Once upon a time, before they were quartered and hung in a meat locker, these cows grazed in an open field, content, on an all-grass diet.
Leon Emery says you can almost taste the sunshine.
He’s a butcher with a sales pitch. And, a point.
My first bite into one of his hamburgers found meat so tender that I could have picked it out in a blind taste test. Ditto with his homemade hot dogs, but not because they were tender — just the opposite. His dogs are kissing cousins to firm, spicy kielbasa.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, meet Emery and the Farmers’ Gate Market.
And then, let’s grill.
How else to enjoy that sunshine?
Farmers’ Gate Market on Leeds Junction Road in Wales used to be Little Alaska Farm Market. Ben Slayton and his wife, Erin Cinelli, bought the market from the Fortin family in January. The Fortin’s Little Alaska Farm is still next door and supplies about 95 percent of the market’s products, Slayton said.
The goal is to gradually expand their network of farms. Already, milk comes from two producers, lamb from two producers, beef from four other producers and pork from Slayton and Cinelli. (The couple also raise chicken and pigs. Before the purchase, Slayton spent a year as an apprentice under Emery, who is the butcher for Farmers’ Gate Market.)
Campaigns about eating local fruits and veggies started about 15 years, Slayton said. In the last three to four years, locally raised meat has gotten more buzz. He ticks off the benefits: supporting local farmers, keeping their fields open and green; no need to ship meat across country; and grass-fed means not running the tractor and fertilizing the field.
“We didn’t go in 100 percent because it’s the right thing to do, it’s also the profitable thing to do,” Slayton said. “Eighty to 85 percent of people don’t walk out of here empty-handed.”
Prices can’t compete with chain grocery stores, Slayton said, and they’re not meant to. (On the day of my visit, the market’s 90 percent extra lean hamburger cost $5.49/pound vs. Hannaford’s $3.99/pound). The difference comes down to grass-fed meat versus usual grocery store meat, he said.
In the back room of the market, Emery and butcher apprentice Rebecca Stewart process the entire cow. Quarters and sides arrive every other week. Beef spends at least 10 days in a cooler aging, then gets butchered and trimmed.
“That gives you flavor and adds to the quality of the meat,” Emery said.
Some ground hamburger gets sent out to a sales cooler on typical Styrofoam plates, some gets set aside for patties and some set aside for hot dogs. That last bit has surprised people.
“They thought it was lips and tongues and cheeks,” Emery said. “(These) are handled about 12 times, not like in the big factories with all the machinery. It’s the personal touch.”
(For video of Emery and Stewart making hot dogs from scratch, check out sunjournal.com. They make two types of hot dogs for sale: all-beef and a combination of beef and pork.)
Emery said he enjoys eating hot dogs right after their time in the market’s smoker. He suggests at least starting sans ketchup, mustard or relish.
“We use celery seed in the hot dogs so it has a really good flavor,” he said.
Ditto with a fresh-off-the-grill hamburger. Take a bite, then, if you must, add to taste.
“Personal preference. There’s 9 million different condiments you can put onto a hamburger,” he said. “Pasture-raised, grass-fed beef has a great flavor to it, so why spoil the flavor?”
We head to Nezinscot Farm in Turner for a serving of quick and delicious Brown Rice Medley and a side of common-sense advice on the importance and ease of eating healthy.
Grilling tips from butcher Leon Emery
• For the ideal burger, start with a 4-ounce patty.
• Splurge for a bit of fat. Hamburger that’s 90 percent lean or more crumbles easy. Perfect is 80 to 85 percent lean. It’s moist enough and holds together well, he says.
• For grass-fed beef, “It’s important to start with a high heat and sear your hamburger. If you don’t sear it first, you lose all your juice and your burger will be dry.”
• Next, be gentle: “Never stab it with a fork, always use a spatula. Be careful not to break that seal because it’ll leak and leak out the juice and you want a juicy hamburger.”
• Grass-fed also cooks more quickly, so don’t leave it on the grill long.
• Farmers’ Gate Market hot dogs are cooked in the smokehouse before they’re packaged, ready to eat as soon as they’re opened, so they don’t need long on the grill, either.