I’m reviving this series – On the Menu – to highlight additions and special features of our menus at The Blonde Bear Tavern and Café Naranja. We’ve been busy this summer with our continuous search for superior ingredients – organic and local when possible – that will ensure every one of our guest’s dining experience is the best it can be.
To kick it off, I am especially enthused to announce The Blonde Bear Tavern’s exclusive relationship with Four Daughters Land and Cattle. I visited the central New Mexico cattle ranch a couple of weeks ago after tasting its beef this summer with our consulting butcher, Tom Bertelle.
The Tasting Those of us participating in the tasting were speechless. Eyes collectively closed as tasters’ palates first came into contact with the silky tenderloin and its surprising full flavor, usually reserved for fattier cuts. The New York strip revealed layers of complex succulence, but was unexpectedly tender, almost filet-like. The ground beef, which we prepared on the griddle, had beautiful texture, full flavor, and was profoundly satisfying. The bone-in rib eye? Extraordinary.
We just all sat around looking at each other, smiling and reaching for more of this wonderful New Mexico meat. There didn’t seem to be enough adjectives at the tip of our tongues. One taster finally exclaimed, “Jon, you must put this beef on the menu!” Everyone unreservedly agreed. And so did I.
As a Nebraska native, I’ve consumed my fair share of beef – and the meat from Four Daughters Land and Cattle blew me away. I love meat and we serve a lot of it at The Blonde Bear Tavern: braised, roasted, burgers, steaks, and in soups and stews. What’s more satisfying after a day on the steep slopes of Taos Ski Valley?
The Ranch, The Tour
Located some 20 miles west of Belen, New Mexico, Four Daughters is 330 square miles. It is an amalgamation of six contiguous ranches that proprietor Mike Mechenbier and his wife Kathy have purchased over the past few decades. Named after their four daughters – Jessica, Abby, Katie, and Emily – the ranch makes Mechenbier one of the nation’s top 100 private landowners according to Land Report magazine.
I spent most of the day touring the ranch with Mike and his sidekick Hoss, a Jack Russell terrier that never leaves his side. The three of us drove through the property and met some of the ranch hands, cowboys, and, of course, the cattle.
The first thing I noticed was the ranch’s vastness. And the land is full of wildlife: antelopes, elk, and several species of foxes and birds. Also roaming the latest property the Mechenbiers purchased are herds of wild mustangs, which Mike told me were descendants of Iberian horses of the Spanish Conquistadors, according to DNA tests.
Electricity on the ranch is provided only by solar panels. There is no cellular service. Water is scarce; most is captured rain. The most common form of transportation is horseback.
This may be ranching as it was a century ago, but it produces beef that many more modern operations can only dream of.
There is extensive research investigating the connection between stress levels in cattle and the quality of their meat. This is due in large part to the release of cortisol (known more formally as hydrocortisone) as a cow experiences stress. The more cortisol in a cow’s muscles – especially chronically – the lower the meat’s overall quality.
Four Daughters grazes up to 7,000 cattle at any one time on the land, but unlike many large ranches, the operation does not rely upon four-wheelers, motorcycles, or even helicopters to round up cattle. It’s all done by cowboys on horseback. One can only imagine the stress felt by animals when they’re badgered by obnoxiously loud motors.
The ranch also grows its own grain to finish the cattle before slaughter (by the way, the P.C. word now is “harvest”, which I find creepy), which is fed to them on the ranch’s own small feedlot. This is important from a beef quality standpoint for two reasons:
• Cattle transported over long distances to large regional feedlots experience high stress and even sickness
• The ranch has complete control of the cow’s diet – from birth to slaughter – ensuring optimum nutrition throughout its life
The high desert grasses of Four Daughters are different from those in other parts of the country where there is more rain, as in, say, East Texas. These “washy” grasses – as Mike calls them – are lusher and denser than those in New Mexico, but counter intuitively have less nourishment than our own state’s grasses, which are richer in nutrients. In fact, the ranch is full of blue grama (bouteloua gracilis, New Mexico’s official state grass), which during the autumn months contain more protein than corn.
A typical ranch with thick lush grasses will graze one cow per three or four acres. At Four Daughters, it’s one cow per 50 acres. The cattle can stretch out, as it were, making them calm, content, well-nourished – and happy!
Happy cows on the ranch translate into extraordinary beef on the plate.
Good for New Mexico’s Environment
The environmental impact of meat production is of concern to many in this country, and part of the decision to serve Four Daughters beef at The Blonde Bear Tavern is the ranch’s low environmental impact on our state.
With one cow per 50 acres, there’s no danger of overgrazing at this ranch, which can lead to soil erosion. The grazing land is unirrigated, and thus is able to support the grassland ecosystem in perpetuity with a sustainable level of water use and adequate groundwater recharge.
Compared to many of its peers, the ranch uses little energy for operations. The entire ranch is powered by solar energy. The use of cowboys rather than combustion-powered vehicles to round up cattle keeps fossil fuel use low.
Unless well managed, manure and other substances from livestock operations can cause severe environmental water contamination. This is particularly true for very large feedlots – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – of which there are over 12,000 in the United States. Four Daughters has a small feedlot and makes use of animal waste by depositing it on the farmland where grains are grown for its horses and finishing cattle, thus minimizing or even eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.
Good for the Community
Thirteen years ago, Mike and Kathy started an orphanage in Tomé, New Mexico. He told me the concept of El Ranchito de los Niños came to him “after one too many beers.” He and Kathy simply wanted to give children from difficult situations food, shelter, and education while also giving the comfort of an environment full of animals.
“So many of these kids come and they’re so damaged, they can’t even bond to a person, but they can bond to an animal, and take care of an animal and become responsible,” Mechanbier told the Albuquerque Journal. “I have kids hanging off me from one end to the other. It’s pretty gratifying (to see) that they can finally heal and start trusting again.”
Good for You!
Responsible agriculture is important to us at The Blonde Bear Tavern. So is supporting local farmers and ranchers while minimizing the financial and environmental impact of transportation. Food that is raised in a natural way is more nutritious – but most importantly tastes better.
Starting in November, we will proudly serve Four Daughters Land and Cattle beef:
The Tavern Burger, An American Classic
French Country Beef Stew over fresh Buttered Noodles, Boeuf Bourguignon – Burgundy, France
New York Strip with Italian Salsa Verde, La Tagliata – Tuscany, Italy
Filet of Beef with Béarnaise Sauce, Filet Mignon – Franche-Comté, France
“Cowboy Cut” Bone-In Rib Eye Steak with simple Red Wine Sauce, Côte de Bœuf avec Sauce au Vin Rouge, Midi-Pyrénées, France
This beef is going to knock your socks off. I invite you to try it when ski season begins November 28th.