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.
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.”
Jennie is a wife and a mother of two boys; she tells how her family savors days on the mountain. Not only does she love the snow, but she has a general adoration of winter. She’s enthusiastic about making soups, stews and chilies in cold weather, and relishes a cup or bowl in front of the fire with her family.
Over the past three years she embarked on a journey to hunt down the best soups as she traveled to Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Hood, Whitefish Mountain., Big Sky, Moonlight Basin, Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Park City, Vail, and Beaver Creek. What grew from these travel experiences was what she describes as a perfectly balanced recipe for life: a ski town, a comfortable restaurant, and a yummy bowl of soup. As she likes to say: “Although soup is typically meant to simmer, life is meant to boil!”
The Ski Town Soups cookbook is a must-have souvenir for skiers and foodies alike. The book is a beautiful, colorful rendition of 60 North American ski resorts, restaurant dining rooms, renowned chefs, and over 100 unique soup recipes with ultimate regional flare.
I’ve had a chance to preview this cookbook before it’s available to the public and I’m happy to recommend it to anyone who loves soups, chowders, bisques, and chilies. The recipes are conveniently categorized in these sections. Each recipe is rated with a “difficulty level” from “easiest” to “most difficult”. The recipes were shared by some of the best chefs in North America’s mountain resorts and features beautiful photographs not only of the delicious dishes, but of the continent’s most beautiful mountain getaways.
The book’s foreword is provided by Kelly Liken, who, along with her husband, owns Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado. She begins by saying, “It has been said that the mark of a great chef can be found in their creation of a great soup.”
Andreas and Ingeborg Dirnagl (left) enjoying the 1957 Oktoberfest, Munich*
Oktoberfrest is a 16-day festival held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. It runs from late September to the first weekend in October. Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s most famous events and is considered the world’s largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. Countless communities across the world also celebrate this beer festival, and Taos Ski Valley is no exception! Our celebration is Saturday, September 15th.
History of Oktoberfest
Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King, married Princess Terese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. Everyone in Munich was invited to the festivities held on the fields at the city gates. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s Meadow”) in honor of the Princess. The locals refer to the field as Wies’n.
Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the event’s closing that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.
Two Classic Dishes
Along with the ubiquitous bratwurst, pretzels, and (of course) beer, there are two other dishes that abound during Oktoberfest season: Obatzda (cheese and beer dip on rye bread) and Datschi (fruit-topped cake).
I turned to The Blonde Bear Tavern’s Consulting Chef, Andreas Dirnagl, for these classic recipes (klassischen Rezepten). Andreas’s parents (pictured above) are Bavarian natives, who moved to the United States shortly after their 1957 marriage.
Chef Andreas gives us background:
A Bavarian specialty in the beer gardens, Obatzda is really more of a spread than a dip. Use a good hearty rye or dark bread (sliced works best). Place a slice of bread on a plate with a scoop of the spread on top. Garnish with onion, chive, and paprika. You can also serve radishes with salt and butter on the side. Yum!
Place garlic in a small baking dish, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season with salt. Pour a bit of water in the bottom of the dish, cover tightly with foil, and roast in 375° oven for about an hour.
Place the Camembert in a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, butter, ale, garlic, and caraway seeds
Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste; beat well to combine
Take about 2/3 of the onions and sauté in olive oil until golden
In a strainer, rinse the remaining raw onions under cold water; drain and transfer to a clean kitchen towel, squeezing out the liquid. Combine with sautéed onions
Fold onion mixture into the cheese mixture
Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 4 days.
Note: For a more authentic texture, set aside about 1/3 of the Camembert in a small dice and then fold it into the finished product. You may also use a bit of the rind.
Datschi (pronounced dah-chi) is a Bavarian word that means any of a variety of fruit-topped cake. Again, Chef Andreas gives us background:
Commonality is that the dough is pressed into a straight sided pan (Datschi comes from the verb detschen, which means “to smoosh”). There is no rim built up on the edges of the dough, and it is topped with some form of fresh fruit. Streusel topping is optional. The dessert is served simply on a small plate, usually topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
These cakes are a mainstay of every Bavarian bakery and major open air festival, as they can be made in big sheets. Fruit topping is variable, although plum is the most common. If you want authenticity, you need Italian plums. Remember in baking – if it eats sour, it bakes sweet and vice versa. Italian plums look kind of like plum tomatoes (as opposed to regular plums, which are round) and are quite sour if you eat them raw. When you bake them they become sweet / sour.
This recipe is from my mom, Inge, and is quite common in the Bavarian neighborhood where she grew up:
For the Cake
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 sticks unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
about 40 Italian plums, pitted and quartered
For the Optional Streusel
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Blend 30 seconds.
Add the cubed butter and process until crumbly.
Combine eggs, vanilla, and rum (it will look slightly curdled). Add to the food processor bowl and process until the dough just begins to form (it will look and feel like soft sugar cookie dough).
Turn out and roll the dough, forming a thick log the length of a 26″ by 18″ “half sheet” pan. Place down the center of the pan and use your hands and knuckles to push dough into all corners and edges of the pan. It should be flat, with no “rim” on the sides.
Place the fruit on top in a decorative, repetitive pattern (with an eye towards cutting servings into squares or rectangles.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven until the dough rises slightly between the fruit slices and the fruit has softened and begins to brown slightly, about 30 minutes.
If not topping with the optional streusel, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar after about 10 minutes of baking.
For optional streusel:
Combine all ingredients except butter, and mix well.
Drizzle with butter, and using fingertips, combine to form streusel.
Sprinkle over fruit topping before baking.
If using apples, use a tart variety. Peel, core, and slice into about 1/2″ wedges. You can also use about a 1/4 inch layer of apricot or raspberry jam or jelly if you have no fruit on hand. If using jam or jelly topping, then streusel is no longer optional – rather double the streusel recipe and completely cover the jam/ jelly topping with streusel before baking.
Oktoberfest at Taos Ski Valley
This year looks to be the biggest and best Oktoberfest in Taos Ski Valley. And it’s FREE fun for all ages.
The day will feature an authentic Schuplatter band and dancers, German beer and food, activities for kids, Brat eating contest, Yodeling contest, Alpenhorn blowing contests, and more.
Our Village stores will be offering pre-season blowout prices on ski gear and sporting apparel.
At my request, Andreas sent me an Oktoberfest picture with his mom (whose Datschi recipe she graciously shared) and dad (who is now deceased). He sent the following accompanying message, which I think bears repeating:
The year was 1957 and Mom was 28. This is Oktoberfest as it used to be. Mom is on the left with my dad immediately behind her. They would have been married all of 4 months at this point. Behind my dad is my grandfather (mom’s dad). The woman on the right is my Aunt Maria and the man with his arm around her shoulder is her husband, my Uncle Siegried (my dad’s brother). The other man is a stranger who photo bombed the picture.
Mom says that she and my Aunt went for a walk to see the sights at Oktoberfest and the men stayed back in the tent to save the seats. By the time they got back, the men were ripped and as she passed by to sit down my uncle grabbed her beret and wore it for the picture.
This weekend, extreme skiers and boarders from around the Southwest will descend on the rugged slopes and ridges of Taos Ski Valley for the annual Ben Myers Ridge-a-Thon.
Now in its 16th year, this grueling event attracts winter athletes — including former Governor Gary Johnson — who compete in an intense two-day skiing / boarding marathon. The event supports the Emergency Medicines Fund of the Taos Community Foundation.
Singles or two-man teams hike and ski the extreme terrain and ridges of Taos Ski Valley non-stop for five hours. The object is to ski as many runs as possible within the time allotted. The competition ends at 2:00 pm, at which time participants may choose to hike and ski Kachina Peak, which will count as three bonus runs.
Taos Community Foundation’s Emergency Medicines Fund
The Fund provides vouchers for the purchase of prescription medications at wholesale cost from local pharmacies. The result is free prescriptions to eligible individuals. The Fund is an emergency alternative to more long-term assistance. Emergency Medicines supports local nonprofit organizations within Taos and western Colfax counties that are currently engaged in emergency service activities and provide assistance to undeserved individuals.
Ben Myers was a well-known local extreme skier who died at the age of 26 of a rare cancer. His friends organized the Ridge-a-Thon in 1997 to collect money to pay his medical expenses. Today, the event helps others in similar situations.
Ben’s legacy lives on — not only his enthusiasm for skiing and Taos Ski Valley — but through this important yearly event that allows us all to help our friends and neighbors.
How You Can Help
Participants are currently soliciting donations, usually a set dollar amount for each run accomplished during the two days. I’m sponsoring our own Kent Forté, who is participating for the sixth year. Last year he completed 38 runs in the two days!
I am constantly asked the question, “How do I improve my wine knowledge?” To which I always respond, “Keep drinking!” There’s no better way to familiarize yourself with wines than a wine tasting. It’s a great way to experience new vintages of your favorites, and to explore other varietals and regions around the world.
The Grand Tasting will be held right here in Taos Ski Valley, and will feature more than 155 different wines from 30 participating wineries — and tastes from a dozen of Taos and Taos Ski Valley’s finest restaurants, including The Blonde Bear Tavern. A silent auction of rare wines benefits the Taos Community Foundation.
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?