We zoomed down the expressway, returning from the opening of Two Sparrows Farm in Lowell, MI. It was an afternoon filled with farm-raised pulled pork sandwiches, homemade barbeque sauce, and fresh lemonade (and swarms of mosquitoes), all served off the bed of a truck (except the mosquitoes: they were everywhere). My wife observed on our commute home that I was sort of lost in conversation the whole time with some good friends, not even making it to one of the farm tours that were being offered. What were we taking about under the shade of the great oak? Well, among other very good things, let me tell you. We were discussing a merit of heritage meats that has–to date–remained unspoken.

For those who have spent time on the Duba & Company website or who have been following our blog posts, the discussion so far has centered on the fuller, richer flavors offered by heritage meats: this, and the flavor variety offered by the breeds and terroir of these distinctive meats. And yet, we’ve completely missed sharing another–even more noble–reason to enjoy what we’ve dubbed the “microbrew of meats.” It’s the reason why, in 1977, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy was formed: to protect and promote rare breeds of animals. Paradoxically, it is through eating these rare breeds that they are conserved. Consumption creates demand, and demand creates supply. That’s why heritage meats have been referred to as an “ark of taste,” a reference to the legendary vessel that preserved the species from a universal deluge.

Eating heritage meats is to adopt that very Rooseveltian spirit of conserving our national natural treasures which are not only found in Yellowstone Park or–closer to home–Pictured Rocks or Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores, but in the breeds of livestock that our forebears found here or brought with them from the Old World. And yet, these natural resources are far more vulnerable. The 20th Century witnessed the extinction of numerous breeds of livestock (as well as numerous varieties of fruits and vegetables). While man can do much to mare the landscape, it can (over time) recover its grandeur. Not so with the passing of a species from this world.

Yes, with every bite of heritage meats one not only tastes historic flavor but helps preserve that unique flavor. The sharing this feels like unearthing a treasure, and so it is…

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

Tonight, Duba & Company publicly presented at Start Garden to a team of venture capitalists who had given us some initial seed money. In lieu of the presentation’s video (which will be shared if I can figure out a way to do it), here’s the script I was working from:

“The meat industry today is where the beer industry was in the 1980s. Conventional meat is the carnivore’s PBR. It is best characterized by two descriptors: uniform and lacking in flavor. Duba & Company are merchants of heritage meats, the meat equivalent of microbrew beers. They offer the consumer fuller flavor and flavor diversity. Our hypothesis is that in a market whose palates have been primed by the microbrew movement, the consumer is ready for the advent of heritage meats. To test the hypothesis, we built a website through which to sell heritage meat.

And here’s what we found in the process. Ultimately, the greatest challenge is one of supply. We’ve made, however, some significant strides in this area in the past 90 days. We’ve attracted the interest of the Midwest Highland Cattle Association and the American Highland Cattle Association. Duba & Company will be featured in the national association’s quarterly The Bagpipe. This attention positions us for a greater share of the current supply. We are, further, in the process of acquiring one ton of heritage Pineywoods beef from the nation’s largest herd. We’re planning to partner with a heritage beef co-op in Virginia who have built Alleghany Meats, a $2,000,000 processing facility. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the organization that created the definition for heritage meats, is promoting Duba & Company amongst its partners and members.

Aside from these positive strides in securing a greater share of the existing and emerging supply, we looking to create our own apprenticeship program that pairs veteran farmers with younger farmers who’d like to produce these unique meats for us.

Besides the supply-side challenge, there are the challenges of transportation and warehousing. Transportation: how do we move meat outside of Michigan to Michigan for processing in a cost-effective way? As a start-up, we do not own our own processing facility with walk-in freezer. After exploring more than a dozen storage options for our existing inventory, we have just secured the ideal space. This allows us to pursing licensing from the State so that we can commence with sales.

In an attempt to demonstrate desirability to Start Garden, we explored the option of pre-selling our inventory; legal counsel advised against it. So, we created an insiders club, The Pioneers, and sold memberships that entitles members to a first swipe at our inventory. In two weeks we’ve sold all but 19 of the 50 memberships.

In conclusion, we believe that heritage meats represent the next microbrew movement. We’d love to think that Grand Rapids, already a major player in that revolution, would also be a major player in the heritage ‘micro’ meat movement.”

Start Garden Update Night2

Last week, Duba & Company began offering a limited number of Pioneer Memberships, so named because in the world of heritage meats it’s all frontier (please also see “The Pioneers”, last week’s blog post dedicated to our first members). And, as exhilarating as the wide-open expanse of frontier territory is, it’s certainly comforting–and encouraging–when you come across an outpost in the form of others out there who have be creating settlements in the territory. This post introduces you to two such “outposts”: two individuals making inroads “out there…”

Meet Chuck Neely of Riven Rock Farm in Virginia with whom I was able to get acquainted yesterday over the telephone. It was lunch hour, and Chuck was taking a break between farm chores. Here’s a guy who speaks the language of a “terroir of beef” (for more on the subject, please see “The Terroir of Beef”) and who further affirmed our experience of the enhanced flavors that come from cattle harvested later in life, say cattle 30 months old or more, beef as rare–and every bit as good as–a 25 Year Old Scotch (for more on this topic, please see “Scotch Beef”). Down in the Highlands of Virgina he’s raising Galloway beef, a heritage breed and one that we intend to make part of our core beef product life. He’s part of a grass-fed and heritage meat co-operative. Backed by community support–and government grants–the farms that make up this co-op have been able to build a small, $2,000,000 USDA-inspected facility to process their animals. With the processing facility within 20 minutes of most–if not all–of the farms, one can be further assured of a higher quality meat. The greater the distance an animal needs to travel to slaughter, you see,  the greater the chance of stressing animals, and stress certainly has an effect on the quality of meat.

While Duba & Company has a tasting panel, Neely spoke of another–one Carrie Oliver, a self-proclaimed “beef geek”–who has developed tasting notes and grades beef based on “texture”, “personality,” and “impression” (for more on the philosophy of tasting, please see “Two Schools of Tasting”). Oliver is of The Artisan Beef Institute, whose website proclaims “Psst! It’s Not About the Marbling,” a reference to the fact that the flavor of beef comes not primarily from fat, but from the diet of the animals.

I just thought you’d like to know that there are others out there who share the same convictions as we do about what makes for great meat.

He was pulled from the sinking ship through a hole too small for his body, literally losing his skin in the process; it was the only way to save him, and he knew it: the desperate deed was done at his own behest. Once safe from the stranded vessel which had been making its way down the Mighty Mississippi (mighty indeed!), the rescuers were caught completely off-guard when the survivor, dripping with blood and water, began to laugh. This was maybe the third time he had escaped from death by the skin of his teeth, and the dawning realization was to be born again; laughter was the only appropriate response. When examining their prospect further, deep scars on his back from prior life traumas were discovered. How had they been inflicted? He somewhat causally explained to them that he had hunted bear. Who was this Greek god before men, this Hercules? In a three part television series about the man, airing in the 1950s, Walt Disney had him don a coon skin hat, even though in reality David Crockett wore one infrequently. Crockett was solider, statesman, hunter, and…pioneer.

When living out West, on the front range of the Colorado Rockies, I would drive home for the summer to Western Michigan under the hot, dry sun. These endless days of driving afforded me the tremendous opportunity of listening to the adventures of Lewis and Clark and of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. These stories left an indelible mark on me in the form of the haunting sense that we were once more than we are now…

This restless feeling returns when thinking of the pioneers who settled the American frontier, brave souls like Crockett and Daniel Boone, himself captured by Shawnee natives, but who was later adopted as part of their tribe. These brave souls possessed a spirit of adventure and a willingness to risk all. They carved out of the forests, homesteads; out of the rolling hills and plains, farmsteads; out of the mountainous valleys, ranches. Each brought with them some craft or skill, some knowledge or expertise that formed the basis of these local and self-contained economies. They hunted, fished, farmed, and (sometimes) fought. They made their own candles, wool, and weapons. Their lives were hard, but it expanded the spirit. Our lives are—by comparison—easy, but decidedly hard on the spirit.

Heritage meats represent Frontier: new ground which is really the reclamation of ancient ground. They represent the recovery of a lost way of life, a way of life known to the pioneers. Heritage meats somehow embody all that was good and noble about the Old World, Colonial America, and the West—the “something more” that we once were. For these reasons, when yesterday Duba & Company announced open enrollment to its insiders’ club, its only seemed natural to name it in honor of the pioneers, the “first settlers” of new territory.

True, Pioneer members will be the first to taste the historic flavor of heritage meats by getting a first pass at our inventory (available this Spring). And they will also receive discounts on every purchase. Much more than this, though, I believe that Pioneer members are those who resonate with all that heritage meats represent: frontier territory.

There are a limited number of memberships being offered—only fifty, in fact—and about 20% of the memberships were sold in the first three hours of their offering. If you’re interested in becoming a Pioneer, please click here to learn more.

 This post has been dedicated to Duba & Company’s first Pioneers.

pioneers

 

Brewery Vivant is nestled in the very eclectic, very vibrant Cherry Hills business district where an ensemble of local merchants and restaurants line the brick-laden Cherry Street. Many of Vivant’s patrons bike or walk to the brewpub’s monastic environs or outdoor patio for its Belgian-inspired draft beers or to down its famous burger, ground fresh with bacon, and which is served up on a pretzel bun. (Even though many locals claim it’s the best burger in the city–notwithstanding Grand Rapids is home to Stella’s Lounge, whose burger was named best in America by GQ Magazine–it’s French and Belgian dishes are the brasserie’s best-kept secret; and a brasserie is a French word for “brewpub”, and not–as you may have guessed–a woman’s undergarment.) It was here that I spent two days manning the grill, cooking up (mainly) burgers and steaks under the supervision of now-head chef Chris Weimer, all in an attempt to buttress my budding grill skills. As this coming weekend might be the first really good grilling weekend–one of our favorite past times in Michigan–here are the trade secrets I’ve gleaned over time for bringing out the very best in burgers and steaks, some of which I picked up during those two unforgettable days on a professional grill.

First I want to share my conviction that heritage burger can be nearly–or just–as edifying and delectable as a heritage steak. This should be encouraging news for those who want a more affordable way to experience the delicious, fuller flavors that heritage meats offer. Beef which is primarily pasture-raised, as has been mentioned in prior posts, tastes of the land on which it is raised. The cattle transform the herbs, grasses, and minerals present in the soil into flavorful beef–provided, as well, that you have a rancher or farmer well-versed in the art of pasture-raised beef. The particular breed of cattle, too, plays a significant part in the beef’s flavor. Therefore, I strongly recommend if you are cooking with heritage meats that you use minimal spices and sauces. They should only be used to heighten or compliment the flavor of the beef, not to mask its flavor. It’s the flavor of the meat, after all, that you’re paying for (there’s, of course, the health benefits, too). If you need further convincing, please read this post from late last year which shares the account of one my life’s best beef experiences. It involved a burger of Scottish Highland beef, burger so good that not only did I dispense of any condiments, but also of the bun.

Cooking Heritage Burgers and Steaks in Seven Steps

1. Allow the meat, if frozen, to thaw slowly in the refrigerator. This usually takes a day or two.

2. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking. Again, depending on the size of the cut, this can take anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour.

3. Slather steaks with olive oil just prior to cooking (not necessary with burger) and sprinkle with salt and pepper: generously for thicker cuts of steak and bigger burgers, moderately for thinner steaks and smaller burgers.

4. If cooking steaks or burgers in a pan, lightly coat the bottom of the pan with some olive oil and allow the oil to heat over a medium-high heat. The oil’s ready when it just starts to smoke. If cooking steaks or burgers on a grill, use the “Four Second Test”: the grill’s hot enough if you can hold your hand an inch above the grill for four seconds before the heat gets too intense.

5. Cook the meat to the desired level of doneness: I’d discourage a well-done steak or burger (conventional wisdom says you’ll lose some of the coveted flavor of really good beef). But, as always, it’s up to you. CAUTION: It’s easy to overcook pasture-raised meat (there’s less insulation in terms of fat in these meats–more flavor but less fat). It’s better to err on the side of caution and under cook the meat–you can always finish the meat off in a hot oven (475 to 500 F).

6. Allow the steak or burger to “rest” before serving. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll let the meat rest for a little less time than it took to cook. This allows the meat to finish cooking, among other things. If cooking a steak, it is at this point that you might consider allowing a pat of butter to melt atop the steak as it rests.

7. If cooking a steak, just prior to serving you might consider seasoning it with sea salt–or other gourmet salt. If cooking a burger, be careful with toppings and condiments. You don’t want to cover or hide the wonderful flavor of heritage meats which represent a terroir (the ability to taste the geography in the food: the earth, minerals, and herbage of the region).