YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
These beauty queens, who reside happily at Border Springs Farm just into Virginia at Patrick Springs, know that beauty comes from within, that you are what you eat. And come spring, these Texel sheep will get to eat al fresco, with the Blue Ridge as a backdrop, on green, green pastures, with Border Collies keeping them in line.
They have their own Mr. Rogers, too, in their neighborhood. Owner Craig Rogers is one of the happiest and friendliest fellows I've talked with in my research for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK, which will be out April 13th. A former CEO and professor of engineering, Roger has now found his true passion - raising sheep (an turkeys et al) and training his beloved dogs.
SALAD BAR MEATS
Rogers is one of many farmers employing what Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer featured in FOOD INC and THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA, calls the "Salad Bar" method of raising meats for our tables. Rather than confined in a feedlot, stuffed with corn, their animals spend their lifetimes happily moving about, going from pasture to pasture to munch on fresh grass each day. They are raised and treated humanely, and are processed in a humane way, as well - something we meat-eaters seldom think about but worthy of our respect.
Why eat grass-fed meat? It truly is so much healthier for us. It's leaner. There are more omega-3 fats, vitamin A and E, and cancer-fighting CLA. And, there's less of an environmental footprint. And the flavor is different - perhaps sweeter and more intense.
Yep, grass-fed costs more than meats you find in the grocery store or big box warehouses. Rather a bit more, like double. But the benefits - for my health, for the environment, for animal welfare - weigh in heavily on my conscience these days. So our compromise for the high price? Eat less meat, which is healthier anyway.
COOKS THE SAME?
Not quite. Because grass-fed meat is so lean and has less marbling, it can be a bit more "tough" if it's not cooked right. Beef steaks, for instance, need to be seared on high for about a minute on each side, to lock in the fats and juices, then cooked on medium low heat until desired doneness. Roasts need to be cooked low and slow, like in a crock pot.
I pulled some lamb chops from the freezer recently that had been vacuum-packed, grown on the Little River Ranch near Hillsborough, NC. Owner Bruce Roberts is a friendly, knowledgeable fellow who sells at the farmers market on Durant Road in North Raleigh, and bubbles with enthusiasm as he shares his farming philosophy and all its benefits.
Out came my trusty cast iron skillet, the cooking instrument of choice with grass-fed. I snipped some rosemary, chopped some garlic and mixed them together on my cutting board. Then I rubbed each
chop with a coarse grainy mustard, then pressed it into the herb mixture.
Grass-fed needs to be seared on high heat first, so I heated up the skillet and added a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Just before the oil began to smoke, I added the prepared chops. I cooked them on high heat for three minutes each side, which left them a bit more rare than I would have liked.
Next time, I'll sear them on each side for a minute, turn the heat down and cook them for a bit longer, but not much longer as lamb really does taste better when it's still red. I cleaned the pan with some red wine, reduced it, then dribbled it over the chops. Dished up with sweet potatoes and sugar snap peas, and a glass of Cote du Rhone, these grass-fed lamb chops made a fine dinner.
The flavor was divine - not "mutton-y." The texture was firm but not tough. They were worth the extra cost.