The freezer in our home kitchen is filled to the gills (so to speak) with beef right now to the point where you’re dogging bullets of frozen ground beef whenever you open the freezer door. These arctic scuds have all the precision of a heat-seeking missile whose target is the bare foot (either foot will do: it makes no matter), and when you start taking battle wounds in the form of bruises to the feet, you know it’s time to start cooking the stuff. This small arsenal is the result of spending the past few months criss-crossing the State of Michigan, visiting with the men and women who raise small herds of pastured beef (at least it’s primarily pasture-raised beef: there’s not much by way of pasture in a Michigan winter, so the cattle may rely then on hay, haylage [which is, basically, fermented hay], and small amounts of grain). And that’s what we’re after: pasture (the grasses and other green and growing things found on it) for its ability to impart that richer, fuller flavor we want on our meat (as well as the interesting and various flavors produced by the terroir of the individual farm). This is, of course, the beef which most of us have never even tried (just we few, we happy few). It’s the very import of the mission–of the quest–for the best in these “artisanal” meats that has lead to the stockpile of beef. The main reason for the beef build-up (call it “preparedness”) was (and is) to acquire enough samples for our tasting panel of seasoned palates to try several of the beef at once: to make comparisons and develop tasting notes for flavor profiles. But, I’ll admit that part of me was afraid somehow that these meats would disappoint, that they would not live up to their expectations, and so I let them just sit there…
Last Thursday night I had a pound of Ground of Highland Beef with me from, according to one source, the premiere breeder of Scottish Highland Cattle east of the Mississippi (see also “Charging the Fields of Michigan’s Highlands”). It was brought in to a local brewpub where the kitchen staff and myself formed two, 1/2 pound patties and threw them on the grill. Prior to grilling, they were seasoned simply with salt and pepper. After about 10 to 15 minutes the patties had become burgers and they were set out to rest (the final step in the cooking process). Then, we bit in.
I’ll admit I was not fully prepared for what happened next: obscene accolades, all around, from the kitchen staff (and if you’ve ever been in the trenches of a restaurant’s kitchen, you’ll know this is a very, very good thing). And if I may put words to what, exactly, the kitchen staff considered to be so–how do I put it delicately?–“Good like the Sofa King” about that burger, I’d have this to say: “Full of flavor: rich, dark, deep, indulgent.” How’s that? And, for the first time in my life (or perhaps second or third), I found myself, the next day, thinking about that flavor, wanting another “hit”. This must be, I thought, what has been described as “meat hunger”. And of meat hunger, one could say like Romeo before us: “O heavy lightness! serious vanity! Mis-shapen disorder of perfectly pleasing forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! Still waking sleep!” Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I can tell you this: I’d prefer that burger (sans ketchup or any other thing that would hide its flavor) to most other steaks I’ve ever had. This experience forms a third pillar in that Parthenon of beef experiences that have already been recounted in two previous posts (please see “Of Mountains, Beauty, Affliction, and the Steak Dinner” and “A Quest Begins (Part II)”).
Nevertheless, something else totally unexpected happened the next morning (Friday). The breeder from whence came that bold, legendary beef contacted me with an offer I could not refuse: a quarter of beef. And so that’s how it happened that on Saturday in December our Company’s first purchase of beef was made. And throughout it all was this sense that everything was aligning, coming together in a most fitting fashion, as in the telling of some tale in which your character plays but a small part but in which is found a deep gratitude for the way in which it all unfolds (maybe it’s a Greek Comedy).
For the Egizi and, in particular, Kara (and the kitchen staff there in the trenches)