In our second article of a four-part series accompanying our “Crave Kitchen Shorts” –– a series of short videos leading up to this year’s Crave Lexington food + music festival (Sept. 13-14) –– local chef Dan Wu, featured on this season of “MasterChef,” walks us through the process of purchasing an entire animal from a local farm. Watch the video at www.cravelexington.com.
SMILEY PETE_DAN WU_LAMB_Sarah Jane Sanders 2014-10
PHOTOS BY SARAH JANE SANDERS
When you walk into your local grocery store, you’re entering a bit of a fantasyland. The produce section is chock-a-block with glossy, colorful, out-of-season fruits and vegetables. The meats are portioned out, packed in Styrofoam trays and wrapped in clear plastic. Don’t get me started on all the processed foods in boxes and cans.
The good news is that healthy, sustainable, delicious alternatives exist, and they’re more accessible than you might think. Lots of us agree that despite any perceived obstacles to buying local –– it can be more expensive, it’s not always convenient, etc. –– ultimately, it is worth it. Why? Not only does local food support local people who in turn spend their money on other local businesses (as opposed to sending your money to national companies in faraway lands), but buying directly from the source also gives the buyer the opportunity to make sure firsthand that the animals are well treated, allowed to pasture and live a more natural, cage-free, cruelty-free life. Happier animals produce better meat.
But for me, it all comes down to taste. Locally grown/raised food simply tastes better, like it’s meant to taste. Juicy berries, succulent meats, crisp vegetables. Since they are harvested at the peak of freshness, locally grown products are bred for taste and nutrition, not simply appearance, durability and shelf life. Why eat those firm, tasteless strawberries when you don’t have to?
Taking “buying local” to the next level
Lots of us are well-versed by now with the abundant options for purchasing locally raised meat and produce via the Farmers’ Market, Community Supported Agriculture packages (CSAs) and even local and national grocery stores. But an often overlooked option for the adventurous and locally conscientious home cook is to purchase an entire animal from a local farmer. Several area farms, including Pike Valley, Elmwood Stock, Triple J, Hood’s Heritage Hogs, Brookview, Stone Cross and several others provide this option for various animals, from chickens to hogs to cows. Just ask your favorite local producer if they offer it next time you see them at the Farmers’ Market; chances are they would be thrilled you asked.
We are fortunate to live in the Bluegrass, which is dotted with small farms that are growing and raising some of the best food around. Recently, I traveled to Four Hills Farm, just 30 minutes outside Lexington, to film the latest “Crave Kitchen Short” video (now available to view online at www.cravelexington.com). Nestled along a bucolic winding road in Salvisa, about halfway between Lawrenceburg and Harrodsburg, Four Hills is home to Jim Mansfield and his flock of happily bleating lambs. All it takes is a quick guided tour of the grounds to see the care and kindness that goes into this operation. The lambs are raised and weaned in pasture, allowed to graze and run free.
The favored breed at Four Hills Farm is Katahdin sheep, a single purpose American heritage breed (i.e., no wool), known for their high fertility and low maintenance as well as the delicate, mild flavor of the meat. Above and beyond the type of animal raised, it is the way in which they are cared for that differentiates this local farm from industrialized food. Talking with Mansfield, you begin to understand that the care he puts into his animals –– and one bite of his lamb proves that his approach translates directly to simply better food.
Why buy the whole animal?
Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” While he was making a call to vegetarianism, the core critique is directed at the commercial animal factory farm system that has not only amplified our disconnection from our food but also produced meat of questionable health, nutrition and ethical standards –– not to mention taste.
When you buy a whole animal directly from the source, you know exactly what you’re getting; it also means you get all the cuts and nothing is wasted. All of Four Hills Farm’s meat is processed off-site and packaged in individual cuts that include chops, rack, loin and even sausage; many other local farms provide the processing and packaging for no additional cost as well, pricing it to be ultimately less expensive pound-for-pound than grocery store cuts. Many farms will also include helpful recipes to guide buyers with how to prepare some of the less common cuts.
Read on for a recipe created with one of my favorite cuts from Four Hills Farms lamb: the loin chop, prepared with a cool yogurt, dill and mint sauce and curry-roasted cauliflower.