“At far too many ski areas across North America, the slopeside food options are dismal, consisting of little more than hamburgers, pizza, and wings eaten off plastic trays. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, some of the world’s best ski areas are known as much for their food as for their slopes and snowfall. For apres-ski cocktails overlooking the French Alps in Courchevel to a multicourse meal at the top of Telluride, here’s where we go to ski and savor.”
Whistler, British Columbia
Park City, Utah
Taos, New Mexico
“The low-key resort of Taos has a surprisingly good mix of restaurants, which are deeply rooted in Southwest and Mexican cuisine but it’s easy to find French, Italian, and Asian food too. “
We made a few more runs before I knocked off that afternoon and headed to The Blonde Bear Tavern, in the lobby of the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, for an après beer. What the Ski Valley has in abundant untapped terrain it has long lacked in base-area amenities—at least compared to other A-list resorts in the region. But that’s changing, too, and the Edelweiss offered a glimpse of the future. The Blonde Bear Tavern has a more upscale and cosmopolitan vibe than the other watering holes in the base-area village, with a polished stone bar, leather stools, and a discriminating wine list.
“We want people to come and enjoy a meal in a warm atmosphere that has some sophistication, but that is still casual,” said Jon Mudder, The Blonde Bear’s executive chef and a New York City transplant. “The Ski Valley is always going to have a laid-back attitude, and we don’t want to lose that.”
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.
I’ve been gardening since I was a kid in Nebraska. A few years after planting my first seed – a Lima bean I had plucked from a sack in our pantry and stuck it in the ground – I asked my dad if we could clear some bushes and trees in our back yard to make way for a sunny garden plot. He agreed and I’ve been gardening ever since.
During the off season here in Taos Ski Valley, we only operate Café Naranja for breakfast and lunch four days a week. That gives me time to tend to the beautiful gardens that surround the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa.
The Lodge is nestled within the heart of Taos Ski Valley on Sutton Place. The crystal mountain waters of Rio Hondo meander through the north side of the property; these gardens we keep largely in their natural state. To the south and east, we offer a more cultivated expression of our microclimate – our terroir.
Our terroir presents unique gardening benefits – and challenges, but this is my second year, so I think I’m getting the hang of it.
Friends and family have asked that I send pictures of my handiwork, so here they are, both for them and for folks that only come to Taos Ski Valley in the winter.
I spend many hours working the gardens, and do so with great pleasure. My favorite time of day is near dusk, after perhaps a few hours of huffing and puffing in the thin dry mountain air: tilling, planting, watering. At sunset the light turns warm, the breeze becomes soft, and I feel close to God.
The music is the favorite of my grandma – Alice Hopp – to whom I dedicate this short film.
Our hearty congratulations, Rushan. We’re proud to call you a fellow citizen.
Do you take your American citizenship for granted, perhaps because you happened to be born here? My ancestors entered the United States through Ellis Island and witnessed the Statue of Liberty when they arrived. This sonnet, written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, appears on a bronze plaque at its pedestal:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
A James Beard Award is considered by many to be the most prestigious recognition an American food professional can achieve. As the foundation notes on its website:
“The Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America. The awards are presented each spring at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Nominees and winners are fêted at a weekend of events in New York City that has become the social and gastronomic highlight of the year.”
The 2013 James Beard awards were announced earlier this month. So in the latest edition of New Mexico magazine, Cheryl Alters Jamison writes about New Mexico’s previous winners and nominees, who “have put the state on the national culinary map.” They include:
Jamison ends the article with “Chefs to Watch”, including this:
Jon Mudder: The Blonde Bear Tavern and Café Naranja, Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, Taos Ski Valley The chef-restaurateur was the driving force behind a much-loved but now-closed Greenwich Village trattoria, Bellavitae. According to many reports, Mudder has been raising the quality of food at the Edelweiss restaurants to levels that approach to TSV’s altitude. Expect mountain comfort food here, with European and New Mexican touches. 106 Sutton Place; (800) 458-8754; edelweisslodgeandspa.com/dining
New Mexico’s culinary arena, with its world-class restaurants, wineries, ranches, cooking schools, and distilleries, is fascinating to explore. Click on a few of the links above and investigate for yourself.
We are pleased to participate again in this year’s 27th Annual Taos Winter Wine Festival, by hosting one of Napa Valley’s most prestigious wineries – Merryvale Vineyards – right here at The Blonde Bear Tavern. President and manager of the winery’s day-to-day operations, René Schlatter, will be on hand for this special wine dinner to guide guests through six of Merryvale’s most notable wines. Sous Chef Martha Jurardo, our kitchen staff, and I have meticulously developed a menu that will highlight these wines in a way that will engage the palate of both wine connoisseurs and novice wine lovers alike.
The first winery built in Napa Valley following the repeal of Prohibition, Merryvale is located in the heart of America’s premier wine region. The winery’s focus is on crafting elegant, complex wines in the finest European style, yet reflecting the exuberant fruit from the Napa Valley and Sonoma appellations.
Merryvale’s white wines are whole-cluster-pressed to yield the clearest juice, and then fermented with native yeasts in French oak barrels. The reds are made using traditional European methods and also aged in French oak barrels; they are then bottled unfiltered, which contributes to the rich, round flavors and supple textures.
Ask Merryvale Proprietor Jack Schlatter about his background as a cotton classer in México, coffee taster in Brazil, or any of his other fascinating experiences and he’ll quickly steer the conversation back to his true passion – the wines of Merryvale Vineyards. A native of Switzerland, Jack’s lifelong love of wine drew him to the Napa Valley to become a partner in Merryvale.
“Napa Valley’s diversity of soils and microclimates allows us to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir just a few miles from Cabernet. There’s no other place in the world like it.” says Jack.
Jack has dedicated himself to making sure the winery remained true to its founding vision of crafting fine wines that capture the essence of Napa Valley’s noble vineyards. One of his earliest decisions was to allocate all of the winery’s resources to uncompromised grape quality and winemaking. Dramatic improvements were made in equipment, facilities, wine grape sources and personnel.
“I’ve always said that quality is Merryvale’s life insurance,” he says. As Jack is now looking forward to more free time with his wife, Lilo, their son René is responsible for the winery’s day-to-day operations.
René upholds his family’s integrity in his broad role as president. Working his way up the Merryvale ladder the old-fashioned way, he has held progressively more responsible positions since 1995. Also born in Switzerland (near Geneva), René grew up an expert skier and all things snow. He has lived in the U.S. since 1987 and played Division 1 tennis at Trinity University and earned his MBA from the American Graduate School of International Management in Arizona. He lives in St. Helena with his wife, Laurence, their three young daughters and two friendly dogs.
That Laurence’s family has owned a winery in Switzerland for five generations provides a special sense of tradition. “It’s very rewarding to continue this family heritage at Merryvale,” says Jack.
Together, Jack and René have developed long term partnerships with some of the best wine grape growers in the Napa Valley, as well as making the careful assessment to acquire three estate vineyards:
70-acre Saint Helena Estate Vineyard on a ridge top high above St. Helena ideal for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to which it is planted
55-acre Stanly Ranch Estate Vineyard on the historic Stanly Ranch in Carneros ideal for the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah grown there
Juliana Vineyard in Pope Valley, planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In 2006, Merryvale completed construction on a second winery in the Napa Valley’s Carneros region. This state-of-the-art facility, called Starmont after the Merryvale wines of the same label, is “green” with 100% of winery process water being recycled and 54% of the winery operations powered by solar energy. The Schlatters are committed to protecting and preserving the Napa Valley for future generations using sustainable practices. Both wineries and estate vineyards have been Napa Green Certified.
Merryvale produces ultra-premium Napa Valley wines available throughout the US, Europe and Asia. The winery has earned numerous awards and continues to gain critical acclaim for its outstanding wines and hospitality.
“Starmont” Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, 2011
This wine is sourced from several distinct growing regions within the Napa Valley, including Oak Knoll, and Rutherford, each contributing a different expression of the varietal. The wine is fermented in a combination of neutral French oak (60% of the blend; only 2% new) and stainless steel tanks (40%). The intent is to preserve and enhance the varietal nuances and texture complexity.
Tasting Notes: Full and lush mouthfeel with refreshing acidity providing for a wonderfully long finish that ends with clean minerality of wet slate, and bright kumquat rind.
Chardonnay Carneros, 2010
Sourced from the Stanly Ranch Estate Vineyard and Hyde Vineyard in Carneros, the fruit for this Chardonnay is carefully sorted, whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented using 100% native yeast. The wine spent 11 months in French oak barrels on the lees.
Tasting Notes: Displays expressive aromas of pear, papaya, citrus, nectarine, pineapple, toasty oak and spice. The wine is medium weight with a round fleshy texture and a crisp sweet finish.
Pinot Noir Carneros, 2011
Sourced from vineyards throughout the Carneros appellation, including Merryvale’s Estate Vineyard on the Stanly Ranch, this wine is a blend of favorite Pinot Noir clones including: Dijon 114, 115, 667, 777, and 823, along with Pommard and Swan. The Dijon clones bring good color, bright focused fruit, and concentration. The Pommard and Swan clones bring nuanced complexity, along with minerality and great texture. The grapes were handpicked and carefully sorted. The wine was aged for twelve months in French oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Tasting Notes: Soft, yet bright entry, round and pleasantly balanced on the mid-palate, medium weight. Finishes with delicate length.
Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 2008
This Napa Cabernet received choice lots from the Estate Vineyard located in the hills high above St. Helena, as well as fruit from other top Napa vineyards, including Stagecoach and Sugarloaf. The fruit was hand-picked and triple sorted before undergoing extended maceration and a long, cool fermentation for increased flavor, color and aroma. The wine was aged for 18 months in 70% new French oak, including 20% of the wine coming from larger 500 liter (132 gallon) puncheons. The wine only racked twice and was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Tasting Notes: Dark red/purple in color with lifted aromas of cassis, blackberry, violets and cedar interwoven with vanilla and toasty oak. The wine is plush and round in the mouth with resolved tannins and great intensity.
“Profile” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 2009
Profile is Merryvale’s flagship red Bordeaux blend showcasing the very best fruit from each vintage. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon and all of the Petit Verdot are sourced from the St. Helena Estate Vineyard, planted fifteen years ago. The favorite lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc are chosen for their concentration, depth of flavor and fine tannin structure to produce a wine that is rich, elegant and opulent. After extended skin contact, native malolactic fermentation in barrel and periodic lees stirring, the wine undergoes extensive tasting and blending until the final version of Profile is complete. The wine was aged the 2009 Profile for 21 months in 100% new French Oak barrels, and an additional year in bottle before release.
Tasting Notes: Shows powerful aromas of cassis, blackberry, raspberry liqueur, licorice, sweet vanilla bean, complex oak and baking spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Upon entry on the palate, this wine displays a generous, mouth-coating texture, with very fine tannins and exceptional length.
“Antigua” Napa Valley, NV
This dessert wine is 100% Muscat De Frontignan from vintages 1970 to 1983, 1992 to 1994. It is fortified with fine pot-still brandy, aged in French oak barrels and tanks with 11 years average aging.
Tasting Notes: Golden/amber in color from its long aging in French oak, the wine is a complex combination of nuts and orange-peel aromas. Thick and rich in the mouth, the nuts and orange-peel theme continues from the entry through the long finish, highlighted by the many subtleties from the fine brandy and time in the barrel.
Parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with 12-year old Balsamic Vinegar
Venetian Paté Crostini
Endive stuffed with Gorgonzola and Walnuts, drizzled with Chestnut Honey
“Starmont” by Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc
Seared Scallop on a bed of Baby Lettuces with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Merryvale Carneros Chardonnay
Four-Mushroom Lasagne with Spinach Pasta
Merryvale Carneros Pinot Noir
Roast Beef with Mountain Gravy
Farro cooked in the manner of Risotto with Chanterelles
Roasted Beets with Crumbles of Mountain Gorgonzola and Walnuts
For more information and tickets, visit the Taos Winter Wine Festival website. Please stop by our booth to say hello — and after the event, why not come to The Blonde Bear Tavern for dinner and a little more wine?
The Merryvale Vineyards Wine Dinner
Friday, February 1, 2013
$95 per person plus tax and gratuity
The Blonde Bear Tavern
106 Sutton Place
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
575.737.6900 ext. 6996
The combination of the flair of the European Alps and hominess of Northern New Mexico has always been a big part of what makes Taos Ski Valley so unusual in the American Rockies. And, over the decades, the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa has always been a key player in enhancing that image.
In the past couple of years, the Edelweiss has written a new chapter in its 40-year history of providing luxury, ski-in ski-out accommodations in the base village of Taos Ski Valley. Rebuilt and redefined following a devastating fire, the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa brand now has established itself among the most luxurious lodging options at the resort — and the Southwest.
And that includes fine dining.
[The menu] pays homage to both the Taos Valley and TSV’s rich connection with the traditions of winter resorts in northern Italy, France, Austria and Bavaria. As the menu says, “Our menu gives you a taste of classic dishes from those regions (where skiing originated) interpreted through the casual laid-back attitude for which Taos Ski Valley is known.”