The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the organization which defines the term “heritage meats” and which works for the preservation of rare breeds of livestock, is soliciting our help to rescue an endangered species, the Choctaw Hog, from extinction. In a newsletter that hit this week, the Conservancy makes a powerful argument for the preservation of not just the Chactaw hog, but all livestock breeds. I hope you find the following information not only interesting but compelling.

First–and in terms of historic significance–the Choctaw hog journeyed West with the Choctaw Native Americans along the Trail of Tears, providing them with sustenance. It was coincidentally while reading these past couple of weeks out of a biography about David Crockett (The Lion of the West by Michael Wallis who’s popularly known as the voice of the Sheriff in the movie Cars) that I learned that the Choctaw Native Americans assisted the United States of America during the War of 1812 in its campaign against the hostile Creek Native Americans in frontier territory. Later, maybe 100 years after these hogs accompanied these Natives along the Trail of Tears, they came to the aid of residents of Oklahoma during the Great Depression, providing food for the state’s inhabitants.

Aside from the ways that the Choctaw Hog provides a living connection with these poignant moments in our national heritage, there maybe the unknown medical benefits to humans to which these hogs hold the key. Take, for instance, the Ossabaw pig which, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, was “…once a feral pig…[but] is now used for cutting-edge research on diabetes in humans.” The Convervancy further opines, “…perhaps Choctaw hogs will offer new culinary delights, like the Guinea hog, which was once disdained for its muscle to fat ratio, but is not highly prized by elite chefs for charcuterie.”

For their historical significance and medical and culinary value, rare heritage breeds of animals are of inestimable worth. Supporting organizations like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy or even directly supporting rare breeds themselves by eating the meat that comes from them are both a way of drawing from our heritage as well as an investment in our future.

 For more information about how you can help in the Choctaw Hog rescue, click here. Or, to read more about the Choctaw Hog, click here.

Choctaw Village near the Chefuncte by Francois Bernard, 1869, Peabody Museum Harvard University.

Choctaw Village near the Chefuncte by Francois Bernard, 1869, Peabody Museum Harvard University.

“Truth never damages a cause that is just.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

A few weeks ago, I found myself on the phone with Carrie Oliver (I keep wanting to say “Jamie” Oliver, but that’s another food celebrity). Ms. Oliver, something of a food celebrity herself, lives somewhere in California (isn’t that where celebrities live?) She’s the force behind the Artisan Beef Institute which believes–as do we–that there’s so much more to great beef than the presence of intramuscular fat (“marbling”). The Institute’s site has, in fact, trademarked the expression, “Psst! It’s not about the marbling.” This, of course, completely flies in the face of conventional wisdom (and the USDA grading system of prime, choice, and select which bases its determinations on marbling). Fat does play at least three roles, though. It gives meat texture. It is plays the role of an indicator that a beef animal was “finished” well, and finishing is very important to the quality and flavor of beef. But, in terms of what it lends to the actual taste of the beef–according to one source–it accounts for as little as 10% of the flavor. But even as I disagree with conventional wisdom, I digress.

As Carrie and I talked about beef she sort of offhandedly and parenthetically stated, “Of course there’s no such thing as the best beef.” I love that she just brought that out into the open. Think about it: do you ever hear of a vineyard claiming they have the best wine, or a brewery touting that they have the best beer? No doubt, there’s sub par beef out there (to say nothing of conventional beef which lacks flavor) just as there are wineries and breweries which are churning out an inferior product. But the joy of spending a weekend visiting the wineries of Napa Valley or the Leelanau Peninsula is tasting a plenitude of varietals from a number of different wineries. It’s about tasting the craft of the wine-makers and the terroir of the land. It’s about finding what you prefer. Nevertheless, there are a number of wineries (and breweries) that rise to the top of the heap, that consistently create great product and whose vintners and brewers are masters in their field. Even then, there’s a lot of room for subjectivity and preferences. And, to be honest, we wouldn’t want it any other way: it means that there’s a whole world out there to explore and you’ll never come to the end of it. There’s always room to be surprised and delighted by something you’ve never tasted before, that resonates deeply with you on a personal level. This, I believe, is a fundamental need of the human soul, which is why we need the arts (remember that food and drink can be art forms).

As merchants of heritage meats, Duba & Company is looking to introduce its customers to the best representations of beef from various breeds of cattle and various localities. We want pursuing our site to be something akin to a visit to the wineries of Napa Valley or the Leelanau Peninsula (which is why last week, we introduced our first Flight of Beef, which represents two “varietals”–or breedings–of beef and three different terroirs).

Aside from there not being any such thing as the best beef, another confession I make. And that is that I’m afraid. It was the summer of ’89 that Batman (starring Michael Keaton) was playing in theaters nation-wide. I was poolside at a family friend’s home on one of those hot, steamy summer days that makes your memory of it seem like a dream. Our neighbor talked about having seen the film, about just how good it was, and it stirred a deep desire to see the film as well as heightened my expectations for something ephemeral. Whatever was the golden promise for which I sought fulfillment from the film, it was not granted. I expected the world; I got a really good movie. The gap between my expectations and experience was measured in disappointment. Oh, to have seen Batman without any expectations and to leave deeply satisfied! And that is my fear for those who have been following this blog and visiting our website to absorb its information: that their experience of our beef will be akin to my 1989 viewing of Batman. I love getting reviews of our beef such as the one recounted in last week’s blog (please see “Beef Takes Flight”), comparing our beef to the Glenlivet 18. But they don’t always go that way. Sometimes I hear, as I did earlier this week, that our beef is “good”: “we really liked it!”. Hearing that causes something within me to wilt a little. That is my confession.

I do have just one more confession to make: I’m Batman (and if, after watching the linked video clip, you like this post: “I want you to do me a favor. Tell all your friends about me.” In others words, share this post).

Wilted Rose

This blog post is dedicated to Andy Duba and Joe Tormala who already have been telling all their friends about me.

When last year I began scouring the state for farms which raise heritage meats, an adventure which involved a number of farm visits, I was–at first–disappointed when they would send me home with “mere” ground beef (what I wanted was a cut of top sirloin or even a ribeye, see). My tune quickly changed when I started grilling and eating the burgers (in fact, I started whistling dixie). The first ground beef to be tried was from a culled Highland cow harvested at around four years of age (the practice of culling is to take an animal out of circulation because it is no longer deemed useful to the herd). That burger of Highland beef numbered among the top three beef experiences of my life (for the full story, see A Third Pillar in the Parthenon of Beef). In fact, if you consider the flavor of the beef alone, I do not hesitate to say that the burger was vastly preferable to a tenderloin of conventional beef, an entree that graces the menu of many of the country’s Prime steakhouses to the tune of $50 or more.

In April of this year, ground of Highland beef was shipped down to one of my brothers in Texas as part of a shipping experiment (could our packaging maintain a couple days’ travel in summer conditions?). My cooking instructions to him encouraged the sparse use of condiments. Incredulously, he gave it a try, which lead to a series of text messages:

[Brother]: “I can’t lie–we got the condiments out of the fridge and had them on the counter standing by. When the meat was done cooking we cut a little piece off and tasted it plain to test the flavor. The condiments immediately went back into the fridge. I never had a burger with just the meat and the bun…never. [My wife] and I agreed that it was, no joke, the best hamburger meat we’ve ever had. I still can’t believe it was as good as it was.”

[Author]: “Everyone tells me how good it is but I still get nervous whenever someone new tries it. You just had the Glenlivet 12 of burger.”

[Brother]: “I would say more like 18 year. The stuff tasted like candy.”

That last part, comparing the Highland beef burger to an 18 Year old Scotch, still brings a tear to my eye.

If I were a prophet, my message would be this: those used to conventional beef just don’t know how good beef can be. Last month, my wife and I sat down to a dinner of a flight of beef (a sampling of pasture-raised burger from three different farms). Much to my chagrin, she ended up dipping some of the burger in a pool of ketchup (a prophet is never accepted in his home town but especially not under the same roof).

Yesterday, Duba & Company introduced what I hope will become one of our best sellers: the Flight of Beef. It’s an inexpensive way to try great beef, heritage beef. It features ground beef from the three farms representative of our current inventory. Think of it as a way to verify what we’ve been saying all along: that one can taste the terroir of pasture-raised beef. Pasture-raised beef from Middleville, Michigan, tastes different from pasture-raised beef from Three Rivers, Michigan. Interestingly enough, it does seem that similarities exist in the flavor profile of beef from the same breed of cattle that come from different terroirs: there’s a difference in taste but some underlying similarity. You’ll be able to taste this phenomena, as well, in our Beef Flight. The flight features three, one pound packages of ground beef, each individually packaged and containing information about the terroir, the age of the animal at harvest, and the length of its dry aging.

For more information, please visit our Flight of Beef product page by clicking here.

Monday, June 10, 2013, is the grand opening of Duba & Company. You’ll be able to come to our website, peruse our inventory, and place an order. In anticipation of that event, here are five reasons to celebrate heritage meats.

FLAVOR. Two ideas here: fuller flavor and distinctive terroir. You’ll notice that, unlike conventional meat, heritage meats have fuller flavor. You’ll also notice a difference in flavor profiles from one farm to the next as you’re able to taste the geography of each region (the terroir), including the diet of the animals. Other factors that influence the flavor profile of the meats Duba & Company purveys include: the craft of the farmer or rancher; the breed of animal from which the meat comes (e.g. Scottish Highland beef versus Red Poll beef); the aging the meat undergoes; and the age of the animal at harvest.

NUTRIENT-DENSE. Heritage meats are raised primarily on pasture without growth hormones or prophylactic antibiotics. Further, they are higher in omega-3 fatty acids (“good fat”) and lower in omega-6 fatty acids (“bad fat”). In truth, the human body needs both kinds of fatty-acids, but it’s about ingesting them in the proper ratio. Conventional beef has a significantly higher ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s compared with heritage beef.

ETHICS. These meats are raised in small batches by dedicated farmers and ranchers in a humane fashion. In keeping with the natural order, these animals are not treated as if they were inanimate objects which—we fear—can be a tendency in the factory farm model.

CONSERVATION. Think of heritage meats (and heirloom vegetables and fruits) as the National Parks System of food. Eating them ensures the preservation of rare breeds and rare varieties of vegetables and fruits. Sadly, many animal breeds and vegetative varieties have become extinct in the 20th Century, an era that witnessed the rise of the factory food system which largely ignored the diversity of our food supply. Eating heritage meats, therefore, is an investment in biodiversity.

ROMANCE. Tangibly, heritage meats capture the historic flavor of meats enjoyed by our ancestors. Intangibly, they are potent embodiments of the mystique and ethos of the Old World, the West, and the Shire…