I Tried a Heritage Turkey. Here’s What Happened…

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BY PATRICK KILCHERMANN

LAST YEAR’S TURKEY

Last year I threw a Friendsgiving in early November.

I rented a private event space in the in the historic village of Bowens Mills, near Caledonia, MI. A decorator was hired, and I roped in a friend of mine to cook the most important part of the meal: the turkey.

I was not, however, about to serve a conventional turkey.

My wife and I always buy our meats and produce at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market (one of the best farmers markets in the country, I’m told). We want that personal connection with where our food’s coming from–wholesome, nutritious, local food.

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I called one of our favorite farmers at the market to see if he had any turkeys available in early November, and it turns out he did!

It was a pasture-raised turkey with no growth hormones or antibiotics.

Now, up until this Thanksgiving, my in-laws always cooked the turkey which they bought at the grocery store, so this would be the first time I’ve ever had a pasture-raised turkey.

And I can honestly say it was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten!

THIS YEAR’S TURKEY

For this year’s Friendsgiving, however, I tried something different.

It was a heritage turkey from Idle River Farms. It’s a small family-run farmstead in Burlington, MI.

Like last year’s turkey, it was pasture-raised, GMO-free, and free of antibiotics. Unlike last year’s turkey, it was a heritage turkey.

Now, as I understand it, heritage turkeys come from breeds that grow very slowly. They’re hard to get your hands on since there are few farms willing to grow them–even the farms at the Fulton Street Market. But, they are supposedly the best-tasting turkeys money can buy, so I thought, “Why not?”

Matt and Kristal are the farmers over at Idle River. They sell their turkeys exclusively through an online heritage farmers’ market (Duba & Co.) based in Grand Rapids, MI, which ships their turkeys pretty much anywhere in the country.

I left the cooking of the turkey up to one of my friends (the same friend that cooked it last year).

And, I’ve gotta tell you, this turkey surpassed even last year’s pasture-raised bird!

In fact, it’s like it’s an entirely different species of meat, deserving a category all its own. It’s hard to describe, but it’s kind of like going from eating fish sticks your whole life to eating lobster. It was quite literally “the turkey your grandmother hopes you never taste.” (“You won’t let me drive, and now you won’t let me cook the turkey!? You might as well put me in a nursing home.”)

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My only disappointment was that there were no giblets in the gravy (I guess the turkey didn’t come with giblets).

CONCLUSION

You will end up paying more for a heritage turkey…quite a bit more. On the other hand, it’s not much more than what we already pay for a pound of grass-fed ground beef. But if you can swing it, it’s worth every penny.

Check out their turkeys at dubaandcompany.com.

Rolling Studebaker Pizza Truck

Clash of the Titans

My wife and I attended an unforgettable wedding reception in Indiana last month. The venue: Riley’s Roadhouse, an old train depot converted into a Bed & Breakfast. Outside, in the evening air, live music played and freight trains barreled by every fifteen minutes en route to Chicago. An old Stuedebaker automobile, converted into a food truck replete with a brick pizza oven, continually churned out gourmet creations.

We passed the beautifully warm night on the shores of Lake Michigan. The following day, Sunday, brought tropical temperatures and a stiff wind out of the west. We drove through towns along Michigan’s west coast up to Muskegon. That evening, we witnessed one heck of a storm come in over the great lake. The front, with its gale force winds, brought spectacular waves in a scene very much resembling that of a hurricane making landfall.

September ushers in hurricane season, a titanic battle between summer and fall. Here in Michigan, thousands of miles from the tropics, the trees warm in a sea of colors while the prevailing northern winds buffet their branches, splashing the sky with yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. While, frankly, I’m not ready for the summer to end we do get to enjoy one heck of a show in the northern country.

August Storm (2015)

Cattle, Cobblestones, and Crate&Barrel

The documentary is entitled The Grizzly Man. It’s the true story of Timothy Tredwell who spent thirteen summers in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, living perilously close to Grizzly bear. Tragically, he and his girlfriend met their fate in a Grizzly bear attack that was caught on tape. (Thankfully, the recording was not included in this landmark documentary.)

I couldn’t help but think of this haunting incident as Heather Bailey of Cobblestone Farm relayed a story that had just occurred a week or so before our visit there last month. It involved a friend of hers who was photographing the Highland cattle in the fields in which we were now standing. When one of the steers began to charge her, a cow actually intervened, mitigating the full force of the charge (this likely saved her life). But the event was caught on the photographer’s iPhone which started recording when she was lifted into the air and thrown by the beast. (I’m told that to watch the footage is really quite eerie.)

Cobblestone Farm, in the lake country of Wisconsin, is just a little west of the city of Milwaukee. I was there looking for additional sourcing for a client. Its namesake is a cobblestone home that sits on a bluff overlooking the farmlands and forests below, a landscape dotted with its fold of ornamental Highland cattle. To walk into the cobblestone farm house built in the mid 1800s by Freemasons, gosh, you’d think you’d stepped into a Crate&Barrel catalog. And, if you thought this, you’d be right: the farm is owned by Carole and Gordon Segal, the founders of Crate&Barrel.

Some years ago, the Segals fell in love with the Highland breed and–to oversee the farm–brought on Heather Bailey, one of the premiere Highland breeders in the country. By sheer coincidence, we had stopped in a small French brasserie for dinner the night before. This small restaurant, we learned from Heather, was one of a handful of restaurants that carried Cobblestone’s beef.

We stood perilously close to the grazing folds of Scottish cattle on that late June afternoon (refer back to the photo, above, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about). We became acquainted with the farm and Ms. Bailey. Then, we left: life and limb intact. And, I’m happy to say, there will be no films produced this year bearing the title The Highland Man.

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Sneak Preview of Podcast Episode 1: “Pilot”

We’re going down into the wine cellar to pull out the proverbial vintage bottle of Dom Perignon. It’s the never-before-heard pilot episode of Duba & Co.’s podcast (currently, an on-going project). The episode’s been aging for about a year, and now you get to sit in on a conversation between two meat aficionados, Dan Mattson of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and Jeff Duba. Engrossing and engaging, the banter was taped while the host and co-host wax eloquent the glories of heritage meats. So grab a glass of fine wine or ale, head out to the patio, and pop in the ear buds. If you’re not inspired to fire up the grill after listening, you probably skipped Step One.

National Heritage Breeds Week and Day

National Heritage Breeds Week

Thus begins the first annual National Heritage Breeds Week. Running Sunday, May 17 – Saturday, May 23, it’s a country-wide initiative to bring awareness to the close to 200 breeds that are in danger of extinction. It all culminates on Saturday, May 23, National Heritage Breeds Day. Everyday this week, we’re preparing something to feast upon (at least figuratively). This week’s menu includes…

Monday, May 18: Heritage Breeds Survivor Pack Product Launch

Keep your eyes glued to your inboxes Monday for details on a product package inspired in equal parts by Sienfield and the question, “If I were stranded on a deserted island, what would I bring with me to eat?” You’ll save money and eat well. It is, after all, eating the breeds that ensures their survival which is the raison d’etre for this week’s festivities–that, and a celebration of the flavors and mystique of the historic breeds.

Tuesday, May 19: Heritage Breeds Podcast, Episode 7 [REPLAY]

It’s the interview heard ’round the world on Christmas Day 2014 between host C.S. Wurzberger (the Green Up Girl) and guest Jeff Duba. A message of peace, love, and joy (or–at the very least–of a burger so good that one foul-mouth chef let loose colorful expletives the FCC would ban from the radio waves). Airing on iTunes, Sticher Radio, and the Heritage Radio Network with its 1,000,000 monthly listeners in 200 countries, the podcast has been topping the charts.

Wednesday, May 20: Farmhand Day, Belhaven Highlands (Mendon, MI)

Not to be missed! Join us for a rare treat: a farm tour of a working Highland cattle farm with its own vineyard and organic hop vines. Then, participate in farm activities which may include feeding and watering week-old Highland calves, pruning the vineyard, moving cattle around, etc. Then sit down to a lunch sponsored by Duba & Co. of heritage Highland burgers. Go home with a pound of beef. We have room for a couple more people!. If you’d like to participate please e-mail deckhand@dubaandcompany.com. The day begins in Mendon, MI, at 9:00 a.m. and concludes with a 1:00 p.m. lunch.

Thursday, May 21: Duba & Co. Podcast Sneak Preview

We’re going down into the wine cellar to pull out the proverbial vintage bottle of Dom Perignon. It’s the never-before-heard pilot episode of Duba & Co.’s podcast (currently, an on-going project). The episode’s been aging for about a year, and now you get to sit in on a conversation between two meat aficionados, Dan Mattson of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and Jeff Duba. Engrossing and engaging, the banter was taped while the host and co-host wax eloquent the glories of heritage meats. So grab a glass of fine wine or ale, head out to the patio, and pop in the ear buds. If you’re not inspired to fire up the grill after listening, you probably skipped Step One.

Friday, May 22: Joel Salatin Ticket Raffle

Attend a dinner speaking engagement featuring Joel Salatin at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids on Thursday, June 18, 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. Part of Acton University’s keynote series, this is a ticketed event open to the public. Tickets are $60, and we’re giving away one this Friday. If your name is selected you’ll have 24 hours to accept before another name is drawn.

Saturday, May 23: Heritage Meat Sweepstakes Winner Selected

One of the names from of our passenger log will be drawn to receive a shipment of heritage meats, complements of Duba & Co. The winner will be notified by e-mail and/or phone and have 24 hours to respond. It’s one way to thank you for being with us.

Get ready for a week of engagement, and bon appetite!

Jurassic Pork

Jurassic Pork

By the year’s end, our Red Wattle pork line will have grown by 800% or more. Chefs are raving about the pork chops as interest in the “lost breed” continues to grow. We wanted to share with you the story of the hog that only 50 years ago was thought to be extinct…

THE LOST BREED

East of Australia in the clear, blue, iridescent waters of the Pacific Ocean, lies the island of New Caledonia. It is from this sequestered region of the world–but a blip on the nautical map–that experts believe the Red Wattle hog originated.

So-named for the quirky appendages that dangle from either side of their jowls, the breed made its way aboard wooden ships to the New World in the 1700s and 1800s where they were raised by the New Orleaneans who were enthralled by their taste. Remember, folks, these are the French: the very people who set the gold-standard for all things culinary. Then, suddenly, the breed disappeared; many feared its extinction.

In the 1970s, a most unlikely find: the benign creatures were re-discovered rooting and wandering in the woodlands of eastern Texas. Here is where I imagine the scene from Jurassic Park: Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler behold–for the first time–brontosaurs gulping down leaves from towering trees.

In recent years, Red Wattle has been making a splash in the culinary world. Just last month, in fact, this note came from a chef in West Michigan, giving Red Wattle pork chops from Duba & Co. an initial try:

“Had a chance to try these today and they [are] fantastic. We did a side by side with our current chop which had the benefit of an overnight apple cider brine and the red wattle was better as is.”
Our Red Wattle pork are raised especially for Duba & Co. by Idle River Farms (Burlington, MI) on GMO-free feed, ground by the farm itself. Idle River is a small, family-run operation. The hogs are given permanent access to the outdoors and can be found rooting amongst the pasture grasses during the growing season.

While we may never know what a brontosaur tastes like, you can enjoy the historic flavor of Red Wattle pork: nutty–almost beefy, at times–and with a hint of the sea (considering an origin on the island of New Caledonia, perhaps we’re tasting something of the Pacific Ocean in every bite of this exotic breed).

Brigid's Well

Beer, Cattle, and Midwives: The Brigid Ryan Story

When the following tale was shared with members of our “passenger log” (e-mail subscribers), it received a lot of attention. If you missed the account of the naming of our daughter born last month here is the Brigid Ryan story, “unabridged”…

For a moment a thought arrested me: “I’ll be delivering our second-born at home!” A sobering thought for an already sober person (I’d forfeited the pleasures of beer during Lent–with certain exceptions, of course; the celebratory beer stood by the ready). When the midwife did arrive, I relaxed a little–even as many of you are now getting tense (“Hey, buddy, too much information.”). Be rest assured: I would not have shared this if it wasn’t a crucial part of the story…

Now, so certain that she would be a he, we had no name when, on the evening of March 2, our daughter was born in the evening twilight. It took us seven days to settle on her name in a process that was every bit as tedious, nay dramatic, as the selection of the grand jury for the trial of the century. After all, the appellation will be following her–God-willing–for the next 100 years, provided–of course–she’s got the Duba Family genes: Rose Duba lived to be 99 and, considering our daughter is knit together entirely of heritage beef, I think adding one more year is really quite conservative, don’t you?

But, oh, those seven days! How our minds careened as we scoured sites like BellyBallot and skimmed–frantically–through books filled with thousands of human signifiers. Breakfasts were burned discoursing over the philosophies of naming. So desperate was I getting, in fact, that I even contemplated inventing a name. Victor Hugo did it in Les Miserables (“Cosette”). And so did Gwyneth Paltrow (“Apple”). And George Costanza (“Seven”). Lists we compiled by my wife and me. We both enjoyed the executive veto, striking names at will from each others’ lists. Like March Madness–as this most assuredly was–our list went from 16 on Thursday, to eight on Friday, and four on Saturday until were were finally down to two on Sunday…

Just before sitting down to a dinner of Scottish corned beef, my wife put the ball in my court. “You choose,” she said…

“Her name is Brigid Ryan.”

Here’s the kicker. It wasn’t until the week after christening her “Brigid” that I learned that St. Brigid is the patroness of beer, cattle, and midwives. Folks, was happened on Sunday, March 8, is the equivalent of nailing a 3-point shot from center court, blindfolded.

Epilogue
And if you want to know where the name “Ryan” comes from, the story is no less dramatic. It involves a young man my wife got to know over the years, a young man who passed away on March 7, 2014. On the one-year anniversary of that day, his parents’ gave us their blessing to pass that namesake on to Brigid. Ryan’s story has been covered by ESPN, but by far my favorite telling comes from a local station, WOOD TV 8. And you can watch that story below (but you’ll want to grab a box of tissues first).

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The Farmlink Interview, Part III

This is the final installment of an abridged interview conducted between Trever Clark of Farmlink and Jeff Duba of Duba & Co.

You’ve talked before about your vision for a standard burger on every menu, with a heritage beef burger available for an upcharge. Can you expound a little bit on this vision? Are any restaurants in the area doing this yet?
Yes. The idea got started when, at Mexican restaurants, I began to notice that there was a house margarita and a “top-shelf” margarita made with Jose Cuervo 1800 and Grand Marnier. In every bar, there are well drinks and their premium counterparts. The vision is for restaurants to have their “house burger” and a “top-shelf” burger. Top shelf because it’s: flavor, heritage, Highland, Red Poll, 21-days dry-aged, 100% grass-fed, the world’s oldest cattle breed (or rarest), and on and on…you pick.It’s an up-sell for maybe a few bucks more. It’s an opportunity for a server to educate your clientele on the kind of meat that you already want to put on your menu anyway, the kind of stuff you’d be proud to serve. It’s a way to become a force for real change in our food system.

Already there’s a brewpub in Duluth, MN, doing this (Fitger’s Brewhouse – [Ed. Note: Their take on heritage beef is here]). Half-pound house burger: $11.99. Half-pound Highland burger: $14.99. And here’s the kicker. Unlike the relatively few people who opt for the top-shelf margarita, I’m told that about 80% of people opt for the up-sell at Fitger’s.

 

What’s your “food philosophy”? Do you see heritage beef as being a more sustainable or healthier alternative to standard beef?
Hmmmmm. I believe that we’ve made a philosophical error when it comes to food, and it’s an ontological error (ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being). The error was made at the time of the industrial revolution, a revolution which figured out how to make textiles inexpensively and cars affordable for the masses. “If we can produce cars (and textiles) more efficiently via the factory model, let’s apply that same thinking to livestock,” was (and is) the prevailing thought of the day. And it was a complete success! The price of meat fell, and meat was on nearly every weekday dinner plate in mainstream America. We ostensibly elevated our standard of living. But I’ve come to believe that we’ve done so at a moral cost.Livestock is not like cloth or a car. It’s a living being. Factory farming tends to treat living beings as if they were inanimate objects. Ultimately, this de-humanizes us as moral agents. But when you think about it, this isn’t the worst of it. We’ve treated human beings as animals or pure objects before. Slavery and human trafficking come to mind on the extreme end. Treating animals as inanimate objects is no where near as bad as these offenses, but I hope people begin to see all these actions are cut of the same cloth: in all these the same error is being made; it’s only a question of to what degree.

I’m all for the free market and its ability to lower costs and increase the standard of living, its ability to drive innovation. But none of us should want markets without morality. Ultimately, we all suffer as a result–though it may take some time for the negative effects of violating nature’s law to become apparent. The beauty of heritage meats (and all sustainably raised meats, heritage or not) is that they’re both nutrient-dense and flavorful (in the hands of a skilled farmer, that is). It’s nature’s way of rewarding a way of life in keeping with the natural order. It’s living the “good life”.

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The Farmlink Interview, Part II

This week, the continuation of the interview published by Farmlink on On February 28, 2015, between Trever Clark of Farmlink and Jeff Duba of Duba & Co. It is mildly abridged…

What’s so special about heritage beef? Why is it worth the premium price?

Heritage meats are the last frontier in the craft food movement. Beginning in, oh, maybe the ’60s cheeses, then wine, then coffee, and now beer have undergone (or are undergoing) an artisanal Renaissance. Meat is only now beginning to enter this territory. Meat is, in this decade, where the beer industry was in the ’80s.

It’s the recovery of lost, historic flavors and traditional farming practices. I’ve compared conventional beef as having just about as much flavor as a Budweiser. Heritage meats offer a variety of flavor (and a depth of flavor) best compared to microbrews. You don’t know you’re drinking swag until you begin trying Porters, Lambics, IPAs, and the like.

If this example is too stark, a very fair (and conservative) comparison is drinking Famous Grouse and then imbibing in a Scottish whisky. That’s the kind of difference we’re talking about, and that’s what makes them so special. That, and their unlimited marketing potential: breed, history, farm, flavor profile, sustainability, conservation, age at harvest, dry-aging, are all ways to set yourself, as a restauranteur, apart in the marketplace.

We search out and find those farms producing the best heritage meats out there and bring them to market. We’re a Martha’s Vineyard of meats, really. A merchant passionate about quality. The best comes with a price, and we’re willing to pay a premium for it. We work with some of the country’s best producers. Further, we enhance the quality of our meats through dry-aging which helps tenderize and concentrate flavor (to a degree this also decreases yield, so we wind up paying a bit more than we otherwise would have).

We’re here to help restaurants, through marketing consultations, get a premium price for heritage meats on their menu. If you’re a fan of The Office, we’re really going for that Michael Scott WIN-WIN-WIN scenario: guests get more than they’re paying for in terms of quality, restaurants benefit financially from a premium-priced “top-shelf” product, and rare breeds thrive (and the farmers who raise them). So, actually, it’s WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN.

Any big plans for 2015? New products? Expansions? Anything changing?
Back in October 2014, Patrick Martins, president of Heritage Foods, USA, and I met at his headquarters in Brooklyn. There was some talk of collaboration. He’s a guy–I’m given to understand–who sources  Mario Bartali’s restaurants across the country. Martins and I have been in contact since, and he’s put me in touch with some great people in the Chicago, IL, and Madison, WI, markets. No big plans for 2015, other than to continue to develop these relationships. With any luck, we may see the kind of collaboration in the heritage meat industry that you find amongst brew-masters.
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The Farmlink Interview, Part I

On February 28, 2015, the following interview was published between West Michigan Farmlink and Duba & Co. Here is the abridged version, published in parts.

 

How long has Duba & Co been in operation? Can you give me a brief history of the company?
In 2005 Duba‘s Restaurant closes after having sold their property to Northpointe Bank. Long-time patrons of the restaurant keep saying “It’s hard to find a good steak in town.” Duba‘s Steaks, LLC, is born as a legal but not yet operational entity circa Fall 2010. We’d be a local “Omaha Steaks”, purveying the choice (but conventional) steaks sourced from Duba‘s Restaurant’s long-time butcher. December 2011: Butcher closes, and we begin to look for new sourcing, traveling as far as Colorado. Spring 2012: while researching a presentation on heirloom vegetables, I discover a buried treasure–the existence of “heritage meats”, the carnivorous equivalent of heirloom vegetables. I’m undone by their romance, and eventually decide I’m “all-in” on heritage meats and under the impression we’d be the first purveyors of heritage meats in the country (in actuality, we’re the first east of the Hudson River–Heritage Foods USA in Brooklyn, NY, had us beat by a decade). Summer/Fall 2012: The search begins for the best in heritage meats. November 2012: The Burger That Changed Everything: late harvest Scottish Highland beef. Never before had I tasted meat that good. With funding from local venture-capital firm (Start Garden), Duba & Co. launches and opens for business in June 2013.
What got you interested in heritage beef? Did this grow out of your family’s culinary history in the area at all?
It all comes back to craft ales, the enchantment of Scotland, Ireland, and the Old World, and my love of “the Shire”–it’s ethos and way of life which heritage meats embody par excellence. But, yes–absolutely, yes–it’s in the blood: the role food plays in fostering family and friendship, the role of ambiance in creating an experience. I learned those lessons growing up in Duba‘s Restaurant and around the family table which, really, Duba‘s Restaurant was just an extension of.
How closely do you work with your farmers? Do you visit the farms? What are those relationships like?
We know all of our farmers personally and visit the farms, often more than once–even if it’s just stopping by for coffee or to say “hi” because we’re in the area. But the bottom line is trust. We only do business with people we trust, and we have beef and pork affidavits on file for all of the farms with which we currently work. It’s rare that we would carry product from a farm that we didn’t visit and have only done so because of the farm’s upstanding reputation and the personal relationship developed with the farmers themselves. Our farmers are our business partners, quite frankly.