholesale price so vendors could still make money.”

Quillio said all of the products go through a lengthy testing process before being made available for sale.

“It’s a labor of love to get it right,” she said. “We have to think about who’s eating the product and in what time frame. A lot of testing and tasting goes on before we introduce a product.”

She added that the collaborative process at Battenkill Bites involves all of the employees in a range of activities -- from testing to baking to the group lunches that they sit down to every Friday in the firehouse after all the work is finished. That makes for a bonded group of workers.
“Aaron specializes in shaping products, and he does it so well,” Quillio said. “Ron excels not only in baking, but he loves delivering the products and talking about them. And MaryRose is fantastic at cutting out crackers and laying them on the baking sheet in a way that they won’t burn.”
“This place is awesome to work for,” Wilson said after completing his final row of spicy cheddar crackers for the oven.

Quillio said she hopes Battenkill Culinary Services and Battenkill Bites will serve as a model for other communities to try something similar.

“It’s ideal for our community and for every community,” she said.
The group hopes to expand by offering its current products in retail markets and also create a line of prepared foods.

“We made our first delivery to Brown’s Brewing in North Hoosick,” Quillio said. “They’re using our crackers as garnish for their soups. They like to showcase locally produced foods on their menu, and we’re honored to be included.”

The door to expanded products and activities will open in January, when Battenkill Community Services is scheduled to move to larger headquarters with a full commercial kitchen.

“We’d also like to serve a meal a week for individuals at Battenkill Community Services, and having more of a dedicated space will allow that,” Quillio said. “Eventually we’d like to open our weekly meals to include members of the greater Greenwich community.”

But for now, there are pretzels to be baked for weekend deliveries.
“I love working with this group and working on our products,” Quillio said. “I’m all in, and I think we all feel the same way. Once you get excited about something, it becomes what you do.”

Visit www.BattenkillCulinary.org for information about applying for employment at Battenkill Culinary Services or to donate to the project.