We spent time as a family Sunday afternoon spread out on beach towels on the bank of Bear Creek which runs the expanse of Townsend Park. The late afternoon–plenty warm, sunny, and breezy–was one of those perfect summer days for reading and talking. Looking up at the stone bridge in whose shadow we lay, I realized this bridge was the very place where I was to propose to my wife after a horse-drawn sleigh ride on a cold February evening in 2010. Even now as I write, it occurs to me in a flash that it was during this sleigh ride that I first heard of Scottish Highland cattle (the driver of our carriage has a brother who raised them). This bridge, too, was the place where–in the creek as a youth of maybe nine–I sustained an injury, sending me on my first trip to the emergency room in an event that involved a big toe, nicely filleted by something very sharp lurking in the creek bed.

Leaving the park behind and–with it–all thoughts of sliced appendages, the signs by the roadside were reminders of the Greek Festivals that were occurring today throughout the city. In light of this, our menu that evening couldn’t be more appropriate: “tacos” with a Greek twist, using ground of Cheviot lamb instead of ground beef and warm pita shells instead of taco shells. A feta mint tzatziki stood in for sour cream, and a cucumber heirloom tomato salsa took the place of a more traditional pico de gallo. Since our first shipment of Cheviot lamb meat arrived earlier this month, we’ve enthusiastically been trying recipes featuring lamb and loving every one of them. This recipe was chosen for its ability to showcase the flavor of the lamb without overwhelming it by too many spices.

The meal was put together in the kitchen of the farmhouse that my sister and brother-in-law just recently purchased on Grand Rapids’ northeast side (an antique stove and several chickens came with the place). As my family was still very much moving into their new abode, a make-shift (but elegant) table was set on the front porch, using for the purpose a wooden coffee table. Lanterns and Christmas lights cast a wonderful glow about us as we looked out onto the yard lined by a white-picket fence and wood archway which covered the pathway leading up to the house. The meal was delectable and paired with a Pinot Nior which complemented the lamb tacos wonderfully well. Life: as it ought to be.

For ground of Cheviot lamb, click here.

For the Greek Taco recipe, click here.

IMG_6077

At Duba & Company, we realize that we’re asking the consumer to pay for heritage meats maybe twice what they’re used to paying for conventional meat. One is reminded of Starbucks doing the same years ago in a market that only knew of a $0.25 cup of coffee. One is reminded, too, of the proportionately higher prices that microbreweries ask for their craft brews. This post is meant to give readers an appreciation not only for the costs involved in raising heritage meats but also the added value of the next microbrew movement that’s only just beginning to take place: the rediscovery of heritage meat.

Much of the retail price of heritage meats can be understood by looking at why conventional meat is so inexpensive, by comparison. The low cost of conventional meat is a towering example of the economies of scale: raising animals quickly (with the added help of growth hormones), in close quarters (requiring antibiotics), and feeding them inexpensive feed (which requires no expertise). It’s the industrial revolution of food. By applying the same methodology that gave us the low-cost automobile, food costs are driven down. Instead of meat, automobiles, and televisions being luxury items, thanks to the factory model they are ubiquitous fixtures for the average American. Once meat heralded and marked festive occasions (an anniversary, a religious holiday, or a birthday). Now, hardly a day goes by that it doesn’t grace the plate of at least one meal.

Of course, animals and vegetative life are not the inanimate components of an automobile or television. We are finding that produce and meat raised in such a way comes at a cost. Sacrificed are flavor and the nutritive benefits that cannot be rushed but that can only be achieve with time, space, a quality diet, and the expertise of growers. And these factors add cost to the final product, but they also add inestimable worth.

Because our household has decided to eat qualitatively better food, we eat less meat. Meat is thus regaining in our household its ability to enhance a special occasion: a dinner with friends, a Sunday meal, a barbeque at a lakeside retreat.

This post–the first ever published–is dated 31 August 2011, written on the occasion of my marriage to Erin. As we approach our second anniversary, it’s reposted here as a way of remembering our roots: recipes and the stories that inspired them.

Married in late August and celebrating the event at an outdoor reception reminiscence of Bilbo’s 111th Birthday Party (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), my bride and I had long-desired a Michigan Honeymoon.

There was first camping on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, at a site found after hiking along the ridge of a steep bluff amid the poplars and dune grass.

Our next stop would be a bed & breakfast in Leeland. And so we made our way from the Manistee National Forest up picturesque Highway 31 and then continued north on M-22 where, somewhere between Empire and Glen Arbor, a rustic roadside stand drew us in with its fresh blackberries, blueberries, and vegetables being sold out of a weather-worn wood shack. What really began to unlock my inspiration for a recipe was a fresh herb garden behind the stand. Using a pair of scissors, we gingerly clipped our share of fresh mint, sage, and rosemary. And that’s when I began to dream of cooking dinner at our ultimate destination: a private log cabin on the cool, rocky shores of the greatest, deepest, most mysterious of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior. Frozen steaks were tucked away on a bed of dry ice in the car, and I didn’t know what sort of recipe I wanted to create, only that I wanted to gather fresh ingredients as we made our way further and further north, purchasing from outdoor markets, such as the one we were at now.

Pulling away from the roadside market, we began heading to our next destination: The Great Lakes Tea & Spice Company, a place I had been desiring to take my new bride. The Company inhabited a quaint white wood building in Glen Arbor. It was there that we picked up a canister of their award-winning Sweetwater (Bourbon) Vanilla Tea. We would be sweetening the tea, by the way, from a jar of honey (a wedding gift) that was given to us by a bee-keeper, who had explained the etymology of  the word “honeymoon” as meaning to be enjoying “honey” for the 28 days following marriage (the number of days in, among other things, the cycle of the “moon”). We tarried a bit in Glen Arbor, wine-tasting, and left for the bed & breakfast in Leeland, staying just a head of a series of summer storms that would roll through the Leelanau Peninsula that night…

A decision was made the next morning, as we left behind the town of Leeland (which has all the feel of a fishing village in Maine), that we would meander our way up to our private retreat on Lake Superior by passing through Traverse City and Petoskey. Serendipitously, we parked near the river walk in Traverse City on a day when the City Farmers Market was in full swing (and during peak season, too!). We purchased, among other fresh produce, a brown paper bag of Chanterelle Mushrooms: I wanted something earthy, wild, and organic; and these certainly fit the bill. The day’s richest moment, however, came when we stopped at the Petoskey State Park. There, I was able to stroll along the white sands in the brilliant sun as the breakers crashed and rolled in. Despite the thunder storms that had swept through northwest Michigan the previous night and the strong breezes that followed in their wake, the clouds broke sometime after noon, and the day was surprisingly warm.

It wasn’t until we left Petoskey and crossed over into the Upper Peninsula that the temperatures began to drop significantly. We now passed into grayer skies and intermittent showers. Now Michigan may be the state of twin peninsulas, but they’re fraternal twins: in the northern country its landscape is rockier, its weather cooler, and its feel more ancient, more mythical, more Native. It was here that we would spend the remainder of our honeymoon, exploring–among other wonders–the expansive, majestic Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore where the white sand beaches and turquoise  waters mix with juggernauts of rock, pine, and the unrelenting winds of this Northern Sea.

Toward the end of our week’s honeymoon, we carved out an evening to prepare and cook an exquisite meal, a meal that we enjoyed listening to the haunting sounds of Celtic music, which somehow seemed a fitting musical score for our secluded place on the shores of the great lake. My Irish bride created a center piece for the table using slate rocks gathered by the lake shore and then accenting them with heather, yellow flowers, and tea lights.

Our entrée was, of course, a succulent strip steak accompanied by a side of Chanterelles, sautéed in a sauce of olive oil, butter, cream, fresh herbs, and spices (please see Chanterelle Mushrooms in Cream Sauce): I can think of no more perfect way to enjoy a steak in the Northern Country than with the woodsy and aromatic flavors of the Chanterelle, where the yellowish orange color of this mushroom mimics the color of the Birch and Tamarack this time of year.

Prior to our steak dinner I had placed plump, ripe blackberries; blueberries; and sliced strawberries in a mixture of honey and fine whiskey (the whiskey, like the honey, a wedding gift). Left to marinate as we enjoyed our dinner, they were now ready to be used for desert. Taking a basic recipe for short bread, I had added to the batter some honey and the dry Sweetwater (Bourbon) Vanilla Tea. Once done baking I placed a piece of shortbread in a bowl, topped it with the marinated fresh berries, drizzled them with the marinade (now a sauce infused with the berries’ juices), and served it up with vanilla bean ice cream and a garnish of the fresh mint. Down by the lake shore, next to a crackling fire, we relished this desert under a late summer sky.

Lake Superior Blazing Sunset, Steve Perry, backcountrygallery.com. Used with Permission.

Lake Superior Blazing Sunset, Steve Perry, backcountrygallery.com. Used with Permission.

In anticipation of the release of Duba & Company’s Cheviot line of lamb on Monday, August 12–a breed dating back to at least the 1300s–last week’s post (“Gateway Lamb”) celebrated the the historical events of that era. This week, I thought it fitting to continue by celebrating the region from which these lamb originate: the Cheviot Hills, which straddle the northern boarder of England and the southern boarder of Scotland. Treat yourself to the stunning beauty of the region with these images (provided by TripAdvisor):

Photos of Cheviot Hills, Wooler
This photo of Cheviot Hills is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of Cheviot Hills, Wooler
This photo of Cheviot Hills is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of Cheviot Hills, Wooler
This photo of Cheviot Hills is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of College Valley Estate, Wooler
This photo of College Valley Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of College Valley Estate, Wooler
This photo of College Valley Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of College Valley Estate, Wooler
This photo of College Valley Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Photos of College Valley Estate, Wooler
This photo of College Valley Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor
 

 

For a further immersion in the Cheviot hill country, listen to “The Ballad of Otterburn”, a folk song which draws its inspiration from the Battle of Otterburn (1388)–taking place in this high country between Scotland and England.

 

 

Our first-ever shipment of lamb arrived at Duba & Company this week, and we’re announcing today the release of this new product line for sale on Monday, August 12 (lamb will be able to be purchased by Pioneer Members beginning Monday, August 5). Our inaugural lamb line features Cheviot lamb—rare in the United States—from Dundonald Highlands, Three Rivers, MI.

We sampled a couple of rib chops of the Chevoit lamb (the chops are small–between two and three ounces each), rubbing them with olive oil prior to cooking and seasoning them with salt and pepper (the method for cooking lamb is the same for beef steaks and burger, and we include instructions with every order). For those who haven’t tried lamb or who are unsure they like it, our lamb is an ideal starting place. The flavor is very nice, having only a hint of light “lambiness” to it, a flavor that is accented nicely by the flavors indicative of the land on which the sheep grazed. We even cooked up a couple of lamb burgers, again seasoning them with salt and pepper and serving them up on whole grain bread. Very enjoyable! Delighted by the flavor of the Chevoit lamb, it created a desire to try the more adventurous mutton: meat from older, more mature sheep which has a deeper, richer flavor (lamb is a term reserved for younger sheep). I believe our Chevoit lamb is a gateway for virgin and novice lamb eaters, an excellent introduction to the flavor of lamb that will make them want to further explore the exciting taste that lamb and mutton have to offer.

Apart from the flavor of Chevoit lamb, the breed is an old one and dates back to at least the 1300s where it originated in the hill country between Scotland and England. As a way of celebrating the fact that heritage meats are a living link with the past, what follows are 14th Century events to which the Chevoit would have been present:

 
The defeat of the French at Agincourt by King Henry V (1415)

The defeat of the French at Agincourt by King Henry V (1415)

Joan of Arc leads the French against the English (1428)

Joan of Arc leads the French against the English (1428)

The War of the Roses (1455)

The War of the Roses (1455)

While you enjoy the flavors of Chevoit lamb from Duba & Company, think of these things.