The summer season has arrived and we are open! Join us and enjoy the cool mountain breezes. Our flowers are blooming and for the first time in four years, there is no construction adjacent to the café.
We are featuring the same New Mexican breakfast we have during ski season. Our Mountain Luncheon includes Salads, Sandwiches, Salads, and Specialties. Escape the heat in your neck of the woods and drink in the view here in Taos Ski Valley.
We’re open Friday through Monday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. There are several options for seating: Our front patio, our café, our dining room, or our beautiful back garden.
I had the opportunity to sample this beef a couple of weeks ago and tasted several cuts: filet, bone-in New York, and bone-in rib-eye. All were excellent with marvelous earthy meat flavor and perfect mouth-feel. This meat stands up to just about any I have ever tasted.
“1855” sources its beef from two ranches located in my home state of Nebraska:
When you live in Wheeler County, Nebraska — where the cattle outnumber the people — you know you are in an area that understands beef.
The Waggonhammer Ranch is a family-owned and operated ranch that opened its gates in 1910. The Black Angus cattle this ranch produces are highly sought after and known to be of the highest quality. Besides the attention to detail, the toil, and the sweat, Jay Wolf, rancher-owner at Wagonhammer, believes it is something specific that helps the cattle he raises earn the reputation they do.
“This is rich cow-calf country. We’ve been blessed with great grass,” says Wolf. “We take good care of the land, and it takes good care of us.”
For more than a century, the Wagonhammer Ranch has proved that the best Angus beef starts with a strong passion and understanding for what it takes to produce it. “My father was a Rancher, his father was a Rancher and I am carrying on all that they started.”
Pawnee Springs Ranch
At the wheel of his pickup truck driving the perimeter of the Pawnee Springs Ranch, Ranch Manager Steve Boeshart shares his passion for producing quality Angus cattle. “Ranching is a lifestyle. It’s not a job – it’s a way of life. And it is a lot of fun.”
When you raise the exceptional cattle that come from North Platte, Nebraska, everything on the ranch must be considered.
“We run and maintain everything ourselves to make it all more usable and more cattle friendly, it seems to be our second biggest challenge,” Boeshart says. “Mother Nature is out first. Trying to figure her out is always interesting.”
Boeshart, his family, and everyone involved in the Pawnee Springs operations are always trying to build a better herd by considering everything from feed to weaning to genetics.
It is a lot of work, but one Boeshart enjoys in every aspect. “It’s getting up in the morning and doing what we do. I enjoy it all.”
These ranchers have a great respect for the industry and for their land. They raise cattle in a very humane way, free from the stress of most industrialized mega cattle ranches where most of this country’s beef is raised. The cattle are processed at a plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, just 20 miles north of where I grew up in Hastings.
Most folks think of beef in terms of a commodity, but believe me, as a Nebraska native and chef, I know better. “1855” beef proves my point.
Come taste for yourself on September 20th. Stop by and say hello and sample some of the best beef you’ll ever taste.
I’m proud to be serving this beef from two of Nebraska’s hardest-working and talented ranchers. See for yourself in the video below (the default audio is off, so be sure to turn it on near the lower right corner!):
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.
Every Thursday afternoon, fresh buffalo mozzarella and ricotta arrive at our door, direct from Campania. The cheese is made on Tuesday afternoon from water buffalo that are milked that morning. It’s a pleasure many of our customers look forward to each week. What’s the big deal? Let me explain:
Mozzarella di bufala is a very fresh (unripened) pulled cheese made from the full-fat milk of water buffalo. Mozzarella has an interesting history, and like many Italian foods, is somewhat misunderstood.
Cheese made from cow’s milk is technically fior di latte [milk flower], but is many times also referred to as mozzarella. The taste is very different from buffalo mozzarella, more delicate and less rich, but its shelf life is much longer.
We consider genuine mozzarella di bufala a luxury product, but its roots stem from once underprivileged and rural southern Italy, where water buffalo lived in the unhealthy swampy regions near rivers and lagoons, and the countrymen who herded them suffered from malaria.
Historians trace Italy’s water buffalo back to twelfth century Campania, when monks at the San Lorenzo Monastery in Capua offered a mozza o provatura and a piece of bread to pilgrims visiting the church. The term mozzarella first appeared in the 16th century in a cookbook written by Vatican Chef Bartolomeo Scappi titled Opera dell’arte del cucinare.
There are many theories on the origins of water buffalo in Italy, but according to the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, the mostly likely is that during the tenth century, the Norman kings brought them into southern Italy from Sicily, where they had been introduced by the Arabs. Others believe the buffalo are indigenous to Italy, based on fossils found in the countryside surrounding Rome, as well as from results of recent studies that demonstrate that Italian buffalo have a different phylogeny than Indian buffalo.
Today, Italian water buffalo are raised in fenced-off fields and either graze or are fed locally produced hay or feed. The animals enjoy pools and showers to keep them cool (they have no sweat glands) and live an average of 15 to 20 years. Females give birth to one calf each year and give about two gallons of milk a day.
Although the cheese is produced in several areas from Abruzzo to Lazio to Campania, the best is arguably from around Naples, in the district between Caserta and Salerno. There are many dairies scattered about in this area, both small and large, where you can watch the mozzarella being made; a very fast process.
The milk is brought in, curdled, then drained to eliminate the whey. The curd is then cut into small pieces and ground up in a mill. The crumbly curd is placed into a mold and immersed in hot water, where it is stirred until it becomes rubbery. It is then kneaded, much like bread dough, until a smooth, shiny paste is reached, at which time the cheese maker pulls out and lops off a piece of cheese (mozzare in Italian means to lop off).
These individual balls are placed in cold water, and then are soaked in brine. Mozzarella prepared in the evening is ready the next morning.
But you don’t have to go to Campania to watch mozzarella being made. They make the cow’s milk variety at Joe’s Dairy, in New York’s SoHo; the process was recently documented by Amy Bandolik on her blog Delicious Thursdays.
Buffalo milk is not for drinking and is used exclusively for making mozzarella. It is much more concentrated than cow’s milk and would probably prove very difficult to digest in liquid form. Rich in calcium, high in protein and lactic flora substances, and with a high vitamin content, mozzarella di bufala is highly nutritional. There are only 270 calories in 100 grams of the cheese.
Italians will tell you that mozzarella di bufala should be eaten within a few days of its production – but better yet, a few hours! Fresh mozzarella should be elastic, the surface tight, smooth, and humid. There should be no yellowish marks or spots. When you press it with a finger, the texture shouldn’t be soft or rubbery. Inside it should have a grainy surface and composed of many layers, like an onion, especially near the surface.
Pearls of milky whey should seep out when you cut into the cheese and you will notice liquid separating from the solid, as if it had been soaked in milk. Get to know your cheese vendor and ask when the mozzarella is delivered. That’s the day you should buy it!
Fresh mozzarella di bufala, in our view, should be enjoyed by itself; we simply pour on some delicate extra virgin olive oil and add some coarse salt and a little black pepper. For our Insalata Caprese, we use fior di latte, which we believe provides a better balance to fresh tomato and basil. If you use fresh mozzarella on pizza, it’s best to drain it for several hours in a colander in the refrigerator to remove some of the moisture, otherwise you will get a soggy crust.
One of the byproducts of making mozzarella is ricotta, which means “recooked”. Ricotta is actually not a cheese at all, but is made by heating the whey from another cooked cheese, in this case, buffalo mozzarella. It is slightly grainy, white, moist, and has a slightly sweet flavor. And like mozzarella, we do very little to this luxurious ingredient, other than form into small bite-sized balls, or bocconcini, give them a quick egg wash, then flash fry. The result in the palate is cloud-like heaven.
Our regulars know that our mozzarella di bufala arrives on Thursday directly from Campania, and we only bring enough to last through the weekend. Sometimes we sell out in one night. It’s a bit of an extravagance, but once you’ve tasted freshly-made mozzarella di bufala, Thursdays will always mean a trip to Bellavitae.
In its March issue, Denvermagazine had a terrific article on Colorado lamb:
“Is there a more innocent, idyllic creature than the spring lamb? It’s been a symbol of purity and, by extension, rebirth for millennia — morphing from Aries, the first sign of the zodiac (today more commonly depicted in adult form as a ram), into a Judeo-Christian icon of sacrifice and resurrection that, in turn, manifests as an Easter supper centerpiece and Passover Seder ceremonial offering.”
I’ve tasted lamb from different parts of the U.S., as well as from Australia and New Zealand. None has the flavor or the texture of Colorado’s grass-fed lamb.
The state saw its cattle and sheep industry take off in the late 1800s, when New Zealand and Australia controlled the international wool market. However, these farmers fed and bred their sheep to optimize wool production. In Colorado, the opposite was – and still is – true: the focus is on meat quality, with wool being of secondary consideration.
The animals feed on bromegrass, orchardgrass, and perennial rye, all of which thrive in Colorado’s mountain climate. In the winter they eat alfalfa hay. And I love this quote:
“Oogie McGuire, owner of the Desert Weyr farm, says, “Terroir is not just a word that describes cheese or fine wine.” If she’s right, then all those mountain springs and lush valleys in the marketing materials of Colorado lamb promoters aren’t just for show — they’re what’s for dinner. “
According to the American Lamb Board, domestic lamb is of higher quality because it “travels up to 10,000 fewer miles and about 30 days less than imported lamb.” Another advantage: the ribeye of an American lamb rib chop provides 38% more meat than Australia and New Zealand rib chops.
The quality is so good that we do as little as possible to interfere with this beautiful piece of meat. We simply rub a garlic clove on the meat and place it on the hot grill, adding rosemary and some coarse salt.
By the way, scottadito translates to burn with heat [scottare] and finger [dito], or burned finger. Pick up a hot Colorado lamb chop by its bone and you’ll understand. We never frown on guests eating with their fingers, we encourage it!
Crostini with baby Artichokes and sun-dried Tomatoes
Crostini are a great way to get creative. Just an ingredient or two on toasted or grilled bread. How Italian is that?
In this dish, we spread sliced baby artichokes on crostini and top that with chopped sun-dried tomatoes for the perfect refreshment on a spring evening.
Both ingredients are grown by Francesco Vastola, whose land is located in Campania’s Alta Valle del Selearea near the Cilento National Park and the archaeological ruins at Paestum. Francesco grows vegetables of the highest quality. Combining innovation and tradition, he takes his just-picked vegetables and turns them into sott’olio using the excellent extra virgin olive oil from Cilento.
The baby artichokes we use are carciofi di Paestum, which are prized throughout Italy. They are famous for their small round heads, spineless stems, and beautiful purple color. Picked only between February and May, they are unusually tender, but still firm to the bite.
Artichokes are notoriously difficult to preserve. Their flavor is subtle. If an artichoke of little flavor is combined with poor quality olive oil, the results are disappointing.
Valle del Sele’s artichokes were first mentioned in statistics published in 1811, when the region was known as the Kingdom of Naples. Eventually, the artichoke of Castellammare became known as carciofo tondo di Paestum, or “round artichoke of Paestum.”
Francesco uses perfectly ripe, sun-drenched tomatoes for his pomodori secchi [sun-dried tomatoes]. He sprinkles them with salt and dries them in the fields. Wine vinegar, oregano, capers, and chili peppers add balance and an extra punch of flavor.
When Francesco’s pomodori secchi are combined with his carciofi di Paestum, a perfect flavor balance emerges, showing that sometimes one plus one equals three.
Fusilli with marinated Zucchini, Garlic, and Mint in the style of Campania
Scapece refers to the pickling of fish or vegetables, similar to carpione and saor, a technique used throughout the Mediterranean. Scapece is the Italianization of the Spanish word escabeche. It’s an ancient technique of preserving food by first frying in olive oil, then marinating in vinegar, garlic, and mint.
Zucchini prepared this way are delicious as a side dish or as part of an antipasti spread, as you will find throughout southern Italy and Sardinia. For this dish, we cut the zucchini into small strips, and form into a sauce for fusilli, the curlicue pasta. It makes for wonderful physical and tasting sensations in the palate.
Spring is here and we’re busy planning the new menu. Unfortunately, that means we will be closing the wood burning brick oven before you know it. We would love to keep it burning all year long, but it just generates too much heat. We find it hard to justify blasting the air conditioning and the oven during the summer.
We’ll make the decision to close it based on the weather, but it’s usually at the end of April or mid-May.
Meanwhile, come in and enjoy your favorite items from the oven, otherwise you’ll have to wait until next November!