The boyhood Halloween experience continues to haunt me after all these years. Those activities I’ve grown up with in the month of October have now become traditions: strolls through cemeteries lined by wrought iron fences; toasted pumpkin seeds harvested during the carving of grim aspects in flesh of the large orange gourds; and the reading of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale about a bewitched borough in upstate New York–circa the 1790s–that harbors the ghost of a headless horseman. I submit that this classic example of early American literature does for Halloween what Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does for Christmas. But how? And why? The thoughts that follow are a first attempt at understanding the nature of the spell cast by this literary work.

For starters, there’s the nostalgia of the piece. It takes us back into rural, agrarian Colonial America–into upstate New York and the Hudson River Valley. Nestled amongst the rolling hills lays a quiet town (Tarry Town) containing those iconic fixtures of early American life: the baker, the alehouse, a one-room school house presided over by a schoolmaster, the village church with adjacent cemetery, and farmsteads.  Recreation and social life centered around beer, church, hunting, and agriculture. There are the “Sleepy Hollow Boys,” led by Brom Bones, who add just the right touch of revelry and mischief to town life.

This tale, moreover, is highly atmospheric. In fact, the setting itself exerts over the reader the same dream-like quality it casts over the inhabitants of Tarry Town. In Greek mythology, the line between the material and spiritual realms are intertwined, blurred even. Nymphs and faeries make their home in the woodlands and seas. The same quality is found in this literary work where the setting itself becomes, as it were, a character in the story: “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor…Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.”

The climax of the old tale comes on Halloween night (that is tonight), the night–as legend has it–the spirits are most active. It was the ghostly tales told during a rich farmer’s annual frolic that set the stage for the climax of the story, an encounter with the most fearsome specter of Sleepy Hollow: the headless horseman. This, ultimately, is what this literary piece is: a well-told ghost story. And we love it for its ability to suggest that there is a world just beyond the senses, a world that is far more expansive, far more mysterious than the one that presents itself to the five senses. To conclude, allow yourself to enjoy all the magic of a ghost story, well-told. Here is Brom Bone’s recounting for Icabod Crane the Sleepy Hollow legend, borrowed here from Walt Disney’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s tale…

Author’s Note: You may also enjoy reading last year’s post, “A Treat for Halloween…with a Feast to Follow”.

The following article appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of The Bagpipe, the official journal of the American Highland Cattle Association. Last week’s post tells our story in the words of another, and this week’s post is a re-telling in our own.

One summer, maybe four years ago now, I had taken up mountain biking, finding in the sport the same allure as others find in fly fishing or hunting: a connection with the outdoors. After a month or two of this invigorating activity, the biking trails within ten miles of home were becoming too familiar, too worn, and I began to seek more exotic terrain. Turning to a guidebook of Michigan bike trails, I began to read their descriptions. One in particular stood out amongst all the others, beckoning to be discovered: that of the trails at the Ionia State Recreation Area.

Mounting a Diamondback on my red 1998 Honda Civic, I set out for the park whose namesake is an isle off the western coast of Scotland. It took more than a little effort to find the trail system but—once found—the open country unfolded into fields and prairies, brooks and woodlands, sunshine and the summer breeze. Brushing against the tall grasses as my bike whisked by, I remember thinking that though a $5 entry fee had been paid upon entering the park I would gladly have given a hundred for the experience. And then something completely unexpected happened. Cresting a high hill, I was greeted by the sound of bagpipes. Here, on one edge of the trail system bordered by a lonely country road, a pipe player had come to be away from it all, and I was treated to a most exquisite gift.

I’d love to say that the story of our heritage meat company (Duba & Company) was born that day in Ionia. It wasn’t. But it does help tell the story. For two generations, dating back to the late 1940s or early 1950s, my family ran a fine dining restaurant that became something of an institution in western Michigan. Duba’s Restaurant was renowned for its prime rib and gracious hospitality. A fortuitous offer in 2005 by a Michigan-based bank allowed the four Dubas who owned the restaurant—my father included—to sell the property on which the restaurant sat and, for the time being, exit the restaurant business. It was my father, Michael Duba and head chef of Duba’s Restaurant, who suggested that the Family start selling its signature steak online to the West Michigan clientele that had come to regard the steak as without peer. We would procure the steaks from the same butcher with whom the Family worked for so many years and—the thinking was—become a sort of West Michigan “Omaha Steaks”.

In December of 2011, word came that the butcher who sourced and cut our beef was ceasing business operations; we’d be losing our supplier. The search for the next Duba steaks commenced. In the Spring of 2012, while preparing for a presentation to the staff at a local microbrewery on the topic of heirloom vegetables, I stumbled onto something completely un-looked for: the meat equivalent of heirloom vegetables. “Heritage meats” by name, the discovery was like unearthing a buried treasure. Here were meats that came from neolithic-looking beasts that reminded me of the cattle I had seen in one of my favorite films, Braveheart. Besides the Highland breed, there were the cattle that ventured with the Spanish explorers to the “New World” as well as another breed of livestock that journeyed with the Choctaw Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. Immediately, I was seized by the mythic potency of heritage meats, by their power to convey so much of what stirs the imagination: story, far-away lands, and the ethos of our ancestors. In other words, I saw in heritage meats an embodiment of the mystique of the Old World, the West, and—as J.R.R. Tolkien fans will appreciate—the Shire.

Now, I have long believed great businesses are those that communicate an intangible experience through the medium of a tangible product. Exemplars of such companies are the New Belgian Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO, The Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, MI, and Buffalo Jackson Trading Company in Charlotte, NC. To visit them, whether in person or online, is to enter another realm. Following their example, I wanted to provide the market with more than meats of unparalleled quality and flavor; I wanted to bring to bear all the romance of heritage meats, an experience we’ve tried to create through our website, weekly blog posts, and packaging. In other words, I wanted to give customers what that bike ride through the Ionia State Recreation Area gave me: pure Romance. And so, for us, our heritage meat company is both about the flavor and romance of heritage meats.

With plans to open a brick-and-mortar old world butcher shoppe, Duba & Company currently sells online to the home consumer, shipping heritage meats to both the east and west coasts of the United States, as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Texas. It is proud to showcase and honor on its website those farms and ranches with whom it partners. The Company, furthermore, invites farms and ranches raising exceptional heritage beef—beef raised primarily on pasture and without growth hormones and prophylactic antibiotics—to contact its owner, Jeff Duba, if they have interest in having the Company carry their product. And, while Duba & Company will continue to carry all types of heritage beef, I freely admit that Highland beef has a pride of place in our product line. After all, I spent a semester abroad, studying in Great Britain and traveling to Scotland—to Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow, and the Isle of Arran—only to fall in love with its people, culture, land, and Scotch whisky.

The discovery of heritage meats, like everything that is good, came to me like the playing of bagpipes in the Ionia countryside (namely, as a gift). And what a gladness it is to share that gift as merchants of heritage meats.

The following article appears in the Autumn edition of Roadbelly Magazine, and we’ve been wanting to share it with you. The piece is written by Tiffany Ewigleben.

“Conveying the mystique and ethos of heritage meats, meats which
embody all that is noble and good about the Old World, the West, and
the Shire.”

Duba & Company brings you meats that are more than just nutrient dense, flavorful sustenance. They bring you meats with meaning. A reverent respect for food and the people behind it seems to be in Jeff Duba’s blood. Son of the owners of the former Duba’s Restaurant, Jeff has grown up entrenched in the culinary world. The closing of Duba’s in Grand Rapids acted as the catalyst for the creation of a new company.

Former Duba’s Restaurant customers, frustrated with the lack of a good steak in town, caused the spark the started Duba’s Steaks, formed by Jeff and his father. It was decided that would sell the cuts the customers were looking for, but Jeff initially struggled with the type of meat they would be providing.

“I realized that the beef we would be selling would really just be conventional beef. A high-grade conventional beef, but still conventional beef… It comes from an industry that treats animals as if they were inanimate objects. So, I said, I’m gonna look for something else. That’s when I discovered heritage beef.”

Heritage beef comes from breeds of cattle that have been overlooked as the country’s food system shifted. From family farms to factory farms, we have made these animals rare. We’ve lost touch with cattle such as the Highland, whose long horns wouldn’t work in a CAFO; or the Dexter, a slightly smaller cattle that takes longer to reach maturity. Raising cattle has been reduced to simply making Meat™ — mass-produced¬, uniform, inhumane, and tasteless.

Sourced from pure breeds or a mix of rare breeds, these cattle are raised free of prophylactic antibiotics and growth hormones. They roam and graze pasture land — always nurtured with an all plantbased diet. The idea is to conserve these breeds and add to the genetic diversity of our livestock pool. By encouraging consumption, we can actively embrace our agricultural heritage.
With the idea firmly planted in Jeff’s mind that heritage beef would be one of their product lines, things began to take off. Leaving job security as a teacher (and philosopher), to embrace the new business, an unexpected setback suddenly occurred. In 2011, Duba’s Steaks lost their conventional beef supplier. Pursuing leads for new conventional beef would take Jeff across the country, to Colorado on the day of the Waldo Canyon Fire, and to Nebraska with an overbooked rancher, all resulting in missed opportunities to even discuss options for product.

“I say to my wife, ‘this is really strange, it feels like we are being thwarted here—but it doesn’t feel wrong, it feels like it’s meant to be.’“ Jeff looks off into the distance; eyes far away. He smiles. “Shortly after that, it became all about heritage beef. We decided to put all our energy into that. That’s what we’re passionate about anyway. The company became very focused and changed its name.”
Duba & Company-Merchants of Heritage Meats– the name itself is reminiscent of the past, reminiscent of something we have lost; knowledge unused. Jeff wants us to regain that knowledge. Duba & Company is not only a purveyor of fine meats, but also a company that provides education for the masses. After all, what better way to enjoy your food than to truly understand it?

Marketing will eventually take on the form of product flow. You will learn about the meat (such as beef), then the history of the breed (Galloway, for example), then information about the farm the meat is sourced from. Explanations of the various cuts will be available, along with cooking tutorials, via Duba & Company’s website.

Jeff is able to provide this information for his customers because of how hard he has worked to develop relationships with his farmers. Aided by his affable nature and honest passion, Jeff secured product from farms such as LEA-White in Charlotte, MI and DunDonald Highlands in Three Rivers, MI.
A natural progression of established Michigan ideals, which Jeff calls ‘symbolic potency,’ are occurring here. There is a correlation between things like microbrews, heirloom vegetables, and heritage meats. We are recapturing the lost, unearthing flavors that are unknown to us, but were known to our ancestors. By returning to a more affirming method of producing and consuming food, Duba & Company is helping us rediscover our roots — one steak at a time.

Last month we took our first family vacation. Making a conscious decision this year to take a relaxing vacation, we decided to be in one place–for an extended period of time–with little or no agenda. Of course, there are those activities one can’t help but look forward to on vacation (activities like reading, hiking, and cooking). In the weeks leading up to our week away from it all, I was struck by the notion of smoking beef brisket, a cooking method requiring time, the smoke of hickory chips, and low cooking temperatures. This would be a first for me, and the experience led to a startling self-discovery.

The preparations for the experiment began in the days leading up to our departure for the far North: the acquisition of beef brisket and a smoker with which to cook it. When my parents’ next-door neighbor–a retired Army drill Sergent–passed away suddenly, he left a treasure trove of cooking apparatus in his garage. I acquired a rotisserie, and my parents found themselves with a smoker. Our last stop before leaving for Drummond Island, therefore, was to pick up the latter. It, however, didn’t fit in our vehicle, as it was already nearly full. Of course, I had anticipated this and had envisioned creating a natural smoker in the good earth on the shore of Lake Huron. I was reminded, however, that Drummond Island is sheer rock. That is how we left for the island with beef brisket in tote, no way to smoke it, and the starry-eyed optimism that a way would materialize.

Upon arrival at our destination on the southern end of the world’s third largest fresh water island, I went rummaging through an out-building on the property, looking for anything that could be re-purposed as a smoker. There’s a dim memory I have of a picture book where a group of children go into an overstuffed attic to play. The boys find broom sticks that double as swords and horses. The girls wrap themselves in cloth, don lampshades as hats, and hold a beauty pageant. It’s a story of ingenuity and imagination, a power of the mind that I fear I seldom employ in a world where too often video games and television become our sole forms of entertainment. In my search for a make-shift smoker, that part of the brain somehow came back to life, and I found my oven in a dismantled potbelly stove.

Because cooking beef brisket is an all-day affair, I awoke early on a Tuesday morning and began by transporting the stove by wheel barrel from the outbuilding down to the rocky lake shore. There were two grills from the garage that fit perfectly inside the oven, forming two levels. A drip pan was placed on the middle level and coals were kindled below. The brisket slow-cooked over the course of about eight hours on the upper level. Every two hours or so, I added hickory chips drenched in beer to the hot coals, resulting in a sweet smoke that flavored the meat. With the sun dipping low in the western sky, my wife and I savored the thinly cut pieces of hickory-smoked beef around the campfire.

Something really did come to life that day, a part of the mind that lay dormant for quite some time. Call it ingenuity. Call it creativity. Call it dogged determination. I’ll call it the inner MacGyver.

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This Autumn has been incredibly kind to us. It almost beckons us to extend the grilling–and smoking–season. If you find yourself looking to smoke some beef brisket, we just got some in. Click here for product availability.

Beginning in 1999 the first of the three new Star Wars episodes was released. The computer generated imagery (CGI) used by the filmmakers produced special effects that were clean, polished, and fantastical. I remember my friend Aaron lamenting the fact, preferring instead the special effects used in Star Wars episodes 4 – 6 which date back to the late 1970s. And I quite agree: there’s something more real and believable about, for instance, the Millenium Falcon when compared to the CGI spaceships of the most recent installments of the Star Wars franchise.

Duba & Company is in the process of gradually updating the product photos on our website. In fact, the first photo shoot wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and the family gathered together for the occasion to eat the cuts that were cooked up after the camera’s shutter ceased clicking away. Standing around the grill, my father–a chef who’s been privy to product photo shoots–talked about the methods employed in the industry. He told of how when a major grocery chain wanted some photos of steaks on a grill, they hired a photographer who bought a new Weber, cut out the bottom, and installed a red light to create the effect of burning coals. Everything about the photos was very neat and clean. I was reminded by the “exposé” of the illusion created with the CGI of Star Wars Episodes 1 – 3 and compare our our photo shoot to the Millenium Falcon wherein a physical model was used by the filmmakers to create a spacecraft that was was somehow more raw, real, and substantive.

Of course, the analogy breaks down since since we didn’t use fake flat iron steaks (and flat iron steaks aren’t made of iron). And, what’s more, the behind-the-scenes story you get of the photo shoot is even more substantive. It’s family and good friends gathering together around the table, each contributing something to make the meal memorable.

We’d encourage you to check out our new product photos; we think you’ll enjoy them. What’s more, we’ve added descriptions for each cut, descriptions which occasionally include ideas of how to cook a particular cut. We’ve even secured permission from Mark Schatzker, author of  Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, to use a couple of the colorful descriptions he uses on the back cover of that juicy book. Here’s hoping you’ll enjoy the descriptions for each cut of meat as much as you enjoy the photos that accompany them! (Click here or on the image below to begin viewing our product photo update in progress. Then, click on a cut to read about it).

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