Category Archives: Farming

Natural Beef from Boulder

Several months ago, I put up on this blog a long post about natural food resources near Boulder. It turns out that I missed one that’s right here: Colorado’s Best Beef Company out on Jay Road. I suppose that I’ve probably driven by the herd (or at least part of it) without paying much mind — except to be grateful that some land was still used for grazing livestock rather than backhoes, graders, cement mixers and herds of construction workers putting up yet another subdivision. To make up for my earlier omission, I’m singling it out for a blog post of its own.

This family-owned cattle operation (two families, actually, the Ferris and Elliott clans, right) raises Charolais and cross-bred animals that produce what they call “Charolais-influenced” beef. The Charolais breed originated in France to provide milk, meat and cowpower, but since the 18th century, it has been raised to provide tender, flavorful, high-quality beef. It was brought into the US from Mexico in 1936.

The cattle are not fed antibiotics or given growth hormones or steroids. The beef is minimally processed and is dry-aged for two to three weeks. The ranch sells whole, half and quarter beef, custom-cut into specified roast, steak and ground beef portions. They also prepackage select cuts and make beef bacon, brats and four other types of sausage and several flavors of jerky and other snacks. The website includes restaurants and cooking school that use their meats, and butchers that sell them. It is also available at seasonal farmers’ markets, also listed on the site.

You can also make an appointment to visit — and buy your beef on the spot. Colorado’s Best Beef is at 4791 Jay Road, Boulder. The main office number is 303-449-8632 (Gina Elliott will probably answer). Ben Elliott is at 303-478-5889. Brian Ferris is at 970-768-1175.

Square Watermelons – No Kidding!

Ingenious sailors learned to build ships in bottles to wile away long, tedious hours at sea. Ingenious Swiss farmers learned how to make their wonderful, potent fruit brandy called Pear William with an actual pear trapped in the bottle in order to heighten the flavor of the brandy and to create an appealing visual. To do this, they attach the bottles to tree branches with blossoms on them and allow the pears to grow within these glass cocoons. And now ingenious Japanese farmers have developed a way to grow square watermelons in much the same way– by inserting the melons into square, tempered glass cases while the fruit is still growing on the vine and permitting it to mold to the cases. Is this to alleviate boredom? No. To heighten the flavor? No again. For aesthetic reasons? No again. Square melons are easier to pack, easier to ship and fit better into refrigerators. I’m not sure whether I admire their enterprise and practicality, or wish these images had been Photoshopped.

More Quebec Cheese — and Other Food Finds

The last two days of my whirlwind trip around Quebec were spent in the Charlevoix area, northeast of Quebec City. Canada is huge. The Province of Quebec is huge. Even the Charlevoix area is sizable, stretching something like 230 kilometers (about 140 miles) along the St. Lawrence River. The region has devised symbols for attractions of particular interest — a chef’s toque for places of culinary or food production interest, and an artist’s palette for studios and galleries. It’s difficult to put in much mileage when those two tempting signs beckon. Here are some foodie highlights along Charlevoi’s Flavor Trail:

  • One such sign indicates the Maison d’affinage Maurice Dufour, one of those 400 to 500 Quebec cheeseries that has branched out, which I wrote about in my immediately previous post. Founded in 1994, this artisanal cheesery introduced its signature La Migneron de Charlevoix washed-rind, semi-soft cheese (left) the following year. In 2002, it was named not only Canada’s best washed-rind cheese but also Canada’s best cheese. Two other cheeses have followed: a mild blue cheese called Le Ciel de Charlevoix and Le Deo Gratias, Maurice Dufour’s first sheep’s milk cheese (the other two are cow’s milk), which is a bit feta-like in taste but features a brie-like rind. If you’re in the area, stop by to buy some cheese, to have some lunch and definitely to enjoy a free tour of the cheesemaking process. The cheesery is located at 1339 Boulevard Mgr. de Laval, Baie St.-Paul.
  • Good cheese calls for good bread, and you’ll find some of the best at Eric Levoi’s Boulangerie Remy, a restored 19th century bakery and flour mill. In a pair of brick ovens, he bakes baguettes, loaves and a a characteristic Quebecois bread shape called pain-fesse. The bread is shaped into conjoined loaves, resembling the human backside. It is no surprise that fesse means buttocks, but as a website explaining Quebec expressions points out, the Brits bake buns. When the day’s bread baking is completed, Levoi puts in small hand-shaped pizzas. The bakery is at 235 Terrasse La Remy, Baie St.-Paul.
  • If you’ve ever been curious about where all that foie gras and duck breast that you find on restaurant menus comes from, take a tour ($4) of La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix, run by Isabelle Mihura (originally from the French Basque country) and Jean-Jacques Etcheberrigaray (from the French Riviera, near Italy). The couple raises 250 ducks at a time, from age one day when they come from the hatchery to age four months when they are sent to the abbatoir. A butcher disassembles the carcasses, which are processed into a variety scrumptious products at the farm. Nothing goes to waste. Like many foodies, I find foie gras fabulous but have had serious misgivings about force feeding an animal to fatten the liver. Isabelle’s matter-of-fact tour makes me feel a little less guilty, though the free-range, gain-fed quackers at La Ferme Basque probably have it better than most ducks and geese raised for their foie gras potential. If anyone is interested in what I learned, I’ll happily share it on a subsequent post. 813 Rue St.-Edouard, St.-Urbain.
  • Did you know that people eat emu? I didn’t. These larger birds raised at the nearby Centre de l’Emeu Charlevoix not only provide oils, creams and salves for health, healing and beauty, but meat as well. This dense and healthy poultry that comes from the big bird’s legs can be prepared much like beef. It is possible to buy emu Chateaubriand, emu carpaccio, smoked emu, emu medallions, pate, sausages and more at the emu farm. Take a tour ($4) or stock up on any of the many emu products. The dinner menu at Auberge La Grande Maison that evening listed emu tartare as one of the appetizers. The emu farm is at 706 St.-Edmonde, St.-Urbain.

Natural Food Sources Near Boulder, CO

I recently received the following questions, and I thought more people might benefit if I answered here rather than via E-mail to just one person.

1) I’m wondering if you could recommend any place to buy fresh, locally made yogurt (not frozen) with active ingredients?

The Boulder Cooperative Market at 19th and Pearl (303-447-2667) probably has local, live-culture yogurt (and might even make their own), but I can’t get anyone on the phone to check. Of the supermarket purveyors, Boulder-based Horizon Organics (888-494-3020) is as local as can be, uses milk from company farms and family farms, makes yogurt with five live cultures and is even available at such prosaic markets as King Soopers, as well as natural foods markets. If you want to buy locally but can compromise on where the products were made, I think very highly of Stonyfield Farm’s products, all the way from Londonderry, NH; 603-437-4040. They use live yogurt cultures and their website has printable coupons. Their products are available locally.

2) Where do you get Wisdom poultry?
I buy Wisdom chicken at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. Their stand has been set up along Canyon between 13th and 14th, but last Saturday, that location was given over to the Port-a-Potties for the Boulder Creek Festival. Jay and Cindy Wisdom are probably too busy with their chickens to have a website, but their phone number is 970-774-7492.

3) Do you know a place locally to buy healthy lamb, pork, and beef? I’m thinking I’d like to get a couple of people together and purchase some meat, start buying more of this stuff locally, support local farmers.

I didn’t know anything off-hand, except for a natural beef purveyor with a stand at the Boulder County Farmers’ market. I couldn’t remember the name, so I just started searching, and I am amazed at the number of natural meat ranches in Colorado and elsewhere. If you want to buy really locally, you might try Herb’s Meats in Boulder or Your Butcher Frank in Longmont and see whether they source from nearby ranches and what kind of bulk deals they can put together (most butchers offer some kind of freezer quantity purchases). Otherwise, Rocky Plains Quality Meats in Dacono, which isn’t too far, offers their own natural buffalo, plus Colorado lamb, pork, chicken and more at their “mini-ranch” just east of I–25 between Hwy 7 and Hwy 52; 303-833-3791. [A caveat is that their website isn’t working, so for all I know, they’ve sold out to a developer, so call before heading out that way.]

For a list of local ranches (i.e., those in northeastern Colorado), see the regional meat directory put out by the state Agriculture Department. There are also directories for other regions. Each listing indicates what the ranch produces, how it produces, what quantities are sold, whether meat can be purchased at the ranch and whether they ship. Also, the Health Alliance for Life and Longevity (HEALL = clever acronym) has a list of Colorado organic ranches. The closest is Stillroven Farm in Berthoud; 970-535-4527 (no website). Still another Colorado list at Eat Wild’s website includes the B Bar S Ranches, a beef operation with ranches in the high desert near Elizabeth and the high mountains near Nederland (right); 303-442-1995.

Beyond that, major distributors contract out to producers in Colorado and elsewhere that meet their requirements for pesticide-free feeding and immunizing/medicating livestock. Coleman Natural Meats is HQed in Denver, with beef and lamb from Colorado ranches; 800-442-8666. Coleman Ranches in Saguache have been in the same family for five generations, and the Colemans really set the standard for natural livestock. “A Cowboy in the Meat Business” is an illuminating interview with Mel Coleman and how he got started producing natural cattle.

Also HQed in Denver is Maverick Ranch distributes natural beef, buffalo, pork and chicken; 303-294-0146. For an interesting look at standards, go to Maverick’s website and click on the “Producers Click Here” box. Wyoming Natural Products near Newcastle, WY, sells grass-fed beef (they call it “premium”) and handcuts meat for shipment; 800-969-9946. Cameron Ranch near Riverton, WY, ships grass-fed natural beef and lamb; 307) 856-6057. Nebraska isn’t too far away, and Walnut Creek Organic Ranch (402-262-2245) is also a source for grass-fed Angus beef; they also ship. A bit farther afield is La Cense Ranch near Dillon, MT, which now seems to be owned by a gentleman rancher who has been able to invest in upgrading and improving ranch facilities. The ranch also specializes in grass-fed black Angus beef, and like Walnut Creek, ships too; 866-442-2333 (BEEF) or 406-683-5900.

First Farmers’ Market of 2007

Actually, the Boulder County Farmers’ Market kicked off its 2007 season last Saturday, but A) the weather was icky, and B) I was on the road back from Telluride and couldn’t be there anyway. Therefore, today was my my first famer’s of the year and, judging from the crowds and the overheard comments, the first for many other people too.

Because much is local and everything is from Colorado, early season mainly means greens (various lettuces, spinach), a few root vegetables (radishes, new potatoes), plants and cut flowers, plus, of course, an assortment of organic cheese, preserves, mustard, honey, granola — things that didn’t have to be picked yesterday. And by noon, many booths had little left. Many familar favorite vendors were there and some new ones too.
In addition to lining 13th Street between Canyon and Araphoe, several new (or new-to-me) booths were set up along Canyon between 13th and 14th. These included Pasta Bozza run by pasta-maker Michael V. Bozza of Boulder, Wisdom’s Natural Poultry from Jay and Cindy Wisdom farm in Haxton, which is east of Sterling, and Destiny Dairy, a goats’ milk dairy (dips, beverages, yogurt) in Eaton, run not by anyone named Destiny but by a veterinarian named Dr. Jennifer Zindel.

The food court was jammed. People patiently waited in line, while a mellow duo sang classic folk and folk-pop tunes (CDs for sale, of course). My husband went to his favorite burger stand. I tried the spring rolls and ginger tea from a new Southeast Asian vendor. We are looking forward to a long season’s worth of farmers’ market lunches and ingredients to prepare at home. Tonight, we are grilling some of the Wisdoms’ chicken and making a green salad to go with it.

Tennessee Truffles

A recent article in the New York Times reported that Dr. Tom Michaels, a plant pathologist, is growing black truffles of the sort usually found in France in Chuckey, TN. The good doctor sprouted hazelnut trees from seed to create an orchard (is orchard an appropriate word for a bunch of nut trees?), inoculating the roots with Tuber melanosporum, the revered Périgord truffle, before transplanting them outdoors seven years ago. Dr. Michaels, who grew up on a mushroom farm and lives in a modest East Tennessee ranch house, has been thinking about all this for a time. In fact, he wrote his thesis about in vitro truffle cultivation. He knew about unsuccessful efforts at domestic truffle cultivation over the last three decades, and given the truffle bonanza, he might be trading houses soon.

Writer Molly O’Neill explained her Times piece, “Tending a truffle orchard is as much of an art as it is a science and it is, most of all, an act of faith — it typically takes 6 to 12 years for the fungi to form truffles in the earth. Mystery and scarcity are part of the truffle’s allure.

“According to James M. Trappe, a professor emeritus of mycology at Oregon State University and the co-author of the forthcoming Trees, Truffles and Beasts: How Forests Function (Rutgers University Press), there are about 60 species of true truffles, the subterranean fungi that attach to a plant’s roots and issue long tendrils that gather nutrition for the plant and use the carbohydrates that the plant returns to eventually form the ‘fruit’ we call truffles — but only a dozen are prized in the kitchen.
“Most fungi sprout a stem and cap that contain reproductive spores. The truffle does not. The truffle is a ‘sack of spores,’ explained Dr. Trappe, and while other mushrooms need nothing but a rustling wind to loosen and spread their seed, the subterranean bulb needs to be digested and excreted by an animal. In order to attract rodents and marsupials, the truffle, like a tiny underground perfume factory, produces up to 50 different chemicals that combine to create a scent powerful enough to penetrate up to three feet of earth.”

Dr. Michaels is not the only American grower attempting to raise “black gold” in American soil. Franklin Garland of Hillsborough, NC, began growing truffles in the 1980s and, in fact, was Dr. Michaels’ truffle muse. He has reportedly given trees to 45 farmers to give truffles a try. Charles K. Lefevre of New World Truffles in Eugene, OR, told O’Neill that there are about 300 truffle growers in the US.

One, perhaps, is Truffled Truffles or Eros of Santa Fe, NM (I’m not sure which is the name of the comapny and which is the brand of the candy. In any case, I purchased a small piece box of truffles (the fungus) and truffle (the sweet) encased in to-die-for Belgian chocolate in Santa Fe last year. The 4.9-ounce box of five truffles cost $18. A 4.9-ounce box of five Truffled Truffles is $18, which can be purchased in town or ordered from Senor Murphy, a Santa Fe candy purveyor. Expensive, but fabulous fusion for those of us who love both kinds of truffles.

Tasteless Food? Blame Washington

Was I ever happy to read an op-ed piece called “Amber Fields of Bland” in today’s New York Times. It was written by chef Dan Barber, co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a utopian combination educational center, conservatory of natural food and restaurant in or near the hamlet of Pocantico Hills in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Barber wrote: “Bad decisions about agriculture have defined government policy for the last century; 70 percent of our nation’s farms have been lost to bankruptcy or consolidation, creating an agricultural economy that looks more Wall Street than Main Street. Now, after the uprooting of a thousand years of agrarian wisdom, we chefs have discovered something really terrible — no, not that the agricultural system we help support hurts farmers and devastates farming communities, or that it harms the environment and our health. What we’ve discovered is that the food it produces just doesn’t taste very good.”

Hear! Hear! We are constantly assaulted by advice on “eating right” for good health, longevity, weight management and the like, but the bottom line, for many of us, is that food really does need to taste good if we are to bother eating for anything other than fuel. And food that comes from “food-growing factories,” as I think of them, often doesn’t taste very good.

As Barber sees it, “Who’s responsible for the blandness? Look no further than Washington: There you will meet not farmers, but the people determining how our farmers farm. They do it through the farm bill, a mammoth piece of legislation that designates American agricultural policy every five years and that Congress is preparing to take up in its new session.” This bill, he notes, covers nutrition, conservation, genetic engineering, food safety, school lunch programs, water quality, organic farming and much more. He calls it “a food and farm bill” that “determines what you eat and how what you eat is grown.”

Read his whole piece, and if you care, now would be the time to contact your Senators and your Representative, and perhaps the entire House and Senate agriculture committees, to encourage them to put crop diversification into the equation when drawing up and voting on the next legislation. Let’s vote with our palates. We do it whenever we buy at local farmers‘ markets. Let’s do it as a matter of public policy too.