Author: Patrick Martins


What Separates Heritage Chickens From the Rest of the Pack?

What really separates Heritage Breeds of chicken from the rest of the pack, and why is it so important to help preserve breed diversity?

Barred Rock Hen.
Barred Rock Hen.

What is most remarkable about the chicken is that every one of the approximately 12 billion that populate the planet earth are all descended from the Red junglefowl (gallus gallus) of southern Asia.

Of course, counting how many chickens exist is no easy task considering that chicken just surpassed beef as the most eaten meat in the United States. Chickens also live in backyards and rooftops in every country in the world — they only need a small space to provide us with eggs and meat. Sadly many varieties of chicken are on the endangered species list. This cultural loss began in the 1950s but sped up in the 1970s.

Frank Reese and Good Shepherd Ranch are part of an underground movement to preserve old genetics. Today Good Shepherd with Heritage Foods USA is the only company selling 100% USDA inspected factory farm free chicken meat. This means no genetic meddling took place other than preservation of what real chickens once were. No one knows what real chickens are like better than Frank who has been in the business for over 50 years, since he was a little boy. He knows the taste and composition of every chicken that ever walked on American soil. His farm is a museum of the past and if good sense prevails, also the future! Of course no antibiotics are needed on Good Shepherd Ranch because the animals are strong and capable of reproducing on their own. These are chickens with 10,000 year histories.

In an effort promote heritage chickens, Heritage Foods USA is starting to sell ground chicken. This ground can be purchased as part of our livestock variety packs and soon by itself. The delicious ground meat is available in one-pound bags and consists only of heritage birds. Our goal is to increase the market for heritage breeds of chicken, allowing Frank and neighboring farms room to increase various breed populations.

Our whole chicken program continues each season with a rotation of all the breeds that Frank dutifully raises on his ranch. In 2014 the Rhode Island White, Leghorn, Minorca, and White Cornish will have been celebrated on dinner tables around the country. I asked Frank what the differences were between them and he answered, “It’s as big a difference as a Great Dane and a Chihuahua!”  We are proud to feature each breed by itself every 3 months as well as breed variety packs that allow you to compare and contrast the flavors and shape of the birds. For a full list of breeds we will feature over the coming months see below. Together we hope to turn the tide against monoculture in the American poultry industry.

Working to change the way Americans eat chicken is no easy task. The industry is dominated by a single variety of chicken that got its start in the 1950s but really became a central actor on the American stage in the 1970s when the folks at Tyson met with the folks at McDonalds to develop the Chicken McNugget. The nugget provided Tyson with a stable and consistent market while also relieving them of the pressures of the fresh poultry market — nuggets could be frozen. Fresh chickens as a dominant part of the industry now became a thing of the past. The nugget created the need for the development of a new industrial hybrid chicken broiler that made the most amount of meat using the least amount of feed. Another goal was that the birds produce almost exclusively white meat even though nature does not do that on its own.

The industry scoured flocks for abnormal candidates to breed together to develop the characteristics they desired, even though it has ultimately been unhealthy for the species. When the industry came across one of nature’s mistakes — say, a chicken so top-heavy with meat that it could barely walk—they pulled it from the flock, not to kill it in an effort to protect the group from bad genes, but to ensure that its abnormal genetics became part of the next year’s harvest. The misfits were cataloged and combined — corporate farms now consist of entire populations who’s skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems can’t keep up with their genetic engineering. Long before they got to the crowded feeding ops, these animals were doomed to a life of pain with a potpourri of scurrilous genetics. But boy, do they grow fast! A five-pound chicken has gone from taking 16 weeks to only six weeks to fully grow, but many are on the verge of collapse when they arrive on the kill floor. These are dead end animals.

Thankfully farmers like Frank resisted the trend. His farm consists of dozens of breeds neatly divided in pens. Frank works to improve each genetic line that he has acquired over the past decades. Each breed tastes different but they all boast more dark meat than industrial cousins. They also look like a chicken with thinner breast lines, and a strong build.

The flavor of the meat is intense and the fibers in the meat are very strong and difficult to break down. Heritage chickens must be cooked very low and very slow. Without this technique the birds will be tough. Moisture must also a part of cooking process or else they dry out over the long cooking time.

The breeds Frank raises include Columbian Wyandotte, Rhode Island Whites, Black Leghorns, Golden Penciled Hamburg, Dark Brahma, Silver Laced Wyandotte, White Laced Red Cornish, Dark Cornish, White Cornish, White Jersey Giants, Black Jersey Giants, White Leghorns, Buff Leghorns, Blue Andalusian, Barred Plymouth Rock, Ancona, Light Brown Leghorn, Dark Brown Leghorn, Silber Leghorn, Black Minorca, White Face Black Spanish, Silver Penciled Hamburg, Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshires among many more. We hope you will try each one and help us lay the path for a return of taste and dignity for our animals.

Hen standing in the sunshine at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Hen standing in the sunshine at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Jersey Giant from Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Jersey Giant from Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Columbian Wyndotte from Good Shepard Poultry Ranch.
Columbian Wyndotte from Good Shepard Poultry Ranch.
Barred Rock Hen on Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Barred Rock Hen on Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Hens forge together at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.
Hens forge together at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch.

The History Behind the Farm Tour!

The next trip is scheduled for May 1st, and we’d like to invite you to join us on the road! We will be updating The Blog and Facebook every step of the way with pictures and stories of our adventures. Let us know what you want to see and what questions you have for our farmers and we’ll find you answers!

Brief History of the Ham and a Recipe for Brown Sugar and Mustard Glazed Ham

The ham is everywhere — in every deli in America — but what’s its real deal?

Hams weigh about 30 pounds. Every pig has two hams on him or her. For an average sized pig (about 200 lbs), the hams represent 1/3 of their overall weight. That’s a big portion, especially when you consider that the center cut pork loin only weighs about 8lbs for a total of 16lb per animal. It’s easy to understand the reasoning behind the axiom that pig profits go the way of the ham.

Hams are part of the hind section of the pig, and should not be called a leg since the leg could also come from the front shoulder. The hind shank is often left on the ham adding even more weight to the total product (hind shanks are about 3lbs each and fore shanks about 1.5lbs). In Europe the ham commands the highest per pound price on the animal while the loin commands the lowest. In the USA it’s the exact opposite. Now bacon has become one of the most expensive cuts.

At Heritage most of our 400 hams a week go to the curemaster Sam Edwards who has a family tradition of curing them that goes back almost 90 years. In 1926 S. Wallace Edwards, young captain of the Jamestown-Scotland ferryboat, began serving ham sandwiches to his ferry passengers …. sandwiches made from ham, salt-cured and hickory smoked, on his family farm. The demand for his ham grew so quickly that Captain Edwards soon began curing and selling hams on a full-time basis.

Today, Sam’s new Surry line has met with critical success thanks to an aging process that takes about 400 days. Heritage Foods USA also cures its own hams, bone-in or bone-out, using an injection cure that has been perfected by our partners at Paradise Locker Meats.

Mario Fantasma with his sons Nick and Louis
Mario Fantasma with his sons Nick and Louis

Injection cured hams are for everyday ham sandwiches or for breakfast with a sunny side up egg on top. Dry cured and smoked hams are the big ol’ legs of ham that sit on the bars or hang from the ceilings in pretty much every restaurant or hole-in-the-wall bar in Italy and Spain. Most hams in America are injection cured. But a few producers still dry age and smoke in the American tradition: Sam Edwards, Allan Benton, Nancy Newsome, Burgers Smokehouse and Finchville are among the top in their field.

How did the ham come to be the ambassador of dry curing around the world? The answer as with so many food traditions is that it came out of necessity. Typically when a pig was slaughtered, it was not all consumed in one sitting. As a result curing became an important process used to preserve the meat for future consumption. Because of the size of the ham it made sense that it was the chosen cut.

Pig breeds of years past had more marbling — marbling makes for better curing by helping with the fermentation process (marbling gives it the “twang”), as well as preventing the meat from drying out. This characteristic makes our heritage breeds  especially suited for the curing process.

Easter and Christmas are hams’ biggest days, and as gastronomes around the country find new ways to incorporate ham into their menus we can’t help but love a good traditional glazed ham.

For the perfect balance of sweet and tangy try a simple recipe for Brown Sugar and Mustard Glazed Ham this year.

Mix equal parts Brown Sugar with Dijon Mustard (about a 1 1/4 cups of each will make enough glaze to coat a full ham) and add a Teaspoon of Ground Clove for added character and depth.

Coat the ham about 30 to 60 minutes before the end of cooking. Be sure to check on the ham as the glaze caramelizes to ensure the sugars don’t begin to burn.

Serve and enjoy! Happy Holidays.

 

Lamb Breed Histories and Tasting Notes

Lamb Breed Histories and Tasting Notes

Want a hot recipe? Choose a lovely, well- sourced piece of meat — from a farm you know, and from a breed you have come to love, and add fire. Et voilà! There’s your recipe. Just remember, the fire is the constant, the meat is the variable. We believe in the formation of breed charts that describe the gastronomic wonders of every livestock variety. “One 32-ounce flank steak” as the prime mover in a recipe is not enough information. Heritage Foods USA is an ingredient- based philosophy.
 

TUNIS

It’s hard not to respect a breed that was referenced numerous times in the Bible (see fat-tailed sheep) and is reputed to be 3000 years old. It’s even harder to imagine the Tunis not being completely delicious since the first three U.S. presidents raised and consumed them.

John Adams mentioned the breed in his diary in 1782 when the Tunis had an excellent reputation for delicious mutton — and tail (not sold today!). Thomas Jefferson ordered the importation of a second herd from Tunisia because he loved them so much he thought they should be more readily available. George Washington bred them —one of his early legacies was the proliferation of his particular Tunis crossbreed on farms and dinner tables along the East Coast.

The tail is now smaller and the color ranges from tan-to-red with the occasional white spot on the head and tail. Ewes usually birth twins although the Tunis still remains on the ALBC-USA.org Conservation Priority List. The Tunis is an excellent ambassador breed for the grass-fed movement – they don’t like to eat a lot of grain.

 

Taste Notes for the Tunis:

Subtle
Lean
Woodsy and Rootsy
Not lamby or pungent
Smooth
Bouncy texture
Silky
Taste seasoned without seasoning
Herby
Minerally
Notes of fresh buttermilk

 

DORSET HORN

The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep that spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales. In 1750 this is the breed the English with a fine palate would eat for Christmas! Today we eat it more frequently because the Dorset Horn is able to give birth three times a year. Dorsets tolerate heat well, and heat tolerance contributes to the rams’ ability to breed earlier in the season than rams of other breeds. This contributes to the Dorset Horn being a very profitable sheep to grow although it remains on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.

The Hudson Bay Company first shipped the Dorset Horn to America in the 1860s. But it was a livestock show in Chicago a few years later that made it famous. The Dorset Horn is known for its healthy appetite and thrives on the lush pastures of Vermont where Ben Machin and Grace Bowmer raise a herd.

 

Taste Notes for the Dorset Horn

Fresh
Great fat/meat ratio
Gamey in the best way
Olive oil
Floral aftertaste
Lavender
Lamby and sweet
Round

 

KATAHDIN

The Katahdin is inextricably linked to Michael Piel of Abbott, Maine who had the brilliant idea of separating out the wool producing side of the lamb business from the meat side. Wool production took time and energy from both the animals and the farmers while only providing about 10 percent of the farmer’s income. In addition wool creates a more pungent and muttony taste in the meat.

Piel imported three hair sheep from the Virgin Islands and bred them with various breeds like Tunis and Suffolk in an effort to produce a sheep that excels in taste. The result of the crossbreeding efforts finally produced a flock so perfect that it became the foundation for a herd and eventually the Katahdin breed that is raised around the country. Piel named it after a mountain in Maine even though the breed excels in hotter climates. The Katahdin is known to live a long time while remaining productive. There are now a couple of hundred U.S. breeders of the Katahdin including our very own Chris Wilson of Clover Creek who has worked with us for almost a decade.

The Katahdin serves land conservation projects very well and are perfect for grass-fed systems like that found in Northeastern Tennessee where Chris has won awards for land conservation.

 

Taste Notes for the Katahdin

Savory
Mushroomy
Honey
Clover
Spicy and peppery
Creamy fat
Barky and woody

 

NAVAJO-CHURRO

The Churro was perhaps the first domesticated animal in the Americas when the Spanish brought it here in the 1500s. The animal quickly became a big part of Hispanic and Native American ways of life. One of the few positive legacies of Spanish conquerors was the lamb breeds they left here, especially at missions, as they searched for gold. It was these very sheep that the Navajo and other Native Americans stole and purchased making them a part of their way of life and diet.

The Navajo-Churro produces excellent wool and meat. It was Navajo women who owned the sheep, the grazing rights and the wool, which became an important source of income. The Navajo-Churro existed in great numbers here until the government killed off most of the population in their war with Native Americans. The breed currently sits on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.

Today many of the residents of the Navajo reservation continue to raise sheep for wool and food. Dr. Lyle McNeal played a crucial role in increasing their population in the 1970s despite the fact that conditions in that part of the country are harsh.

 

Taste Notes Navajo-Churro

Rich
Hearty
Earthy
Herby
Tangy
Silky
Mustard Seed
Spicy

 

KATAHDIN/WHITE DORPER

The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty carcass with the mild taste of the Katahdin.

Heritage Foods USA consideres the Flint Hills to be the best terroir for grass-fed animal farming in the U.S. The Flint Hills are band of hills that stretches from eastern Kansas into north-central Oklahoma, extending from Marshall and Washington Counties in Kansas in the north, to Cowley County in Kansas and Kay and Osage Counties in Oklahoma in the south.

Anywhere tallgrass grows makes for a great and sus-tainable terroir for grass-fed sheep, but what makes the Flint Hills our number-one choice is that it boasts the most dense cover-age of intact tallgrass prairie in North America and has blossomed into a mosaic of independent family farms— many of which are at the heart of the heritage breed movement.

Tallgrass is the food the prairie produces naturally in the absence of intensive row-crop agriculture. Unlike corn, tallgrass is not dependent on petrochemical fertilizer or herbicide, and its roots run deep below the thin layer of topsoil. It is potent, incredibly resilient, the all-you-can-eat salad bar for healthy sheep. And they love it, gladly eating pounds of the stuff every day.

The result of this robust food supply is a meat with a nice even ratio of intra- and extramuscular fat, a clean taste, a natural delight. It is the taste of the Americas.

Varietals like Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama have stalks whose profound roots are able to pull moisture and nutrients from deep within the ground, making them the best candidates to withstand the drought and deluge likely to accompany climate change. They are resistant to all types of extreme weather, and they bounce back quickly, even from fires. And they do not rely on the dwindling power of the thin layer of topsoil to grow.

Slate tasting notes

Heritage Breed Tasting Chart!

This Wednesday the team at Heritage skipped breakfast and didn’t bring in any snacks to work so that their pallets would be truly ready to uncover the words that describe the tastes of the various breeds of pork that we sell. Italians and French people have no trouble finding words to describe the un-describable. In the U.S. the wine people have it down but for fruits and vegetables and meat it’s hard to find words to explain what our mouths and pleasure centers are experiencing….

Patrick Martins, Founder & President

It’s the Meat…

Want a hot recipe? Here’s one: choose a lovely, well-sourced piece of meat — from a merchant that you trust, sourced from a farm that you know, and a breed you have come to love, and add fire. Et voila! There’s your recipe. Just remember, the fire is the constant, the meat is the variable. And don’t forget where it came from, so you can do it again.

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