At Tim's dinner party, we met several new people, including Cynthia, who is a photographer and foodie. She's trying to combine her two passions into a documentary piece of work on humane meat harvesting. I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but my curiosity was piqued enough to join her at a wine dinner showcasing her photography and Eco-Friendly Foods at our most favorite of wine-bar restaurants in DC: Sonoma.
Cynthia and Chef Nicholas Sharpe
It turned out to be a presentation and tasting of the specially-harvested meats. And there was a lot of it. Eco-Friendly Foods' proprietor Bev Eggleston, along with his wife, Jenelle, provide pasture-raised, "beyond organic" meats to consumers at farmers markets and to restaurants. All of their animals are raised (and harvested) humanely on small family farms throughout the Shenandoah Valley, VA. They're really into, and have worked very hard, to champion the benefits of returning to healthy farming and provide products crafted from these methods. Working for family farmers, they've invested large amounts of time lobbying for national and local legislation to open a venue for farmers who utilize a “holistic” approach to raise, harvest and market their products.
Bev talking; Bev and Chef (and his ink)
This might sound like a real mouth-full and hippy-dippy, and many people don't care as long as the meat tastes good. I guess I am/was one of those people. But listen, I don't want to be eating a piece of pork fed on M&Ms and corn and then tortured before it's slaughtered. The taste of pasture-raised meat is qualitatively different than big mass-produced corporate products. Remember the AMAZING pork I had in Charleston? It's from Fudge Farms, and they do the natural, pasture-raising technique. The quality of the meat is obvious. I cannot, absolutely cannot, tell you enough how different it is. But when I was eating the Fudge Farms pork back in Charleston, I had no idea that the reason for its flavor was because of the way it was farmed.
And now it's clear: How an animal is raised and harvested effects its flavor. SUBSTANTIALLY.
Back to the dinner. So for $90 a person, we dined on five courses of meat and listened to Bev describe the product and the paradigm of "beyond organic". It means, not only are the animals fed natural, unprocessed, foods, they are allowed to freely graze on the green pastures of the farm. The green-ness, a freshness, if you will, is what you taste in the meat. Also, they aren't frightened and abused, which can cause them to release weird, nasty-tasting hormones. Especially the veal. It's important that the still-suckling calves aren't torn from their mother to be "processed".
We started with grilled bread and ham "salad" with sweet house-pickled vegetables, which included beech mushrooms, peppers and haricot verts. (So, it wasn't *all* meat.)
Fried chicken with apple puree and sorrel salad. As you know, we don't eat chicken, but I had to try it. The texture was good, and the crispy, crunchy skin packed the flavor, as did the apple puree with applejack jus gras. We chose our own bottle of wine, instead of the wine pairing offered. The 2008 Klee Pinot was nice.
Rose veal. A young cow, a little older than typical veal, is pinkish in color and, while still suckling is raised on mother's milk and grass before taken to harvest, where it's brought with its mother. (Typically veal calves are torn from their mothers, which is stressful and causes them to produce a bad-tasting fear hormone.) If you really think about it, you don't want to eat meat. But if you do enjoy it, you don't want to torture animals for your pleasure. And you certainly want a good piece of meat for all the trouble and sacrifice, right? Small consolation, but we don't eat much veal. This was delicious, nonetheless, served with grits.
DELICIOUS pork sausage. Earthy, salty, goodness with sweet potato gnocchi, red onion compote. The sweetness, of course, always pairs well with pork.
TAKING A BREAK. Throughout the meal, Bev talked about the process and the particular meat. It was a lot. You can't help but think about the effort and time that goes into raising these animals, treating them humanely, and preparing the meat well. One thing that I learned is how they are slaughtered. Usually (prepare *yourself*) it's a bullet to the head. In fast commercial processing, they don't even bother to check that the animal is actually dead before butchering it. But with humane farming, they go to the efforts of checking their eyes to make sure. Sorry, had to share.
Moving on. At this point, I was getting full. Really full. But there was goat atop chickpea polenta. Delicious. I've only had goat at Jamaican restaurants. This was topped with stewed peppers and smoked lamb jus. Very, very tasty.
Next up was the grilled NY strip with a side of braised short rib, served with roasted beets, parsnip puree and brasato sauce. The steak was VERY notable in its difference in taste. It tasted a little greener or game-y (which I definitely like). It had much, much more flavor than regular beef, which only tastes good when there's a lot of fat. With this style, it is very lean and the tenderness comes with dry aging. Very nice. The braised short rib was absolutely divine.
Finally, a respite: brown butter cake with apple jam and smoked vanilla ice cream.
Chef Nicholas Sharpe did a wonderful job preparing the meal. Bravo, Chef!
Sonoma is one of many restaurants in DC and NYC that sources from Eco-Friendly Foods. Check them out here.
You can also purchase their goods at some local farmer's markets. Again, EcoFriendly Foods is a bridge for the marketing and distribution of meat products for farmers who are embracing the successful model of humane and ethical standards for grass-based farming. Bev is testifying today before Congress on the matter.