Tag Archives: farm

Grass Roots

GIVEAWAY ALERT!!! Read on to get all the details!

Grass Roots represents a nice, new and refreshing take on custom delivery meat boxes. They’re a farmers cooperative – meaning they’re a group of small, local, family-run farms who have pooled their products together in a sort of “virtual farmers market,” so to speak, where they sell their proteins. I know, I know… My more avid and beef-educated readers are pounding their fists into their desks in protest, shouting “but Johnny, you told us already that 97% of the 619,000 beef farms in this country are small, family owned operations with an average of 50 head of cattle!” True!

But here’s how Grass Roots is different: They’ve set themselves up as a very niche virtual farmers market, catering to the increasing market demand for grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and turkey, and forested pork. I only tried their beef (with the exception of the jowl bacon and deli ham), so I’ll speak directly to that for a moment.

While all beef is technically “grass-fed” (which can be a confusing turn of phrase), all of Grass Roots’ beef is 100% grass-FINISHED as well. That means no grains are in their diet. They also state on their website that their beef is GMO free, which would make sense, since no grass contains GMO that I know of. Grass Roots cattle are also never given antibiotics or growth hormones. One interesting thing I noticed is that when you order their ground beef, it is sourced from a single animal.

So Grass Roots contacted me and asked if I’d feature their products in exchange for a $100 credit to make my own box. I accepted! Here’s what I ordered:

Everything arrived vacuum sealed and frozen, packed in a really nice box that even contained a tote bag and some dry ice.

Here’s everything nicely labeled for you:

My order went over the $100 credit by about $12 or so, but I figured it was worth it to try everything that looked interesting to me. The first thing I cooked was their jowl bacon.

I loved it. It had a nice texture and a great flavor. Naturally, it went well with a cheeseburger.

But I did preserve the jowl fat for a later date, and even used some to fry up the onions for the top of the burger.

Waste nothing!

I threw the jowl bacon on some hot dogs too. Amazing. I split griddled them in some of that jowl fat first, as you might’ve imagined.

“Garnished with jowl bacon.”

I used some of that jowl fat to cook up a pair of their steaks too – a strip and a rib eye. I have to say, I was really impressed with the quality. If healthy, grass-finished lean beef is what you’re after, then this is definitely the place to get it.

I simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and seared these babies off in a pan with fresh garlic and rosemary.

Since the beef is lean and grass-finished, it cooks faster than usual, and you can go safely under, to somewhere between rare and medium rare.

I ate this with some wasabi, and it was perfect. I’m really looking forward to trying their sirloin, roasts, ribs, skirt and shanks. It’ll give me good reason to use my new Instant Pot.

Okay so the GIVEAWAY! Well, the giveaway is over now, but you can use code NEWYOU50 to get $50 off your first box!!!

And feel free to jump out to my Instagram post, like the photo, tag a friend in the comments, and follow both me and @GrassRootsCoop on Instagram!

Trowbridge Farms

It’s 1:00 am. It’s bitter cold outside, early December. Phil Trowbridge is making his first of three rounds throughout the night to check on his animals. He’ll do the same at 3:00 am, and then at 5:00 am, before even starting the day. It’s harsh, but it always has to be done, every day, even on Christmas.

He hears and sees one of the cows struggling. She’s panicked. When he gets close he knows his long work day is going to be even longer. Her entire reproductive system has prolapsed, and if he doesn’t act quickly, she’ll die.

Phil’s son PJ is with him helping, as he’s done all his life. They live just a stones throw away now that a neighbor sold his house to PJ. They run the farm together.

They get the cow into the chute and place her prolapsed uterus onto a makeshift table that Phil created on the fly, using a stretched feed bag. They raise a bar up under her to keep her from shifting, moving, and making an already dire situation even worse.

The climate in the Hudson Valley can be wet and icy. Her front legs slip forward while her back legs remain propped up from the bar. She tips forward. Now things could get really bad.

But it’s a happy accident. She can’t move, and her body is angled in such a way that it’s perfect for getting her insides back in place. Phil ties her front legs and pulls them forward, keeping her at that angle, while PJ – hands and arms numb with cold in the frigid, dark December air – puts their cow back together again.

RELATED: JOHNNY PRIME’S ONLINE BUTCHER SHOP

After spending a day with Phil and breaking bread with his family over dinner, I asked him and his son to tell me the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their profession. Phil told me that story, and it exemplifies both challenge and reward together in one grueling morning.

Phil has had to deal with maybe three prolapses in his decades of experience working with cattle, but he knows how to address the problem. In fact, he knows how to fix so much of what can go wrong on the farm, that if his veterinarians get a call, they’re truly worried.

I asked Phil and his son what the hardest part of their job is. Both he and PJ were modest: They told me it wasn’t a hard job, but I know I wouldn’t last a week doing what they do, day in and day out. Given the daily farm work on top of everything else they do, no one is ever idle.

While many things may come easy to Phil and PJ with their collective wealth of experience, there are still some things with which they have trouble.

Phil told me that losing an animal is hard. When that happens, it stays with him. His heart breaks. The roughly 400 animals in his care are like children to him. He checks on them all day, grows and mixes their food, feeds them, cleans them, monitors their health and keeps them healthy, delivers their babies… That’s respect. That’s love.

And from what I’ve seen it’s not just Phil; it’s all cattlemen who are worth a damn in this business. You don’t step into this lifestyle without respect and love for the animals. That’s something the average person doesn’t understand about our cattlemen.

Phil in front of his lab, which is part of an old dairy barn that he uses for housing donor cows and where mature cows are calved.

Phil runs Trowbridge Farms – a patchwork of pastures, farms and barns that spans 1700 acres in Ghent, NY, about two hours North of Manhattan by train/car on the east side of the Hudson River.

Phil’s home can be seen on the right in this panoramic view of his property, shot from inside the first barn he purchased here in Ghent.

Phil is originally from Buffalo, so this area may as well be Florida to him. When he first arrived here decades ago, he was surprised that cattle could even feed on pasture.

You may be thinking something like, “How the hell can someone run cattle in New York, where taxes and land costs are so high?” And that’s an excellent question.

The majority of land Phil works and uses is not his own. Rather, he rents and leases land from homeowners who are weekenders and summer vacationers from New York City. They own second homes, but allow Phil to raise feed crops and grasses there, and to graze his animals on the land, in exchange for rent or barter.

When Phil drives his truck from one barn or pasture to another, he never uses the land owners’ driveways even though they offer access and faster ingress and egress. He endeavors to be invisible to them, non-intrusive on their property, and respectful of their privacy.

Because of this system, Phil can probably raise cattle cheaper than most places in the country. The relationships are mutually beneficial: Phil maintains the land, and the homeowners can sit back and earn additional income.

Cows graze on each pasture for about three weeks, with about 30-40 cows through each field.

The soil here is everything. Across the Hudson, the earth is like clay, and therefore it’s harder to raise crops. Here, it’s more gravely and easier to work with. Phil couldn’t have this kind of productive operation if he didn’t understand the soil and how it affects plant makeup. In fact, there is pressure from dairy farms to get this better land for the alfalfa.

“Why?” For their feed.

Alfalfa is a high production, high nutrient legume plant that Phil uses in his cattle feed.

Alfalfa field.

He takes three or four cuttings, and when I visited on July 2nd, he had already taken the first cutting. With his bromegrass and Timothy-grass farms, he only gets two cuttings. He also grows oats and corn as well, and makes his own hay and baleage.

Phil uses GPS when planting his corn so that he can utilize the most land possible. The systems even tell him how much fertilizer and spray he needs. But here in the northeast, deer are a big problem because they can decimate acres of corn crops.

Baleage, or silage, is a fermented feed that helps cattle in their digestion process. It also keeps longer without spoiling. That combination makes for an economically viable and nutritionally beneficial feed solution.

Dry hay in rolled bales positioned close to the Winter pastures and barns for easy access. Phil’s animals can eat 40-60 lbs of hay per day in Winter, with the range varying on how cold it is. The colder it is, the more calories the animals burn staying warm. As such, they need to eat more to keep growing. But something as simple as providing bedding piles in the pastures can help the animals retain warmth, saving Phil 10 lbs of feed a day for each animal. They eat half as much in the Summer months.
Feeding the animals in covered barns or blacktop corrals also helps Phil conserve feed and keep the animals warm in Winter months. In Summer, the corrals are outfitted with fans and provide shade from the sun. Fly management is also important in the warm months. Excessive head shaking or tail switch swatting burn lots of cattle calories, requiring more feed for growth.

To make baleage Phil uses a vertical grinder and mixer first, to break up the feed crops. Then he covers it with tarp and weighs it down with specially cut tires that won’t collect water and draw mosquitoes. This allows the fermentation to occur and turn the crops into cattle feed.

Phil’s vertical grinder and baleage tarp. Equipment is Phil’s biggest cost at the farm. But this expensive vertical grinder was worth it, as it acts like a blender to mix up precise amounts of grasses with exacting percentages of nutrients that are evenly distributed throughout the feed.
Phil has to project how much feed he will need for the Winter so that his animals don’t go hungry, and he must pay close attention to weather patterns to avoid having his baleage spoil.

While Phil grows and makes most of his own feed, he does buy some corn because it’s cheap. He also works with local distillers to get fermented corn mash byproduct, which is similar to baleage in its digestive benefits. It’s also a great way to reduce commercial waste and make good use of stuff that is otherwise discarded.

This is dinner at the barn where show animals are being cleaned up and readied for county fairs and other competitions. It’s a mix of cotton seed hulls, beet pulp shreds, soybeans and steam flake corn.
Phil’s granddaughter cleans one of the animals that will be shown at a fair.

Cows love grain and alfalfa because they’re sweet. Alfalfa can be so rich, nutrient-wise, that at times Phil has to cut his feed with more fiber so that the cows don’t get too heavy.

Alfalfa feed. The leaves contain the majority of the proteins and energy.

“Why? Don’t we want big, heavy animals in the beef industry for price-per-weight values?”

It depends. In his sector of the business, Phil is primarily concerned with producing bulls and calves of good breeding stock and genetics, not to get them up to a high market weight for later eating, like what you often see at feed yards in the Midwest.

Like people, some animals grow differently than others. Phil adjusts the feed for each animal depending on the traits they exhibit.

Phil ultimately wants comfortable females for breeding, and energetic, virile bulls for seeding. So, nutrient-wise, Phil takes different things into account because his end product is a much different animal, produced with a different purpose, than those produced in other sectors of the business: Phil’s animals are for breeding, while the others are for eating.

Speaking of Phil’s business, let me segue into more of what he does.

A dirt road through the pastures.

Trowbridge Farms is a seed stock operation, which means that Phil produces bulls that are eventually purchased by cow-calf farms. Since I know that you readers are at a remedial level when it comes to farm terminology, I’ll explain what this all means:

Bulls are intact males that can reproduce (steers are castrated, and can not reproduce). A cow-calf farm is a place where a permanent herd of cows gets pregnant and gives birth to calves, which are later sold.

Phil lets the calves out of the barn so they can go graze in the pasture with the other cows.

Grazing Herefords.

Just prior to my visit, Phil had completed his annual bull sale. He averaged about $3,975 per head. That’s pretty fantastic, considering that his closest competition was bringing in half of that amount.

Phil hosts a yearly heifer sale (female cattle that have never been pregnant) and a calf sale as well. In addition he engages in many sales outside of his annual events.

Something that caught my eye in an antique shop in nearby Hudson. Perhaps from Phil’s farm?

Phil also sells frozen bull semen and embryos with the use of vapor shippers. Cows can give birth about 10-12 times, on average, in their lifetime, before pregnancy becomes stressful on their body. But with embryonic science in play at Phil’s lab, he can get hundreds of fertilized eggs from his cows, freeze them, and use or sell them later. Given this aspect of the business, some of his cows have produced 500-600 offspring.

Almost all of Phil’s cows are surrogate mothers that were transplanted with embryos.

All information needed to identify the parents is printed on the frozen embryo tube. Meticulous records are kept, both before and after pregnancy.

Timing is important when it comes to the cows. He schedules things around their super ovulation. First, CIDR (controlled internal drug release) devices are vaginally implanted  – they’re like giant IUDs. This makes the cows think they’re ovulating, which allows him to synchronize all of their reproductive systems.

They get a follicle stimulation hormone, which produces lots of eggs. He then artificially inseminates them to fertilize the eggs with his bull semen, thereby creating embryos. The embryos are then flushed out and used or sold.

A chute in the calving barn behind the lab, which Temple Grandin helped Phil to correct in order to obtain better results with his animals. She knew it needed an angle change within 10 seconds of looking at Phil’s drawing.

The process is just as intensive as human in vitro science. Phil’s daughter is an in vitro nurse and actually knows more than most doctors she works with, because she’s been doing this with cows for about 30 years.

In Phil’s operation, the bulls never touch a cow’s cervix. He usually puts embryos into cows fresh, as opposed to thawed from frozen, to increase the conception rate (15%-20% higher).

He sells a lot of frozen product to Argentina; about 40,000 units. But he makes more money from his US sales. This one bull, named Powder River, is like a legend around the farm. He’s spoiled and lazy, but he generates tons of product even at an old age – almost quadruple what other bulls can produce.

Powder River kicking up some dirt.

The frozen semen and embryos are stored in tubes or straws, and placed into liquid nitrogen holding tanks. In the event that Phil identifies a genetic abnormality, he will separate and retain the samples because many universities have expressed interest in studying them.

A frozen semen tube smokes as it makes contact with the humid Summer air. It has to be thawed at the correct temperature with a special device before it can be inserted into a cow.

Phil’s customers are buying bulls, bull semen and embryos because they want specific genes to be expressed in their herds, and they know that Phil’s bulls produce some of the most desirable characteristics and embody superior genetics.

Customers look at these purchases as investments, like buying stocks. When they come to Phil, they usually don’t leave without buying.

Most of Phil’s animals are Angus. He has a few Hereford and cross breeds in the mix, but people know him for his superior quality Angus. Hereford cattle are notorious for suffering from pink eye in the summer months, so Phil has endeavored to breed his Hereford to have different eye traits so that his are less prone to pink eye.

One of Phil’s Hereford bulls.
A white face and black body is generally the expressed phenotype for a cross breed.

He has blood tests performed on every animal at a cost of about $50 a pop. Two drops of blood are taken and sent out to a lab.

Phil’s 126th college intern, Natalie, draws blood for DNA and genomic marker testing. Phil generally takes on three interns each year, and has been doing so since the 1980’s. They get hands-on experience that classrooms and books can’t provide, and these desirable internships often get filled by our nations best and brightest animal science and agriculture students from top schools all over the country. Phil recognizes passion and is a great judge of potential. He’s motivated many hardworking students and aided them in finding their direction. He even helped some obtain scholarships.

These tests assess 50,000 different genomic markers that express traits related to things like parentage, marbling, tenderness, udder structure, temperament, body build and residual feed intake, among others. In addition to testing for these traits, the DNA samples are also used for parent verification.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, only 2,500 markers were tested. Now the tests assess up to 50,000.

“So what does the average day look like for Phil?”

Well, like most farms, Trowbridge is a family affair. Phil’s wife Annie does the books in the morning before heading to the hospital, where she’s a nurse on the surgical floor.

Phil’s son PJ is vital at the farm. He holds a degree in animal science from SUNY Cobleskill, and is the farm mechanic for all of the equipment.

Phil is usually up by 6:00 am, feeding and checking on the animals, and, thereafter, making hay in the Spring and Summer.

In Winter, he gets up an hour earlier to check on the cows. He recently installed video equipment in the barns so that he doesn’t always need to check on the cows several times overnight to see if they’re calving.

A barn with a blacktop corral where heifers are calved. A circular pen is nearby, where Phil photographs his bulls for bull sale pamphlets and for posting to his website.

Calving is done twice a year: In early winter (January, February and March), and in the Fall. Calving in January means he can cut nine months of the process in working with bulls. Phil is focused on both human and animal safety, and bulls can fight each other and tear stuff up. He likes to sell them off before they turn two years old, because the older they get, the harder they are to manage.

The inside of a calving barn that also houses donor cows, adjacent to Phil’s lab. Phil uses red mulch here that he gets from local farmers. Red mulch is more absorbent and comfortable for his calves. Phil barters for it in exchange for manure that he scrapes off his blacktop corrals.

Right now Phil is playing host to 4H kids for the Summer. They’re learning about cattle, hogs and lambs. The kids pick the animals themselves; they’re purchased on loan and then sold in September.

The kids learn how to take care of the animals, they keep track of feed and vaccinations with spreadsheets, and they show the animals at the county fair.

Many cattlemen work second jobs and perform odd tasks like this in their community. In addition to hosting 4H kids, Phil was the president of the NY Beef Council (which sponsored my tour here), he helped develop the new Veterinary Feed Directive laws that just went into effect, he runs a college internship program, and he goes on speaking tours for the industry. His son PJ has a tow truck gig at night, and he does some construction work for a friend in Albany when needed.

As if all of that isn’t enough, the Trowbridges also have to be vigilant of trespassing. A few months back, someone broke into the donor cow and calf barn behind the lab, took a bunch of video, and posted it online. Fortunately the guerrilla “coverage” was very positive in nature, but someone could have gotten hurt. And now sheriffs have been coming around, warning Phil that kids are stealing some of the ice packs used in shipping to make meth. Crazy.

Needless to say, no one is ever bored at Trowbridge Farms. But no one is resting on their laurels either. Phil wants to pass the farm on to his children, and beyond to his grandchildren.

He purchased his first barn there 25 years ago when it was a brush pile. He built it up and installed all the fencing little by little at night after spending his day working at a nearby farm. Since then his operation has become scientifically cutting edge and well respected in the community. Articles have been written in trade magazines attesting to Trowbridge’s advances in the field.

Not only is Phil’s farm economically productive and a benefit to both the industry and the community, but Phil is ecologically responsible and an excellent steward of the land.

Phil builds lasting relationships with everyone he encounters on a regular basis. I had the pleasure of hearing a message that someone left on Phil’s voicemail, thanking him for all he does in the area. The people of Ghent respect what he does, and he respects the people of Ghent. He even throws a hot dog and hamburger cookout for the locals each year that draws hundreds.

When Phil was driving me around the community, he pointed out some of the other business that came and went. Old chicken farms, welding shops, mechanic shops, well drillers, orchards, artist warehouse studios, craft breweries… And even some newcomers like grass finished, no antibiotics beef producers.

Some of these folks will allow their animals to die because they refuse to treat their cattle with antibiotics. Phil understands and respects the “no antibiotics” niche markets that have developed, but he’s also a big believer in medicine and cares for the animals too much to let one die when an illness is perfectly treatable.

His words: “If that doesn’t bother you, then there’s something not right.” In my opinion, this kind of attitude is absolutely necessary in order to work with animals to any measure of lasting success. Phil is by no means one of a kind within the beef industry when it comes to this outlook on animals, but that’s no slight to him. His work is demonstrative of how great the practitioners of this business are at its core. He’s exemplary, and exemplary is common in this business. That’s a good thing.

But Phil’s love for the animals he works with is instantly revealed to all the moment he encounters them. They’re calm in his presence, and very trusting of him and other people – even strangers like me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The Trowbridge family name is celebrating 60 years in the cattle business this year. I’m very happy to have met Phil and his family, and I’m honored to put a spotlight on them for my readers.

The Beef Checkoff

In my effort to educate you dingbats about all-things-beef, I figured this would be a nice little primer on what’s going on in the industry around the Beef Checkoff Program.

In 1985, the Food Security Act, aka the “Farm Bill,” established something called the Beef Checkoff Program. The program, which later became mandatory in 1988, takes $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable grab on imported beef and beef products.

The Beef Checkoff logo, which you will see on all things that the program funds.

The dough is collected by state beef councils, which retain up to half the amount collected. The state councils give the other half to the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, which oversees the national checkoff program, subject to USDA review.

There are 100 members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. They’re nominated by fellow beef producers and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, and they represent all segments of the beef industry.

Beef Checkoff was designed to get people to sell more beef and motivate consumers to buy more beef. This is accomplished through advertising, marketing partnerships, public relations, education, research and new-product development. The Beef Act defines six program categories: (1) promotion, (2) research, (3) consumer information, (4) industry information, (5) foreign marketing, and (6) producer communications.

You may have heard the slogan “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” somewhere in your travels. That’s just one example of their success.

But fear not! By law, checkoff funds can’t be used to promote breeds or brands without USDA and Beef Board Executive Committee approval. Furthermore, checkoff funds can’t be used to influence government policy or action (including lobbying). The law also disallows checkoff money to be invested in production research that isn’t aimed at improving beef products.

The main goal of the program is to increase commodity demand, and thus increase economic growth in the industry. Most beef and dairy producers believe that their beef checkoff dollars bring value back to them. Many of my posts are a result of beef checkoff funding, actually. The MBA and Top of the Class programs in which I participated were funded by the checkoff. Do you think that money went to good use? I do!

Should the funding ever increase (to more than $1 per head, for example) the checkoff may consider putting the “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” message back on TV, stepping up consumer education, or increasing foreign market development.

Charcuterie Masters 2017

You animals may have seen my post about Charcuterie Masters a week or two ago. If not, go read some more about it at that link I just dropped. This post is dedicated to the incredible shit we tried at the 2017 event.

Jacuterie was showing off some incredible dried salami with regional flavoring inspirations:

Elevation got my chip for the vote though. These flavors were amazing, and every chub was worth buying.

Black truffle.

Chorizo.

Barley wine.

Breakfast (maple whisky).

Fennel:

Black pepper:

Sour ale:

Chocolate stout mole:

I also tried some pastrami flavored BBQ short rib, which was sickeningly delicious. Unbelievable.

Smoking Goose came through with some incredible game-based meats. Terrines, head cheese, you name it – all great.

Yeah you are reading that correctly – lamb soppressata.

The rabbit and pork cheek terrine was my favorite.

They had some “rust belt” salami too.

On the subject of head cheese, Dickson was on point as well:

That was a duck mortadella (round one) and the pretty one had lots of duck tongue in it.

The garlic sausage from Heather Ridge Farm was a nice bite, but their root beer syrup concentrate stole the show.

Gaseiro e Bom had 5-year aged prosciutto for $800 a pound. Or you could just eat the free samples all night, like I did.

Ends Meat had some great items. In addition to the pork they even had a little beef salumi as well.

They had a nice nduja too.

I enjoyed the pate a lot at the Trois Petits Cochons table.

I signed up for a chance to win 50lbs of bacon from Ribs Within:

Refreshments – I liked the “kinda dry” one better than the bone dry.

Smoke Show was apparently smoking a whole hog on the premesis. I knew something was up when I saw the sign and cleaver.

We heard something was going on out back, so we investigated. Turns out that Smoke Show really did put on a show:

The chopping block:

Some #SaltBae action:

And some hardcore FoodPourn:

I took some video of the chopping process, and I got upset when a little bit spilled out of the pan:

There was also some smoked alpaca from the people that run Duck’s Eatery and Harry & Ida’s:

Oh and then there was this whole room full of amazing sliced meats, pickles and pretzels with mustard. I was honestly too overwhelmed by it all. Where do I even begin?

That about does it. If you missed it, next year, make sure you go.

Charcuterie Masters

Check this out: I just got press access to this amazing event coming to Flushing Town Hall on February 25th. It’s called Charcuterie Masters, and it’s being hosted by NY Epicurian Events Inc.

They are a Catskill Mountains-based producer of premiere farm-to-table food and wine festivals and educational programs. They pair the agricultural bounty (including grass-fed beef, organic produce, artisan cheeses, smoked fish, and wines from the region’s lush mountain valleys and fresh water streams) with New York City’s most innovative chefs and the culinary community.

Their goals include creating jobs, driving economic development by assisting family farmers and local artisans, and fostering culinary and agricultural tourism in the Catskill-Delaware New York City Watershed. This exposes everyone – from chefs to culinary professionals to foodies to gourmets – to delicious, fresh, sustainable and healthful foods.

From the ticketing page:

NY Epicurean Events & AgriForaging Food Safety – in collaboration with The Meat Market, Fire Roasted Catering, the Cheese & Dairy Society of NYS and The Salt Cured Pig – are proud to present the 2nd Annual Charcuterie Masters competition to be held at historic Flushing Town Hall on February 25, 2017.

Charcuterie Masters is the first ever competition of its kind and brings together more than 20 professional and amateur makers of artisanal charcuterie from across the U.S and Canada, including Rodrigo Duarte (Caseiro E Bom, Newark, N.J.); John Harkness (Prime Meats, Brooklyn, N.Y.); Chad Nelan (Elevation Charcuterie & Artisan Meats, Denver); Stewart Taylor (Babelfish Bistro, Guelph, Ontario, Canada); and Giuseppe Viterale (Ornella Trattoria, Astoria, N.Y.).

Charcuterie Masters 2017 is so much more than a national competition, it’s a celebration of Meaty Times where guests will be able to sample exquisite cured meats and salumi — including hams, bacons, pates, sausages and much more.

Participating chefs for Charcuterie Masters 2017 are:

  • Hugue Dufour (M. Wells Steakhouse)
  • Will Horowitz (Ducks Eatery, Harry & Ida’s Meat and Supply Co.)
  • Pitmaster Josh Bowen (John Brown Smokehouse)
  • Alfonso Zhicay (Casa del Chef Bistro)

Guests will have an opportunity to savor charcuterie, learn from the makers as well participate in a people’s choice vote of the ‘best-of-the-evening’ charcuterie. Pairings will include top-rated wines, craft beers, and farmstead ciders. Guests will also have the opportunity to purchase charcuterie directly at the event.

A $60 general admission ticket entitles guests to explore unlimited tasting and sampling of all food and beverages.

Additionally, there will be $100 VIP tickets sold, which will allow access to a special hour from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. enabling VIP guests to enjoy early access to the entire festival.

Maybe I’ll see some of you meat maniacs there!!!

Sustainability in the US Beef Industry

I hesitate to even use the word “industry” when talking about beef in the USA. Perhaps “Sustainability in US Beef Production” is a better title for this post. “Industry” makes people think of the “factory farming” bullshit myth, which I already debunked HERE.

In any case, Happy New Year!!! As usual, this post is designed to do away with yet another set of myths about US beef. Apparently some false ideas have spread that beef production in America is vicious to the environment, emits far too many “greenhouse gases,” is responsible for “global warming” (or whatever people call it these days), is wasteful, and is generally not a sustainable practice. Lies. Every one of them.

Grazing

Grasslands involved in beef production account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of grassland in the US is actually not suitable for crop farming due to soil characteristics, topography or rainfall. Cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land, and it even helps prevent wildfires. Also, cattle can eat shit that almost nothing else can. Bovine digestive systems are made to convert inedible plants into protein that we can eat.

DSC04663

That’s all wonderful, and you may have read a little about that on here before. But what I’m going to do now is introduce you to the concept of “diversified farming” practices.

Diversified Farming

What the fuck is a diversified farm? Essentially it’s when a farm produces a variety of crops or animals, usually both, with the crops feeding the animals that they raise, in an effort to create a self-sustained farm with little waste or reliance upon other operations.

You may recall that Walbridge Farm is like this as well, where they grow sunflowers and raise cattle. The sunflowers are used to produce cold pressed sunflower oil, which they sell at their market.

DSC04744

The hulls, shells and ground up sunflower byproduct from that oil-making process is then used to create cattle feed. Pretty brilliant, if you ask me. Not only is this a good idea from a business standpoint, since you are becoming more self-reliant and utilizing more of what you make, but it is also responsible environmental stewardship.

Speaking of environmental stewardship, many diversified farm operations also catch water runoff from their feed yards to be processed and rendered inert before being reclaimed by the land. In fact, water management is an area of the industry that has seen great improvement in recent years. In addition, almost all diversified farms collect cow dung as well, which is then used as fertilizer for their crops. Even waste is not wasted!

But aside from diversified farming efforts, cattle are natural recyclers. They kick so much ass at recycling that you can literally feed them the waste from other industries.

Recycling

Do you enjoy bourbon? Of course you do, because you’re a man with balls and a dick swinging between your legs. You’re a red-blooded fucking American, and nothing is more American than bourbon, except for maybe jazz or steak. Do you know how bourbon is made? With corn! Good: You’re not an idiot. Corn mash, to be more accurate. That gets fermented and turned into booze. But what happens with the mash after the fermentation and distillation process? You guessed it: it often gets turned into cattle feed.

You all know how much I love Martin’s Potato Buns, right? The reason I love them so much is because their buns are always fresh, supple and soft; perfect for constructing a burger. I recently learned why that is the case. They pull their bread from shelves a little earlier than most, to ensure freshness to the consumer. Know what they do with the buns after they get pulled from the shelves? Rather than going to the garbage heap, they get re-purposed and turned into cattle feed.

That’s just two examples of other industries and businesses that contribute their unused byproducts to the beef production cycle, thereby reducing and re-purposing waste. The ethanol fuel industry is another big one, but many others contribute as well.

Greenhouse Gases

So what about greenhouse gases? We’ve all heard how cow farts are supposedly destroying the planet, right? Come on…

According to numbers from the EPA, cattle production is not even a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s some recent data:

  • Agriculture: 6.9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock: 3.1% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Livestock Methane: 2.8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Beef Cattle Methane: 1.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

What about other industries?

  • Electricity Generation: 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Transportation: 26% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Industrial Use: 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Residential/Commercial: 8% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s really pretty simple though: Cattle are not the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And as far as the US is concerned, we do a pretty damn good job at containing the impact that beef production has on the environment. The US is actually one of the most efficient nations in terms of lowering greenhouse gases and environmental concerns that stem from beef production. Click the image below to see a larger version:

water-2-fal-2015
From www.beefissuesquarterly.com

Still Improving

Furthermore, a “Lifecycle Assessment” of the beef industry was recently conducted. What that means is that everything and anything that touches the production cycle was examined. Use of farm equipment, water, machines, everything – not just the cattle themselves or the land use.

Take a look at this nifty graphic that encapsulates the findings of the life cycle assessment (click for a larger version):

From www.beefresearch.org/
From www.beefresearch.org

It turns out that the beef production cycle scored much better than car emissions from the auto industry. Why mention emissions and the auto industry? Because they promoted a poor emissions study and leveled some wild accusations at the beef industry.

Better still: the emissions study didn’t focus on the entire auto industry lifecycle in the way that the beef study did. Had they conducted a full lifecycle study, they would have had to include assessments of things like power plants and such. Once those things are factored in, the beef industry becomes squeaky clean in a direct comparison with the auto industry in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information about the improvements made in the beef production lifecycle, go HERE.

Niche Market Beef

A lot of hulabaloo has been going on around the discussion of grain finished vs grass finished beef. People seem to think that grass finished beef is somehow more natural and environmentally friendly. Yet we know it takes about 226 more days for grass-finished cattle to reach market weight than grain-finished cattle. More days on grass may mean greater environmental impact.

Let’s look at the difference. Each pound of grain-finished beef requires:

  • 45 percent less land;
  • 76 percent less water; and
  • 49 percent less feed;

And generates:

  • 51 percent less manure; and
  • 42 percent fewer carbon emissions.

So it would seem to me that grain finishing is more environmentally sound. For more on that, click HERE.

Meatless Monday

Just the idea of it makes me cringe. What would possess someone to avoid meat just because of alliteration? Why not increase beef intake and call it Meaty Monday? Because some fool out there thought it would be healthy and better for the environment to cut meat from your diet just one day a week. Were they right? Of course not. Let’s examine the idea:

First, we know that beef is nutritious and a vital part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Refresh yourself with my post, if you must.

As for the environment, “Meatless Monday” would have a very small impact even if every American followed it. One meatless day per week would account for less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint. For more on that, check out THIS LINK.

Nose to Tail

Are we, as a society, wasting any part of the animal? Not really.

First, you’ve all noticed some of the shit I’ve been eating lately at fine dining establishments: Oxtail stew, blood sausage, bone marrow, tripe, and all sorts of offal or “variety meats.”

bone marrow with fried oyster
bone marrow with fried oyster

There is a readily identifiable trend in the food biz where chefs want to use the entire animal, from nose to tail, to reduce waste and elevate their cuisine by offering on their menus the proteins that used to be relegated to the impoverished.

takashi 3 012 edits

Offal and “variety cuts” were always cheap and within the budgets of the poor, especially outside of the US. You know what I’m talking about: stews, cured meats, slow and low cooked meals, etc. Now, restaurants are taking inspiration from some of those humble dishes and featuring them on their menus.

Beef Byproducts

But even outside of human consumption, the carcass is utilized across a wide spectrum of modern society. Take a look at this diagram, courtesy of Facts About Beef:

cow-in-my-marshmallow-48x24_page_1

Another from BeefUSA:

I also liked this one from Snopes, mainly for the conclusion at the bottom of the image:

wp-1482350032402.jpg

I haven’t independently verified all uses claimed on the Snopes chart, but the Facts About Beef chart is 100% legit and it looks like whoever made the Snopes pic just grabbed the same list from the BeefUSA graphic. The overall point is that beef byproducts are in a lot of things we use every day. It’s not like we just kill cows, cut the meat off and fling the carcass into a ditch on the side of the road. There’s really no waste.

Wrap Up

I guess I should cut this baby off here. There’s a lot to talk about as far as sustainability is concerned, and if I tried to tackle everything, this would be a book as opposed to an article.

Just remember that America’s cattle ranchers have a vested interest in sustainable environmental practices. After all, the beef community thrives on multi-generational family farms. Cattle farmers have an average of 13 different practices in place to accomplish environmental goals.

Meet Your Meat: Anne Burkholder

What’s this? A new kind of post? Why, yes, it is!

Meet Your Meat posts are a new way for me to introduce my readers to the people responsible for raising and producing our food. Farmers, ranchers, processors, butchers, etc. You get enough chef info in my restaurant reviews, but it’s high time that I start focusing on the people who actually supply restaurants with their delicious beef proteins.

I recently attended “Top of the Class” beef advocacy training at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver, Colorado. I’ve blogged about the Masters in Beef Advocacy courses that I took a while back, and Top of the Class is like the PhD level for that training.

That experience is the subject of a whole other post, so I won’t get too deep into it here, but the point in mentioning it is to anchor your understanding of why I’m choosing Anne Burkholder to be the first person that I spotlight in this new “Meet Your Meat” endeavor. Anne was an instructor at the Top of the Class, and over the course of the two day training program, I got to know her and was inspired to write about her journey.

https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/
https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/

Since I and most of my readers are from the NYC metro area, many of us don’t know a lot about farming, or we take it for granted. Most of us are probably still in the dark about what it takes to bring beef to our plates every week. We just don’t get exposed to the process often enough.

Anne represents all of us urbanites and suburbanites. She grew up in urban Palm Beach County, Florida. While anything “Florida” may sound like a sprawling paradise to us NYC folks, urban Palm Beach is certainly not a farming community; it’s a city!

Smart as a whip and with incredible athletic pedigrees in both cross country running and swimming, Anne attended an ivy league college. She met her husband Matt there, and they later moved back to Matt’s home town in Nebraska.

Matt’s family owned and operated a diversified farm business. What is a diversified farm? Essentially it’s when a farm produces a variety of crops or animals, usually both, with the crops feeding the animals that they raise, in an effort to create a self-sustained farm with little waste or reliance upon other operations. You may recall that Walbridge Farm is like this as well, where they grow sunflowers and raise cattle, with the sunflowers being used to produce both sunflower oil and cattle feed.

Okay so back to Anne. Soon after graduating cum laude at Dartmouth, she was putting on boots and blue jeans to work at her and her husband’s cattle feed yard, Will Feed, Inc. This is where cattle get fattened up, so to speak, before going off to market. Check out this short video that explains what she does:

See how much space these animals have? Just goes to show you how bogus those myths are about “factory farming.” But anyway, I digress…

Nearly 20 years have passed since Anne moved out to the country, and she still loves what she does. Apparently the beef community loves what she does as well:

In 2009, she was awarded the Beef Quality Assurance Producer of the Year Award for her volunteer work in beef farmer education concerning animal welfare and food safety. In 2013 she was voted to Vance Publishing’s 40 under 40 in Agriculture, and in 2014 she was awarded Beef Magazine’s Trail Blazer Award. Both awards were given for her work in consumer outreach through her blog, Feed Yard Foodie.

She’s a member of the Tyson Fresh Meats Animal Well-being Committee for Farm Check, the National Beef Quality Assurance Advisory Committee, a Director of the Nebraska State Beef Council, and an avid advocate for the cattle industry. She’s constantly and actively improving cattle welfare and beef safety. She is an irreplaceable asset.

The best part is that Anne’s operation is a family farm, and she loves the personal responsibility that her three daughters learn from taking care of their land and animals. So not only is Anne working to improve all-things-beefy, but she is setting a great example so that the next generation can do so as well.

wp-1481043934731.jpg

In addition to running cattle on grass in the spring and summer, Anne is soon to start a new job with Beef Marketing Group and Innovative Livestock Services. Her role will be in communications, and she will also be helping take on various animal welfare projects for four Nebraska feed yards. She’s looking forward to implementing her animal care ideas to impact a larger number of animals.

I encourage you all to follow her blog and check out her insightful posts. She’s a wonderful person and an inspiration.

Walbridge Farm Tour

My wife found this awesome series of “Meat Your Beef” / “Farm to Fork” tours that the New York Beef Council (@newyorkbeefcouncil) hosts at various local farms in the area. The national outfit is known by the popular moniker: “Beef; It’s What’s for Dinner,” with the accompanying website as well. I sometimes link to their butchery videos here, actually. It is an extremely helpful organization!

So the closest farm tour to NYC that they set up was in Millbrook, at a place called Walbridge Farm (@walbridgefarmmarket). Millbrook is a rural community in the heart of the Hudson Valley, just about two hours north of NYC. Walbridge Farm is an Angus beef farm.

The best part about this, aside from the wealth of knowledge we come away with, is the fact that these tours are completely FREE and we were even treated to a steak lunch. I was sold on “free beef farm tour,” but “free steak” was icing on the cake. We immediately RSVP’d and rented a car for the day, and Jeff from Foodmento and his wife Victoria came with us.

So we pulled off the Taconic to a nice country road that was dotted with awesome creepy and abandoned structures. I have a soft spot for these in my photography, so I snapped a bunch of shots. We were about 30 minutes early for the tour anyway.

First was this banged up looking shed at a Mobil station:

DSC04748

Then we spotted this monster of a mansion along the north side of the road. Upon further examination, we learned that it was the Halcyon House. Once a luxury hotel, it was later transformed into the Bennett School for Girls, a boarding school and college. Unfortunately it has since been abandoned and has fallen into a severe state of disrepair. It is slated for demolition at any time, as the land was split into eight parcels and sold off.

DSC04629 edit 2

This ragged looking Walking Dead structure is, I believe, an annex to the school property.

DSC04661 edits

So we pulled up to Walbridge Farm and took in the grounds:

DSC04662

DSC04664

DSC04667

DSC04668 sepia

DSC04710 test edits

DSC04671

A few minutes later the tour began and the farm manager, Doug Giles, took us around to explain what happens at each structure on the farm.

DSC04698

The first thing we did was to “meet the meat.”

DSC04683

DSC04696

DSC04679

DSC04728

Walbridge is a sustainable Registered Black Angus farm. Their pasture raised Angus is grass fed and then grain finished. Their diet consists of corn, sunflower meal and hay – all grown on Walbridge Farm’s 900 acres plus the additional 700 acres that they lease and farm nearby. The large blue silos you see here store all that food.

DSC04663

They don’t spray the fields with pesticides or insecticides, and their soils and water are tested yearly. That means the meat is pesticide free and non–GMO grain finished. In addition, their crops are rotated in order to care for the nutrients in the soils, and the cattle are moved throughout their fields in order to preserve the pastures.

Doug then showed us how they monitor and control the cattle, in the event they have to tag them, inseminate them for calving, treat them for illness or get them ready to ship elsewhere.

In this barn, they can get corralled and directed into a single-file chute, where the animal can’t move away or hurt itself while being inspected or treated with vaccinations.

DSC04703 sepia

DSC04699 b&w

This beauty was off to a county fair to win some prizes.

DSC04711

An animal specialist from SUNY Cobleskill, Assistant Professor Lynn Geoffroy, spoke next about antibiotics, animal nutrition and how animals are treated for illness.

wp-1465419299962.jpg

If an animal is treated with antibiotics, by law the farm must wait a minimum of 28 days before it can be sent off and slaughtered for consumption. That’s how long it takes for the antibiotic to work its way out of the animal’s system. Vitamin hormones and ionophores are given to some cattle to aid in digestion and to prevent illness. These supplements are safe in terms of later human consumption, as they get completely metabolized by the animals. As such the ionophores are not as heavily regulated and don’t require rigorous documentation and paperwork like the use of antibiotics does.

After the tour we had a few minutes to ourselves before lunch. We visited a trio of friendly goats, and checked out the farm stand store.

DSC04713

DSC04725

DSC04718

DSC04721

DSC04712

Walbridge also has over a hundred free-range egg-laying hens that eat an organic feed. Further, ten beehives are located throughout the acreage. Rich Honey Farm collects the honey harvest. Walbridge also works with Snowy Pass Farm to tap all of the maple trees on the property for syrup production. That’s total sustainability, and taking advantage of everything the land has to offer.

We sat down at our lunch table to a nice pile of swag for us to take home. Inside the oven mitt/pot holder was a plethora of info about beef, including recipes and even a knife sharpener.

DSC04732

And something that immediately interested me: a chart for taste testing notes and a scale for ranking various meat characteristics.

DSC04733

We sampled two meats, both were NY strip loin cuts. Jean O’Toole from the Beef Council didn’t tell us what we were looking for at first. She just asked which we liked better: A or B.

DSC04736

I preferred A. It was more tender, flavorful and juicy. Based on those characteristics, and that the texture of B was a bit more grainy and tough, I was guessing that A was grain-finished and B was grass-finished. It turns out I was correct (thank God – would have felt like an asshole if I didn’t get that right). Selection A was exactly the kind of beef that Walbridge produces: Certified Angus and grain-finished. Here are my notes from before the reveal:

DSC04737

After Jean announced the reveal, she passed around a plate of the steaks to show the difference in appearance and marbling between the two steaks.

DSC04741

Grass finished animals are generally older when they go to slaughter, as it takes longer for those animals to pack on the fat and weight in order to get to a marketable production age. Grain finished animals fatten up faster and can go to market sooner. Older animals have darker red muscle flesh. So the left piece is grass-finished and the right piece is grain finished.

We also sampled some of this delicious cold-pressed sunflower oil by Hudson Valley. This stuff is actually made from the same sunflower seeds that the cows eventually eat at Walbridge Farm.

DSC04744

No chemicals are used when creating the oil, and the flavor is incredibly rich as a result of the more natural process. It even has a higher smoking point than olive oil, so better for certain types of frying. We actually picked up a bottle from the farm store. $15.

With that, we had all wet our appetites for a full lunch. Very simple and delicious: grilled strip loin, veggies, fruit and a cookie for dessert. I was a happy man.

wp-1465419255710.jpg

DSC04730

DSC04747

After lunch we were treated to a few lectures and presentations. The first was by nutritionist Cindy Phillips from the New York Beef Council. We learned about the differences in fat content between various types of beef produced from various types of feed finishing and farming techniques. She also discussed the many benefits from a diet that includes beef, dispelling many misconceptions in popular culture about beef being somehow bad for you.

The next presentation was about GMOs. Cornell Professor Dr. Margaret Smith gave a very unbiased and truthful look at the history of plant and animal selective breeding and the introduction of modern genetics into that field. While there is a lot of bad press on the subject of late, and lots of unknowns, many GMO products are completely benign. The industry shows great potential for helping farmers overcome the massive challenges they face in their business relating to crop/product yields, longevity and quality, as well as pest and weed control. However we did learn, essentially, that we are still learning a lot in this field of study, and that tests must be performed and caution must be taken each step of the way.

wp-1465419273420.jpg

We also heard from SUNY Cobleskill Assistant Professor Dr. Jason Evans about the economics of the cattle industry. Growing up on a farm, he was able to discuss, with personal experience, the various hurdles and challenges within the field. With his educational background in economics, he also discussed possible ways that the industry can improve operations, going forward, given certain cycles and trends that he monitors.

The whole experience was very eye opening and informative. It dispelled many myths that you see floating around, and provided us with a lot of information to take away, with which we could continue researching and learning.

WALBRIDGE FARM MARKET
538 Route 343
Millbrook, NY 12545

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Hmm… what can I say about this place… The food is off the charts good, fresh (obviously), well plated, well executed, clever, fun and inventive. The only negatives I can possibly conceive of are (1); it’s heavy on the vegetables, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for (2); it is very expensive. When you pay $200 per person before drinks, tax and tip, you sort of expect some serious substance in addition to the superb veggies. The meats consisted of: pig heart pastrami (1 bite), lamb (one small, thin rib chop), a bite of ham (in the tortilla), a slice of speck (ham and cheese sandwich), and a few slices of pork. That’s pretty much it. One of the asparagus dishes (there were several, yet oddly my pee didn’t smell afterward) had shredded chicken wing as garnish, but that doesn’t count. And neither do the few items that contained fish product. The last negative criticism is (3) extreme pretense. You’ll see what I am talking about below. I get that these people are passionate about the farm to table concept, about sustainability, etc. And they are remarkable culinary artists. But fucking come on… Some of this stuff is like candid camera fodder. To sum up: this was a great once-in-a-lifetime experience. I absolutely 100% know that I will never go back, but I’m definitely glad I fought tooth and nail to get a rez here to celebrate our anniversary, even if just to experience this bizarre place.

Scan_Pic0004

Service? Some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Our waiter Christian was amazing and very informative. Waiters and table hawks swooped in and cleaned up after each of our roughly 24 courses. Use a spoon once, put it down for a minute, look at the ceiling, look back down and POOF: it’s gone, with a replacement on the way. Actually when we first sat down, they saw my wife scratch her wine glass to get a spot off and they immediately replaced the glass with a fresh one. Crazy! Too much? Perhaps. At some points we sort of felt awkward.

Blue Hill 036

The ambiance of this place is really amazing. The farm is a beautiful and picturesque location. Nice grounds, with old but modern touches; rustic yet elegant. I could easily see it being some kind of rustic wedding venue. The dining area and centerpiece table is beautiful, and the kitchen is immaculately clean. The food is plated and presented in some of the most artful and beautiful ways I have ever seen.

Scan_Pic0005

Scan_Pic0002

Blue Hill 001_tonemapped

Blue Hill 008

Blue Hill 011

Blue Hill 113

Blue Hill 065 - 070

To start we ordered some drinks. Mine was essentially a gin martini with pickled ramps instead of onion or olive. Ramps are so farm to table and local – way more hipster than onions or olives. My wife’s was a chamomile, gin, honey, and slightly sparkling lemon drink. Delicious. But lemon?!?? That shit doesn’t grow here in NY, as far as I know. So much for the whole LOCAL thing! I want my olive now…

Blue Hill 022

Then the food started coming out. Hold onto your asses because this was a 4 hour meal…

1) Veggies on sticks. Some pickled, some raw, some lightly seasoned or spiced. Nice and refreshing. But, really? I started to wonder whether I’d fallen victim to some social experiment where you put diners into a fancy environment and serve them cat food and they absolutely love it.

Blue Hill 014

Blue Hill 013

IMG_20140609_094353

2) Asparagus soup. This was really great. Hearty, savory. I could easily drain a bowl of this shit. Pay attention to how much fucking asparagus is served here. It is astounding.

Blue Hill 019

3) Pig heart pastrami. This was good! Tasted just like pastrami, wasn’t too chewy. Just right. But give me more. Look at how much you’re charging me and ask if this is enough!

Blue Hill 018

4) First of the Rhubarb. This was essentially just a pickled slice of rhubarb. Simple. “First of the rhubarb” registers at about 11 on a Pretentiousness Scale that goes from 1 to 10. I think it means the first time they were able to pick the rhubarb this season. You know… because rhubarb is WILDLY different in flavor that second time you pick it. Whatever.

Blue Hill 021

5) Pea shoots, baby leeks, weeds, and tarragon pesto. At this point we were looking around for the hidden cameras that were placed to record our reaction to some weird practical joke. Even this was beyond “social experiment” weirdness. I’m a man with testicles. I have a dick, and it still gets hard. Now, this stuff was good (the sauce, anyway), but almost too odd for us. We were literally wiping the leaves of weeds across the sauce. Fun, I guess? But it took us a bit by surprise. We both laughed at this dish.

Blue Hill 023

6) Egg yolk & potato tartlet, spring onion vichysoisse with toasted quinoa, and a fiddle head fern cracker. These were all lovely. Perfect little bites of flavor. I wish we had a whole tray of them.

Blue Hill 025

Blue Hill 026

Blue Hill 027

Blue Hill 028

7) Asparagus burgers. DING! Your asparagus score is now two. These were cute. Tasty too, and Christian came by with an asparagus stalk that had gone wild and grown too large. They are harvested at just the right time, before they start sprouting branches. BHASB <3 Asparagus 4-EVA!

Blue Hill 029

Blue Hill 042

20140608_144432_LLS

8) Asparagus & pancetta. DING! Your asparagus score is now three! A nice asparagus spear on a stick, coated with sesame seeds. Good bacony flavor involved without any actual bacon on the skewer.

Blue Hill 031

9) Ham and cheese sandwiches. These were made with speck and crisped cheese type crackers. Beautiful presentation, and one of the better bites of the meal. Again: give a man with hair on his chest a bit more that a single bite. I understand it is a multi-course feast, but feature the substantive dishes and downplay the “sides.” YEs – a veggie can be a side. But there were like 400 of them here to the handful of meat items. I get it. Veggies are awesome.

Blue Hill 033

Blue Hill 032

10) Pork liver pate & chocolate. This was a great bite as well. The chocolate surprisingly went well the liver.

Blue Hill 035

11) Celtuce in a small soup with pine nuts. Christian gave us a crash course on what celtuce is. Basically similar to romaine but with a heart or root that you can cook up like the stem of broccoli. Delicious in every preparation they served.

Blue Hill 037

Blue Hill 038

12) Greenhouse greens and smoked creamy gouda cheese. A nice salad. Whoa, whoa, WHOA… GREENHOUSE greens?!?? Do you mean to tell me that these items would not otherwise grow in the local climate? Like the lemon above… but not the olive? Pfft…

Blue Hill 039

13) Celtuse heart and spears, caviar and herring cream. This was one of the best courses. The caviar provided a natural salt element to this. Excellent use of vegetables… again.

Blue Hill 041

14) Asparagus with almond saffron sauce, stinging nettle sauce, olive tapenade, rhubarb yogurt, grilled asparagus sauce and crispy chicken wings. DING! Your asparagus score is now four! It was served with asparagus tea, and the sauces were plated tableside. The best sauce here was the asparagus sauce. Asparagus. Asparagus, asparagus, asparagus.

Blue Hill 043

Blue Hill 044

Blue Hill 046

20140608_152304_LLS

15) Whole wheat brioche, escarole and spinach marmalade with fresh ricotta cheese that was strained tableside. This was a nice piece of toast. They had some cracked black pepper on the plate too, and that really made all the flavors pop.

Blue Hill 049

Blue Hill 050

Blue Hill 052

Blue Hill 051

16) Ham, robin fish, mint & peas, creme fraiche and fresh cut herbs on a buckwheat tortilla. We were excited for this one because we were taken back to the chefs table in the kitchen to have it. Awesome!

Blue Hill 087

Blue Hill 088

Blue Hill 086

Blue Hill 091

Umm.. can I please have some of this sausage in my meal? If not.. maybe some more asparagus?

Blue Hill 082

Blue Hill 079

Blue Hill 073

Blue Hill 072

Blue Hill 060

17) Stone barns egg, and everything a chicken eats. This was a really fucking great egg dish. I tasted currants, herbs and seeds, and it was presented while cooking in a cast iron pan. Perfect.

Blue Hill 092

18) Potato onion bread, grass fed butter, lard from their pigs, and carrot salt. Here we’re being prepped for meat courses, so I was getting psyched. FINALLY…

Blue Hill 093

19) Stone barns Berkshire pork with “this mornings peas,” pistachios and chrysanthemum. I had no idea one could eat chrysanthemum. The leaves were very fresh and airy; a perfumed and clean flavor. It went very well with the smokey pig flavor. And this morning’s peas? I’ll never have yesterday’s peas ever again. I wonder though… are tomorrow’s peas any good? Good fucking lord with the pretense.

Blue Hill 094

20) Grass fed lamb, shitake, and bok choy. This was a nice plate. I just wish the lamb was thicker. Perfectly cooked. It was like having a bite of prime rib on a stick.

Blue Hill 095

Blue Hill 096

21) Cheeses … sheep’s milk and cheddar, served with rye pretzels, chutney and cumin spiced pumpkin seeds. The cheese was explained, cut, plated and served tableside, by the amazing Christian, asparagus stalk warrior.

Blue Hill 097

Blue Hill 098

Blue Hill 099

22) Next was a special anniversary cake plate. Pea and carrot cake. Very clever and tasty too! Get it? Have your peas and carrots… but for dessert.

Blue Hill 101

Blue Hill 100

23) Milk ice cream, strawberry sorbet, and clotted cream with dried strawberries, fresh green and red strawberries and hazelnuts. The plating was pretty cool here. These little hexagonal glass plates were all stack-able.

Blue Hill 106

Blue Hill 104

Blue Hill 105

Blue Hill 103

24) Bugs, Dirt, and Twigs. This one is for the kids! Very fun.

Blue Hill 110

Blue Hill 107

Blue Hill 108

Caterpillar = marshmallow

Honey Bee = honey mousse on a graham cracker

Brown dirt clump = chocolate truffle

Green dirt clump = pistachio nut cake ball with a cream type filling

Bird’s egg = herbed cream in a candy shell

Sticks/Twigs = light airy cookie crisps

Even the espresso was nicely plated and presented.

Blue Hill 112

Blue Hill 111

After we paid the bill, we walked out the back to see our car waiting for us at the end of the walkway.

20140608_174926_LLS

Blue Hill 114_tonemapped

I only felt half-raped. Like some HUGE Blood or Crip bent me over the weight lighting bench in the prison yard but got interrupted after his dick tip penetrated my anal sphincter, thus depriving him of full penetration and allowing me to walk away with my dignity still somewhat intact. Overall a really good meal, though. I’ll never go back unless someone else is paying for it. Glad we went. Nice to see veggies in the forefront. Good attitude about food. Incredible use of asparagus. Maybe it was all one big episode of Chopped and that was the secret ingredient for every course?

Final asparagus score: four, not including multiple uses in the same course. Accordingly, I hereby call this restaurant by a new name: Blue Asparagus at Stone Barns.

BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS
630 Bedford Rd.
Tarrytown, NY 10591

Mosner Meat & Butchery Class

For our fifth wedding anniversary, my awesome wife surprised the shit out of me with a butchery class and tour at the Mosner family meat processing plant in Hunt’s Point in the Bronx.

Butchery Class 087

The business has been around for nearly six decades, starting with meat deliveries from the back of a station wagon until the brand slowly built up to become a well known, high-end meat distributor for some of the area’s finest steakhouses and meat purveyors.

Butchery Class 001

Three grandchildren of the original Mosner start-up (Seth, Jessica, and Ben) run the incredibly informative tour and butchery class on Saturdays. The first thing you’ll do is suit up in a butcher’s coat and some gloves. Just a word of advice – bundle up if you do this. Inside it is just about freezing.

Butchery Class 055Butchery Class 010

It starts out with introductions and some information from Jessica about the company, what they do, the history, etc. Then comes an awesome, testosterone building meat chant in call-and-response format. MEAT MEAT MEAT! This is a shot of Ben pulling us in for the huddle just before the chanting began.

Butchery Class 012

Once inside, the learning begins. Seth and Ben informed us about the lamb and veal they deal in, including how it is treated at the farm (they enjoy a stress free and healthy life, which makes for better flavors), how it is slaughtered (with the utmost standards of humaneness), and how it is processed (skilled artists and craftsmen butchers).

Ben & Seth & Veal
Ben & Seth & Veal
Ben & Seth & Veal
Ben & Seth & Veal
Ben & Seth & Veal
Ben & Seth & Veal
Me & Veal
Me & Veal
Lamb
Lamb
Veal
Veal
Veal
Veal

Check out some of the other beautiful decor here:

Hooks & Pulleys
Hooks & Pulleys
Lamb Mobile
Lamb Mobile
Lamb
Lamb
Lamb
Lamb
Lamb
Lamb
Yum
Yum
Hooks
Hooks
Lamb all wrapped up in plastic
Lamb all wrapped up in plastic
A peek underneath the skirt of some hanging lamb
A peek underneath the skirt of some hanging lamb

Next up, Jessica runs through some of the important (and often times confusing to those not in the know) labels that the meat industry applies to various products.

Jessica educates the class
Jessica educates the class

“Antibiotic Free” vs “No Antibiotics,” for example (“No Antibiotics” means NO ANTIBIOTICS have ever been in the animal. “Antibiotic Free” means that there were no traces of antibiotics in the animal at the time of slaughter, but that doesn’t mean the animal never had any antibiotics in its lifetime). Here’s a nice little print-out that they gave the class: not everything we learned is on here, but this is a great start.

butchery terms

After this, we watched Chris, AKA “Da Butcher,” perform a lightning fast demo of his amazing butchery skills as he broke down the roast and rib ends of a pig in what had to be under 3 minutes WITH pauses in place to show us and explain what he was doing.

Da Butcher's Tools
Da Butcher’s Tools
"Da Butcher" in action
“Da Butcher” in action
Da Butcher's Artwork
Da Butcher’s Artwork

Then we had an opportunity to buy some high end meat at super wholesale prices. I’m talking PRIME beef for $9.99/lb. They even had an entire trailer full of game meats, with lots of harder to find stuff like elk, duck, venison, kangaroo, gator, snake, ostrich, pheasant, squab and others. Are you FUCKING serious?!?? I was in heaven! We decided to get some rarities like duck sausage and confit duck legs, but I could have easily blown the mortgage on this delicious shit.

high-end meats for sale
high-end meats for sale
duck leg confit
duck leg confit
sausage variety
sausage variety

Now for the hands-on stuff. I had to put my camera down, so there are no “action” photos, but we all got to do what “Da Butcher” did in his demo: namely, slice up the roast and rib of the pig.

Piggy
Piggy
Piggy
Piggy
The Classroom
The Classroom
The Classroom
The Classroom
The Classroom
The Classroom

We were instructed on everything from the best way to hold the knife, to how to properly get the meat off the bone without nicking or slicing up the good bits. Afterwards, we took all our cuts over to the vaccum sealer and put them into boxes that were pre-labeled with our names on them. That’s right – you get to bring home all that delicious piggy meat that you just butchered!!!

my share of the butchery
my share of the butchery
one of our boxes
one of our boxes

I watched as the staff expertly portioned and wrapped the prime stuff that other classmates had purchased.

Ben saws some porterhouses down to size
Ben saws some porterhouses down to size
Ben & "Da Butcher"
Ben & “Da Butcher”
Some prime T-bones
Some prime T-bones
"Da Butcher" trims some of the fat off before it heads to the sealer
“Da Butcher” trims some of the fat off before it heads to the sealer
Porterhouses coming off the vacuum sealer
Porterhouses coming off the vacuum sealer

Then Ben took me around to show me some of the offal that they sell as well. I’m talking everything – liver, heart, bones, sweetbreads – you name it, they sling it.

Veal Heart
Veal Heart
Liver
Liver

As you may have guessed, I’ve reviewed some of their steakhouse customers, and I have to tell you: there is a stark and obvious correlation. The places that use Mosner to source their meat all have excellent ratings on my leaderboard.

What an amazing gift! If you guys get a chance, you should definitely go as well. Not only do you learn a lot about the meat proteins you are eating, but you will come away with a great appreciation for the hard work and effort that goes into bringing these products to your dinner table. My wife knows that I secretly wish I were a butcher, so this was a real treat for me. Look – I even got a participation award.

Butchery Certificate

Once we got home, I was itching to try some of what we just worked on, so I took the stew meat scraps and threw them into the slow cooker with apple moonshine, apple sauce, apple flavored water, and a bunch of mulling type spices like cinnamon and cloves.

Me, magic-wanding in a mix of kosher salt and crushed red pepper
Me, magic-wanding in a mix of kosher salt and crushed red pepper
20140405_182207
stew meat swimming in the slow cooker

I set it on low and slow. Four hours later the result was amazing. My wife and I threw it onto a sandwich with some pickled cabbage and a spicy mayo. Check out the recipe HERE.