A Marriage of Friendship and Flavor at Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms
By Susan Gloss | Photo By Jim Klousia 0
The switch from conventional to sustainable farming took time. The three-year transition of their 280 acres of farmland to organic resulted in some lean times when the Priskes were planting grass in place of corn and soybeans. Though the changes were not instant, they have resulted in a better quality of life, both for the livestock and for the Priskes. This fact is obvious as John pauses in his work at the market to introduce me to friends and colleagues—of which there are many.
“This is our family,” he says of the community members and fellow farmers at the market. Dorothy agrees. She describes Saturday mornings as the “highlight” of the week. As an observer, it is easy to see why. Chefs and their families stop by with babies to kiss and local restaurant news to share. Home cooks and grill masters swap culinary tips. And tourists, curious about the Priskes’ pictures of long-horned, curly-haired Highland cattle, pause to inquire as to what makes their beef different.
The answer lies in what the cattle eat. A heritage breed developed in the rugged Highlands of Scotland, Highland cattle have a tough tongue and throat, thereby allowing them to graze on plants that other cattle avoid. This diversity in their diet leads to flavorful beef that is leaner and more complex-tasting than the average, mass-produced variety.
In his recent book, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef (Viking, 2010), journalist Mark Shatzker points out that there are 340 flavor compounds in beef. Red wine, by comparison, has approximately 380 flavor compounds. When beef has been dry-aged, like the beef at Fountain Prairie, the flavors become more concentrated than those in typical grocery store beef, which is usually wet-aged. In the wet-aging process, beef cuts are vacuum-packed in plastic, where the meat ages by coming into contact with its own blood. Wet-aging is popular because it only takes a few days and doesn’t decrease the weight of the beef.
Dry-aged beef, on the other hand, is hung in a large cooler after the beef is harvested, but before it has been cut. During the aging process, some moisture evaporates, causing the meat to shrink by about 10 to 15 percent, in turn causing the remaining meat to have a more concentrated flavor. Dry-aging also allows time for the natural enzymes within the beef to break down the connective tissue, resulting in more tender meat. All of Fountain Prairie’s beef—whether it’s hamburger meat or tenderloin—is dry-aged for 14 to 21 days, and Madison restaurants literally eat it up.