Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BUFFALO AND CHICKPEAS

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I had the most memorable steak of my life. My Colorado buddy Derf had been gifted with a thick buffalo steak from a Native American friend who had hunted the animal on a reservation in Wyoming, and Derf had kept that lovely cut in his freezer until my visit. We thawed and marinated it (a good way to impart flavor to game meat that is lean and therefore lacking the flavor that fat contributes), then got caught up in other things and didn't grill it until dinner a couple of nights later. The marinade really had a chance to infuse the steak, and Derf did a fine job of keeping it to mid rare on the grill. Not a hunter himself, Derf had been gifted with plenty of game over the years from his hunter friends in the mountains, and he taught me that with lean game animals like deer, elk, and buffalo, you cook them either hot and fast or low and slow (otherwise, the meat turns dry).

With the memory of that steak still haunting me to this day, when I happened onto info that Slow Food Cincinnati was sponsoring a tour of local Vista Grand bison ranch plus a cookout, I signed up immediately. (That long-remembered steak was way before the digital-camera era, so I borrowed the above pics from Vista Grand's website.) I was thrilled when I'd learned several years ago from a local newspaper article that someone was actually raising buffalo so close by, and I've enjoyed Vista Grand's products in the past (although I've never found anything of theirs other than ground bison available for purchase). I was also delighted to learn Cincinnati has its own Slow Food chapter, which seems to be gaining momentum (more info here and here, and a promised new website here).

Last Sunday morning, I headed out to see the ranch for myself, just a couple of miles up 132 from Rt. 50, which I've traveled the last too-many-to-count-them years to visit Cindie and Odie. A tad tricky to find (mapquest thinks the address posted on their website is on the opposite side of the road), but a wide swath of pastoral heaven when you get there.
The mamas and babies had come up the hills so our group could see them. Since I was a bit late, I heard owner Cindy explain later that the "call" to the buffalo had been the sound the farm version of a golf cart vehicle her husband set out on:  "The Kubota means food."

ACCIDENTAL FARMERS?
Owners Cindy and David were casual, welcoming, and happy to answer questions. They make their buffalo-raising gig sound attractively low-maintenance, although my impression is they are smart, pragmatic people who've done a lot of research, and have a lot of irons in thefire. When asked whether she'd grown up on a farm, Cindy said, "No! I'm from New Jersey."
In the '90s when they bought the acreage, it was not with a predetermined intention of becoming bison farmers. Much of the story about how they came to raise buffalo seems to stem from busy lives and a desire for low maintenance - they repeatedly mentioned that buffalo take care of themselves much more than other livestock. At the time, Cindy was finishing her doctorate in nutrition and David was traveling a lot for business. They both continue to have other "day" jobs and activities, and were frank about the financial pitfalls and uncertainties of farming. Nonetheless, they are enthusiastic about what they do and the lifestyle it affords them..Among her many activities, Cindy is as 4-H advisor (you can view proud video on their website of their daughter at county fairs). After listening to Cindy talk, I just might have to check out a county fair this summer.

I encourage you to click on this video for better looks at the awesome vistas on their ranch than I was able to catch in the mid-day sun, and Cindy and David's story about Vista Grand in their own words.


Meanwhile, a sister- and brother-in-law who are a designer and architect have apparently contributed to the new main and guest houses on the property, and some scrumptious looking landscaping. A few more pics from me.

I'm not given to deifyed descriptions. But this was some of the most lovely land I've ever seen. Thanks so much for sharing your slice of the world with us, Cindy and David. I'm also happy to connect with the Slow Food Cincy group, especially after seeing the newsletter about your upcoming events! Back later with something resembling a recipe for the chickpea-asparagus-curry salad I contributed to the Slow Food cookout following our tour at Vista Grand.

5 comments:

buffalodick said...

I used to make my competition chili from buffalo! There are herds being raised all over now days..I enjoy the meat!

LaDivaCucina said...

Wow! That steak from the past sounds divine!!! I would love to buy meat from farmers like this and Tall Grass but I don't know what to do about the packaging. I am still trying to source local buffalo.

By the way Eggy, I've announced the new theme for the culinary throwdown. Please tell your friends, hope you can participate! Cheers and have a lovely rest of the week!

intuitive eggplant said...

BD, I'll bet that was some mighty tasty chili!

Diva, woo-hoo! I love your picnic theme for the next throwdown - and plenty of time to prepare!

Chef Dennis said...

Buffalo Steak sound like it would be great on the grill! Thanks for sharing such a great story!
Cheers
Dennis

intuitive eggplant said...

Dennis, thanks so much for stopping by! Your food looks and sounds so terrific. Awesome job you're doing for the girls at your school. Schools need more people like you. Keep up the great work!