A visit to Vermont’s Shelburne Farms

Another sustainability adventure from Cheenius. Thanks for sharing, Cheenius; sounds like a wonderful trip!

Cheenius and Mr. Cheenius ventured north! First stop was Shelburne Farms near Burlington, VT.

Descendants of this Vanderbilt “country house” decided in the 1970s to put their tremendous acreage to work for sustainable agriculture and education:

We believe that soil, plant, animal, environmental and human health are interconnected and that agriculture is the base of a healthy culture and civilization. Our goal is to be a diversified, organic farm that supports a healthy local food system and creates an inspiring learning environment.

Shelburne Farms country house

They have a large herd of dairy cows, make their own cheese, and manage the manure in an amazingly responsible way through a system of field filters. Cheenius was excited to try their cheese, and was impressed with the variety of cheddar they were able to produce through aging or smoking.

Cheese samples

They grow organic produce and raise chickens and goats too. They also have an entire herd of solar panels! Their plan is to be completely energy self-sufficient in the next few years.

Shelburne Farms solar panels

Their main focus is much broader than just another sustainable farm, however. They partner with schools in and out of the area, and have brought THOUSANDS of kids to learn where their food comes from, and about sustainable agriculture in general.

We care about the sustainability and quality of life on earth. We care about young people having hope for the future. We believe that sustainability is grounded in individual awareness and action in our own communities.

Today at the Farmyard
The day we were there they were preparing for kids to come in and bake their own bread — starting with wheat from the field! I’m sure later they were going to smear homemade butter on it, and probably sing this song:

The Butter Song

Shelburne Farms offers visitors a Welcome Center and Farm Store, and general admission to the property gets you access to walking trails, a Children’s Farmyard, and cheesemaking viewing. For the ultimate Shelburne experience, stay at the Inn and have dinner at the restaurant:

At one of Vermont’s premier farm-to-table restaurants, our menu items are built around what’s being harvested in our Market Garden or from area farms on any given day or week.

Have you been to Shelburne Farms? Let us know in the comments!

Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw, NC

Last month I visited a few fantastic local sustainability resources in the Burlington, NC area: Burlington’s food co-op Company Shops Market, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center in Chapel Hill, and Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw.

Left Bank Butchery

Have you been to Saxapahaw? It’s a magical oasis of local food, drink, art, music, and nature in the middle of rural Central North Carolina.

Food and drink: Saxapahaw General Store, The Eddy Pub, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, and of course Left Bank Butchery

Art, music, nature: Haw River BallroomPaperhand Puppet InterventionHaw River Canoe & Kayak Co.

Combining all categories: the weekly farmers market and outdoor concert series Saturdays in Saxapahaw, running from May through the end of August; and this coming weekend (May 2) is the annual Haw River Festival!

On the gloomy March day of our visit, we stopped only at the General Store for a delicious lunch (I wrote about our first visit there here), and Left Bank Butchery for some treats for dog (pig ears) and human (grass-fed local steak from Braeburn Farm).

Left Bank Butchery believe in using sustainable farming practices to raise healthy, happy animals. They start with whole carcasses from cows, pigs, and chickens pasture-raised (or, for the pigs, pasture- and forest-raised) on local farms, and butcher them in-house to ensure the highest-quality cuts of meat possible.

Our arrangement with local farms is simple- we buy from farmers that use the highest standards in regards to animal welfare, ecologically sound farming techniques, and quality of meat.

The day we visited our only planned destination in Saxapahaw was the General Store for lunch; we were thrilled to see Left Bank Butchery a few doors down. Next trip to NC we’ll have to go back on a summer Saturday for Saturdays in Saxapahaw… or to see a band at the Haw River Ballroom… or for dinner and beers at The Eddy… or to paddle the river. So many reasons to return to Saxapahaw!

The New York Times and Washington Post love Saxapahaw too. If you go there and don’t want to leave, here’s who you should talk to about real estate.

Have a Saxy day!

The Ole Country Store and Bakery in Culpeper VA

When you’ve travelled it a zillion times like I have, Route 29 between Charlottesville and DC is a pretty dull (if beautiful in spots – I’m looking at you, northern Greene County) drive. Next time you make the trek try breaking up the monotony with a stop at The Ole Country Store and Bakery in Culpeper. Not only can you pick up unique roadtrip snacks and random gifts and housewares, but you can stock up on local, pastured, steroid/antibiotic/hormone-free happy meat from Clark’s Old Peach Tree Farm, Summer Creek Farm, and Rider’s Backfield Farm.

Clark's Old Peach Tree Farm

Old Peach Tree Farm raises heritage breed pigs on the grasses, nuts, and berries of pasture and woodland, supplemented with non-GMO feed, and PUMPKINS in the fall, lucky pigs! The Clarks raise the pigs from birth to slaughter, which allows them to ensure a low-stress environment for the animals’ entire lifespan.

Summer Creek Farm

Summer Creek Farm raises lambs and beef cattle on pasture with some supplemental local grains; but upon request Summer Creek will feed only grass to animals for customers preferring completely grass-fed meat. They practice environmental stewardship by protecting waterways from animals and frequently rotating pastures.

Rider's Backfield Farm Beef

Rider’s Backfield Farm raises steers on pasture, with a small daily portion of natural grains during finishing. The pH of the cows’ rumen contents is carefully monitored to ensure no negative effects from the grain. The Riders pride themselves on “manag[ing] their beef gently and humanely and the farm(s) that they maintain.”

Local, pastured, clean meat

Meat case

Bins of meat

The Ole Country Store & Bakery

Support local family-run farms and pick up some pasture-raised, hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free meat, while getting a unique shopping experience and relieving your Route 29 boredom at The Ole Country Store & Bakery.

See also: MooThru ice creamery in Remington VA, for the BEST ice cream, made from local hormone-free milk!

Highland County Maple Festival: “I’d Tap That!”

Guest post by Buzzy! Thanks, Buzzy! Where’s my maple donut??

Buzzy and Mr. Buzzy were finally able to realize a life-long dream:  attending the annual Highland County Maple Festival just an hour and a half away!  So many activities and events! I won’t go into the magic of the entertainment

Greene County Cloggers

Or the impressive junk food options

Funnel cakes and fried oreos

Or even the wonder of the Maple Queen and her Syrup princesses (we missed the crowning at the Maple Ball)…

Maple Queen and Syrup Princesses

Instead, we’ll focus on the fascinating process of getting sugar water from trees to something worthy of crowning your pancakes.

It starts with a sugar maple tree.  In Virginia they mainly grow above altitudes of 3,000 ft..  Some of the trees still in use for tapping are 200+ years old!

Tapped tree

With a good cycle of freezing and thawing, pressure grows in the tree to seal up the hole that the tap (called a spile) has made.  During the thaw, the sugar water comes out of the hole, too quickly for the tree to heal itself.  Don’t worry:  no trees are permanently injured in the making of maple syrup!


The sugar water that gets collected varies in sugar content each year.  For 2015 it takes only 32 gallons of sugar water that you boil down to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.  In other years it’s been much higher, and you can actually make syrup from lower altitude maples, but you’d need double the sugar water.

Heating the sugar water

Once you have maple syrup, then the options to celebrate are limitless.  We highly recommend the maple donuts.  Buzzy ate four!!

Maple donut

For you energy-conscious readers who are thinking:  wow, this is a ridiculously energy intensive process — you’re right!  Buzzy recommends you get your sugar from honey, where the bees do all the work evaporating nectar into honey.  Carbon footprint = 0.

This post brought to you by McBene Hill Honey.

Burlington NC’s local food co-op

Company Shops Market

My sister lives in Burlington, NC, a town just off the interstate between Greensboro and the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham area. While it may often be overshadowed by its better-known neighbors to the east and west, Burlington is the anchor of a fast-growing local food scene in North-Central NC. On Saturday my sister and her family treated Mr HP and me to a tour of local food resources in the Burlington area, starting with breakfast at the Company Shops Market, Burlington’s food co-op. Their slogan: Local Food for Local People.

Company Shops Market

Burlington food co-op aisles

Burlington’s food co-op sources as much as possible of what it sells from local farms and producers, and charges members a fee in exchange for discounts at the store and the opportunity to participate in elections. Membership is a bargain one-time payment of $100 for individuals, or $150 for a two-adult family. The Burlington co-op is a strong supporter of the local community:

For every dollar you spend, 68% goes back into the community through donations, purchases, taxes and payroll. We’re helping to support the local small farms, businesses and producers and offering our customers all-natural, free-range, fair trade, organic and REAL food products!

I particularly appreciated the bulk eggs: fill your own container! Genius!

Our breakfast was fantastic, with more variety than the Charlottesville Whole Foods breakfast bar, for about half the price.

Burlington is lucky to have the Company Shops Market. I’ll definitely be back.

Co-op breakfast bar

Local food for local people

Downtown Burlington’s Saturday morning farmers market is also getting ready to open for the season on April 4:

Did you know that all of our vendors grow, raise, and create everything they sell at market within a 60 mile radius of Downtown Burlington? Now that’s what you can call local!

Next stop in our tour, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center in Chapel Hill!

Local and sustainable dining in Berlin


Guten Tag!

Sorry I’ve been MIA around here. Mr HP and I adopted a dog at the beginning of the year and my free time has since evaporated. Now that we’re in a routine I’m hoping to be able to write more.

Plus, winter is depressing and demotivating. So this is just a quick post to try to get back into the swing of things.

checkpoint charlie

Mr HP is in Berlin, and asked me for a restaurant recommendation. I, in turn, asked Google. Here’s what I found:

In “The Global Guide to Local: Berlin” from Modern Farmer, we learn that in Berlin “there is a compelling movement toward sustainable design and community-based markets – and it’s growing fast.” The article lists sustainable food-related businesses of different types, including two restaurants – Katz Orange, specializing in seasonal, local organic produce and happy pigs (“…one of Berlin’s most adventurous and upscale farm-to-table places to eat” according to this list), and Kantine at David Chipperfield, offering simple food made from local ingredients – and a food hall/produce market, Markthalle Neun. At the market, according to Alternative Berlin, “…you can find an incredible array of delicious, sustainable, local food (as well as a brewery!) sourced in ecologically and socially responsible ways, in direct contact with the producers.”

Kantine’s success led to the creation of a second location, Das Lokal, which sources game from the forests surrounding Berlin. Wild game is about as far from industrial livestock as you can get!

Kantine is not to be confused with Kantine Kohlmann, a …”trendy bar and restaurant [that] uses local, sustainable ingredients to make delicious modern twists on German classics” per this article.

Pantry is a homey, affordable, recommended dinner spot whose “…produce and animal products are allegedly procured during visits to local markets or shipped in from within a 100km radius.”

For a splurge, try the “quite near” (as opposed to the “far away”) menu, which is based on local ingredients, at Reinstoff. Another special occasion destination is Pauly Saal, which sources local ingredients, including from its own garden.

And finally, it doesn’t get much more local than the Café and Restaurant in Prinzessinnengarten, which sources ingredients from Prinzessinnengarten itself.

We serve local and regional organic food and drinks if possible and support small-scale organic producers in and around Berlin. All the revenues from the bar and the kitchen contribute directly to the non-profit learning activities in Prinzessinnengarten.

Prinzessinnengarten is an urban farm raising organic produce, and neighborhood education center where the community can learn about sustainable living. The garden, built on an abandoned city plot, is run by a non-profit and tended by volunteers, and hosts workshops and other educational opportunities. It reminds me of a similar effort in Perth that I was lucky enough to visit last year.

Here is a map showing the locations discussed in this post. If you visit any of them, or if you know of others that should be included, let me know in the comments!

Parsnip Party!

Cheenius is here to tell us a tale of parsnip wrangling. Thanks, Cheenius!

As everyone knows, Cheenius loves to make things from scratch — because who wouldn’t want to spend way more time and effort on soup then anyone else in her circle? But, in this case, Cheenius was feeling pretty proud of having grown her own parsnips, and needed to show them off.

whole parsnips

You’ll notice the actual parsnips look unlike anything you’ve ever purchased at a grocery store, and more like unmentionable body parts from Jabba the Hutt. Turns out they maybe needed a little more water than Cheenius gave them, which meant they turned woody and cankerous.

[Ed: For purposes of comparison and poking fun at Cheenius, here’s a picture of normal-looking parsnips -]

normal parsnips

After some research, Cheenius learned that she needed to chop out the middle woody parts, which left her with not much to roast:

chopped parsnips

Not to worry! The recipe called for a leek, so there was a little more volume in the roasting pan. Phew!

roasted parsnips

After roasting, simmering, blending the various bits, and then tripling the amount of cream (I mean, c’mon: if anyone appreciates adding dairy it’s Cheenius!), the soup actually turned out quite good:

parsnip soup

[Ed: Cheenius did not take a picture of the actual finished product, so the above is a stock photo.]

[Ed: Get it? Stock photo?]

[Ed: It’s not really a stock photo, it’s from this recipe. Sorry, I cannot resist a pun.]

Mr. Cheenius commented on a certain grittiness to the dish. Evidently Cheenius got a little lazy when it came to actually washing the parsnips, and also doesn’t own one of those vegetable scrubbers (Christmas gift idea, anyone?). Still, they agreed that this could easily be their main go-to root vegetable soup, and extra dirt just means it’s that much more homemade. Here’s the recipe if anyone is inspired (thanks to Marie Taylor for sharing!):


1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into medium-size pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1 1/2 cups (about 1 large) chopped leeks, white and light-green parts only
4 sprigs lemon thyme, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Heat oven to 350°F. In a medium roasting pan, toss parsnips with oil. Roast, covered with foil, 20 minutes. Add leeks and leaves of 2 thyme sprigs; toss to coat with oil; splash with wine. Roast, covered with same foil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 30 minutes. Discard any burned bits.

In a large pot, bring veggies and 2 cups stock to a boil; reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes; let cool slightly.

In a food processor, blend soup on low until smooth. Return blended soup to pot; add cream. Bring soup to a very low simmer; season with salt and black pepper; add enough of the lemon juice to cut the sweetness to your deisred level.  Add remaining 1 cup stock to reach desired thickness.

Anybody else have a good parsnip recipe?

Babe(s) in the Wood

Here is the first guest post from the fabulous Ewe-nique!

Since the HPs, Cheenius, Mr. Dr. Cheenius, and the Tiny Twosome were all off to more exotic locales over Labor Day, it fell squarely on my shoulders to ensure that at least one of us attended the 2014 “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour. I accepted this self-directed mission with gravity and pride. In fact, I was so stealthy in my plan that the whole thing was unbeknownst to HP until I sent her this guest post and begged to be featured.

Meet Yer Eats

For those not familiar with the “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour, it is an annual Central Virginia event where a number of local farms roll out their welcome mat and offer the general public the chance to explore and “meet” their food sources. As an avid cook, locavore, and conscientious (i.e. picky) eater, I think that we can all benefit substantially by learning about and being aware of where our food comes from.

I must admit that my choice of farm this year was driven by an ulterior motive. As a longtime vegetarian, and more recently a pescatarian, I’ve been considering including other meats in my diet again for the past few months. However, one of my chief objections to the carnivorous lifestyle has long been the manner in which the consumed animals are raised and slaughtered. Thus, I decided to truly meet my eats and visit Babes in the Wood, a farm out in Dillwyn, Virginia that raises free-roaming, forest-foraging pigs.

The drive out to pastoral Dillwyn was winding, warm, and sunny. I’d been out VA-20 South many a time, but never this far south. I knew that I had ventured into uncharted territory when I passed a larger than life inflated chicken outside of an establishment called Lumpkin’s.

Since this was a solo expedition, I played one of my favorite alone-time games on the drive out: Rockin’ Road Name Revue. Believe me, people get creative on the backroads of Virginia. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here were my top favorites:

  • Troublesome Creek Road (That pesky creek is forever making mischief.)
  • Little Heaven Road (Leading to a trailer park, but… perhaps a reference to the Tiny House movement as chronicled by the Tiny Twosome on HP back in June?)
  • B-A-H Road (I can only assume this name is in reference to sheep or that it is one Bad Ass Homestead.)

I arrived at Babes in the Wood in time to wander around before we began a tour of the farm. In addition to sighting the piggies from afar, I also ventured over to the chicken coop and a small barn where there were a few calves hanging out.

Farmyard scene

Bill Jones, the owner and founder of Babes in the Wood, took us on an excellent hike in the farm woods, where he answered a bevy of questions from our curious group. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  • Bill raises English Tamworths, a breed that is well suited for forest life. The Tamworths have a lovely red coat and enjoy foraging for their food.
  • The sows give birth approximately twice a year (although if a sow had a very tough birth or large litter, Bill will only breed her once during that year), and the average litter size is eight piglets.
  • The pigs are fed at the farm once a day, and then are free to forage as they like throughout the forest.

Forest scene

  • Quite a few of us were eager to know how Bill keeps track of his pigs since they are free to wander. The simple answer is, he recognizes them when they arrive for the daily feeding, and if they don’t show up, he goes looking for them.
  • Unfortunately, I did not bring my pen and paper, so I don’t recall the exact number of pigs that are currently being raised on the farm. The numbers tend to vary with the seasons. However, Bill does keep the number proportional to the acreage of the farm (only two to three pigs per acre). If there are too many pigs per acre, their extensive rooting for food exposes the roots of the trees and can cause the trees to fall.
  • The pigs are approximately 12 to 15 months old when they go to slaughter.
  • Pigs are considered ready for butchering based on their weight, with about 300 pounds generally being the desirable weight.

Whilst traipsing through the woods, we kept keen eyes open for Kevin Bacon, the farm’s boar, but he regrettably did not show his snout. Bill mentioned that Kevin had decided a day or so ago that he was going into the woods and not staying in the pen. Apparently, one cannot persuade a 400 pound boar to change his mind if he has other intentions. Another fun fact: Kevin will grow to approximately 1000 pounds!

On our forest tour, we wandered down to a creek in the woods in hopes of sighting a few pigs, the creek being one of their favorite hangouts. However, the piggies must not have been in the wallowing mood, because we did not spot any near the creek. We did see a large sow hanging out in the woods by herself, and Bill mentioned that she had been feeling under the weather for the past few days. During this conversation, I learned that the primary health risk that his pigs face is pneumonia. The onset of the condition is sudden, and the pigs can die within three days of showing symptoms, so it must be caught and treated quickly. Thus, Bill had been keeping a close eye on this girl.

sick piggy

As our hike drew closer to the farm’s estate, we found many pigs hanging out near the farm’s fence. Many of the older pigs were relaxing, quite sensibly, in the shade of the trees, while the younger ones were cavorting together in a large group.

pig digs

Though the pigs are somewhat skittish around visitors (there was a lot of oinking and running away as I drew near), they are very social among themselves and establish a clear pecking (or perhaps porking?) order that lasts throughout their lives. The pigs are no stranger to putting a fellow pig in his or her place, and sometimes squabble amongst themselves to enforce this social hierarchy.

I’d like to present an analysis of the traits that can determine an individual pig’s status within his or her drove:

pig trait analysis

Toward the end of the tour, I got down to the nitty gritty and asked Bill about the manner in which his pigs are slaughtered. Interestingly, Bill is not allowed to slaughter and butcher the pigs himself if he is going to sell the meat to the public. Instead, by law, he must have the pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility. Hearing this initially raised my hackles a bit, but after I received the full story, my worries were abated.

Bill, as I mentioned, knows his pigs by sight. Every few weeks, he identifies the ones that are ready to be butchered and catches them (which is usually just the case of closing the gate when they come to the farm pen for their daily meal). The pigs then spend a few days in the pen, where there is plenty of space and lovely mud to wallow in, so that they can get used to the enclosed quarters.

mud wallow

When it is butchering day, he personally takes the pigs down to Blue Ridge Meats, his butcher in Front Royal.

Bill mentioned that his butcher is certified humane, but as we both agreed, like “certified organic”, “certified humane” can encompass a variety of abattoir environments and practices. Here’s the skinny on what goes down for the Babes from the Wood:

  • The pigs are slaughtered individually, and the other pigs are not exposed to the death of their fellow animals.
  • The pigs are killed with a single shot to the back of the neck/head, and then they are bled out and butchered. I thought that the “shot” was an electrical shock of some sort, but I forgot to clarify, and after doing some Internet research, it might also be a captive bolt gun. The common alternative to this practice is that the pigs have their throats slit and are bled out while they are still alive and, quite literally, screaming.
  • At Bill’s butcher, on a really, really, busy day, they may butcher up to 20 pigs. Contrast that with a typical commercial factory farm, which may slaughter thousands of pigs per day.
  • I checked out Blue Ridge Meats’ website post-tour, and was pleased to see that they clearly support and adhere to the humane butchery of their animals.

Thus, in my opinion, if you are trying to source humanely raised and slaughtered pork, you need look no further than Babes in the Wood. These are happy, healthy pigs who are extremely well cared for and have the chance to lead a natural, piggy lives before they are butchered with consideration and compassion. [Ed: And Mr. HP assures you that Babes in the Wood pork is DELICIOUS. You can get a sandwich at their tent at Charlottesville’s Saturday City Market, in addition to buying packaged meat.]

Having exhausted Rockin’ Road Name Revue on my way out, I found time on the drive home to reflect on my visit and compose a few pig-related haikus, also known as hamkus:

meat on cloven feet
bacon, ham, sausage, pork are
names for pigs we eat


My dear porcine friend,
I’m glad you had a good life
up until the end.

And with that, I’ll turn, appropriately, to the words of Porky Pig to sum up this post: “Th-th-that’s all, folks!”

happy pig

The Great Locavore Dinner Party Challenge

We all agree (right?) that there are environmental, societal, nutritional, and taste benefits to getting your produce and animal products from local farms, but how many locally-sourced ingredients are actually in *your* average dinner? The always-entertaining Cheenius, Mr.Dr. Cheenius, Butter Boy & Butter Babe (aka the Tiny Twosome), and friends challenged themselves with a special dinner party to see how local their cooking could get. Here’s Cheenius to tell you more…

lakeside dining

Locavores . . . eating local . . . blah blah blah local.  Cheenius and friends decided it was time to meet the challenge head-on and hold a Local Food Only Dinner.  Each guest made something that was primarily sourced from near-by foods, which gave us an interesting menu:

Local beer, wine, and cider (duh)
Baba Ganoush
Deviled Eggs
Tomato Mozarella Salad
Potatoes Au Gratin
Roasted Corn/Black Beans/Peppers/Tomato/Feta Salad
Roasted Potatoes
Blueberry Pie
Peach Honey Ice Cream

(No main dish, but did we really need one?)

local beverages

local caprese

Everything was quite tasty, especially the Potatoes Au Gratin from Butter Babe, and we were having fun (discussing Ebola, etc.) until Cheenius ruined it with . . .


She and Mr.Dr. Cheenius made everyone score their dishes as follows:

  • Grown or made yourself = 3 points
  • Grown within 50 miles = 2 points
  • From anywhere in VA = 1 point

It was a weighted average, so you had to consider the percentage each ingredient made of the whole dish, and then multiply by the point system, and then add them up.  All this on a Friday night?  Ridiculous.

corn, tomato, avocado, bean salad

local blueberry pie

Obviously Cheenius, with her own garden and eggs, won, but she graciously bestowed jars of local honey as prizes to the 2nd and 3rd place winners.  One lucky guest also won for most local human (if you count Northern VA as Virginia).

Good times, may have to make it an annual event!

Coursera course “The Meat We Eat” meat cooking project

Over the past several weeks I’ve been participating in a basic overview meat sciences and technology course from the University of Florida, via Coursera, called The Meat We Eat. The course description, from Coursera, is:

The average American is now at least three generations removed from production agriculture.  This leads to the disconnection between how the public views agriculture and how scientists and producers view it, resulting in consumer distrust of science and commercial food production.  It is this lack of trust which leads to consumer confusion and the urge to grasp at multiple solutions.  However a growing number of consumers in developed countries are aspiring to “know where their food comes from”.  Animal agriculture needs to explain the technology which will be used to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

As a proponent of sourcing meat and meat products from local, sustainably run farms raising pastured, ethically treated animals rather than from massive industrial operations where output, rather than animal/environment/worker welfare and product quality, is prioritized, I thought it was important that I understand more of the details of large-scale commercial meat production. I’ll type up some lecture notes in another post; here I will discuss my final meat cookery project.

The Assignment

Document preparation of a meat recipe, discussing the details of the type and cut of meat, its packaging and appearance, storage, cookery method, sanitation, and food safety issues. I chose to cook a steak dinner, as beef is currently the only non-fish meat I am eating, and as an extra challenge, I wanted to grill the steaks. I’d never grilled steaks before, myself. (See here for another recent foray into cooking steak–I’ve only recently added steak into my pescatarian-for-over-ten-years diet.)

What I cooked

The Charlottesville, Virginia farmer’s market has several local meat vendors; I chose Wolf Creek Farm based on their wide variety of cuts of beef, and a prior positive experience. Wolf Creek breeds and raises their own cows on a pure (chemical fertilizer-free) grass diet, without antibiotics or hormones. They value environmental stewardship, healthy animals, and happy workers and community, while creating products customers will enjoy.

Wolf Creek Farm

Wolf Creek Farm’s website describes the stark contrasts between their small-scale beef production and typical industrial beef production:

“Our grass-fed, natural beef is a result of carefully selected herd genetics, that:

  • enjoys animal husbandry based upon intensive personal care and respect with no force-fed hormones and no antibiotics
  • is finished only on lush natural grass pastures with no grain or other supplements
  • is processed calmly with artisan skill in a small and clean rural abattoir with no need for irradiation and no antimicrobials
  • produces cuts that are dry-aged, safe, and nutritious

Contrast this with the beef produced by the industrial beef conglomerates who control 98% of the US beef production, where:

  • animal husbandry consists of force-fed hormones and constant antibiotics in a mechanized process
  • finishing is accomplished in confinement feed-lots by feeding grain that is produced under significant chemical fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide loads, combined with feed supplements containing antibiotics such as Rumensin to inhibit rumen gas build-up and bloat from the grain and Tylosin to reduce liver infections caused by bacteria from pH imbalanced rumens, ionophores, synthetic estrogens to promote growth such as Revlar which are banned in Europe, liquefied fat, and other protein supplements
  • processing is accomplished in an industrial slaughter-house with minimum wage labor on a disassembly-line where the emphasis is on speeds reaching over 400 animals per hour and requires irradiation and hot steam chamber antimicrobials at the end of the line to ensure the meat is “safe”
  • cutting these tens of thousands of wet-aged carcasses produces co-mingled meat containing high levels of saturated fats”

Beef prices by cut

Not being very steak-savvy, I asked the purveyor to recommend a steak for grilling. His immediate response was “rib steak.”

Beef retail cuts

How is a rib steak different from the better known ribeye steak? They’re basically the same, but the rib steak is bone-in while the ribeye is not. Rib cuts are harvested from the rib primal, which covers the upper rib cage. A rib steak is comprised of three major muscles, Longissimus Dorsi, Spinalis Dorsi & Multifidus Dorsi, and as this area of the cow is not used for locomotion or weight-bearing, the meat is naturally tender and marbled with fat.

Rib cuts

The meat is butchered at the farm’s abattoir, hung in cool storage for 21-28 days to dry age–wherein natural enzymes tenderize and flavor the meat–and then vacuum sealed and flash frozen. The steaks at the market were stored frozen in clean coolers. I chose two steaks: one was 0.98lb, for $16.57, and the other was 0.82 lb, for $13.87. Rib steaks are $16.50/lb plus tax.

Frozen steaks

In addition to the two steaks, I picked up some shiitake and oyster mushrooms (1/4 lb for $4), and an avocado ($2), and two tomatoes ($1.50) to go with some cucumbers from a friend’s yard.

How I cooked it

My initial plan, based on the meat purveyor’s suggestion, was to sear the steaks over high heat on the grill for 10-15 seconds a side, and then let them cook a couple minutes per side over 250-300 degree heat. But then a friend told Trusty Sous Chef Mr HP and I about reverse searing and we were intrigued.

‘A small but vocal population of steak lovers swears by the “reverse sear” technique. The theory behind this method is that cooking the steak in the oven first will dry the outside of the steak while slowly cooking the inside and keeping it tender. If the outside of the steak is dry, it will then sear faster and more efficiently in a hot pan.’ — from Mark’s Daily Apple

The new plan: start the steaks in a 275 degree oven until they reach 100-110 degrees, and then move them to a hot grill to sear the outsides.

Step 1: Thaw the steaks.

In the fridge, overnight. Our fridge is around 38 degrees.

Thawed steaks

Step 2: Unwrap the steaks and pat them dry. Then wash hands.

Pat the steaks dry

Step 3: Salt and pepper both sides of the meat.

Salt and pepper the steaks

Step 4: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Preheat the grill to high. When the oven is ready, load in the steaks on a rack to facilitate air circulation around the meat.

Steaks go in the oven first

(Meanwhile, chop cukes, tomatoes, and avocado. Mix in a large bowl with a bit of olive oil and balsamic or wine vinegar.)

Chop the veggies

(Then chop up the mushrooms, keeping the shiitakes separate from the oysters, as cooking times differ. Heat a dry skillet to medium, add the shiitakes first, and then the more delicate oysters a couple minutes later. When the mushrooms are almost cooked, add some butter to the pan for a boost of flavor.)

Mixed mushrooms

Step 5: When the steaks reach 100-110 degrees (not the 87 pictured below), remove them from the oven onto a clean plate.

Checking temperature in oven

I found that when the steaks hit the target temperature, they took on a grayish color (see image below), which I will use next time as an indicator that it’s time to check temp, rather than the paranoid stabbing of the steaks every couple minutes that I employed here.

Steaks out of the oven

Step 6: Drop the steaks on the hot hot grill to sear for 2 minutes each side.

Grilling the steaks

Check the degree of doneness using a meat thermometer. As we learned in class, palatability is maximized at 145 degrees, which is right between rare (140 degrees) and medium rare (150 degrees). My steak, being smaller than Mr HP’s, would be a little more cooked, but that was ok with me as I’m just getting back into the eating steak swing of things.

Checking temperature of steak

Step 7: Move the steaks to a clean plate and cover loosely with foil for ten minutes, to let the juices reabsorb into the meat.

The picture of that wasn’t interesting so I am sparing you.

Step 8: Serve and enjoy!

Dinner is ready

Cooked rib steak

Storing Leftovers

The steak was fantastic, and the only “leftovers” were fatty bits and the bone from each steak; luckily we knew a certain dog who would be very interested in helping take care of those. The gristly pieces went into a sealed container in the fridge to be portioned out over the next few meals, but he got to enjoy a bone right away.

Steak leftovers

Leftover rib steak bone

Leftover rib steak bone


This experiment was a great success. The quality of the steak, the ease and results of the reverse-sear cooking method, and the simple but complementary sides (which were completely local except for the avocado, so that’s a potential place for improvement) all exceeded our expectations.

Estimated costs

Steak 1: $16.57

Steak 2: $13.87

Mushrooms: $4

Cucumbers: free

Tomatoes: $1.50

Avocado: $2

Total meal cost: $37.94

Total meat cost: $30.44

Meat’s percentage of total cost: 80%