Minnesotans are well acquainted with the regulars of Midwest farmland—from cattle to goats, even the occasional bison. At hobby farm Clear Spring Farm things get a bit more exotic. Rancher Melodee Smith is a pioneer in raising an unlikely animal—yak. These longhaired creatures are known for their wool, but also their meat. This Sunday, guests can join Smith at the ranch for a unique yak dining experience.
Hosting the event is Outstanding in the Field, an organization dedicated to bringing diners to events at farms, ranches, and vineyards throughout the United States. Each long table dinner utilizes ingredients from local farmers, chefs, and cheese artisans with the purpose of fostering conversations about food and community.
Developing the menu for the night is chef Steve Hess of Libertine. His familiarity with unusual cuts has prepared him for the unordinary culinary challenge. Guests can expect Mexican inspired fare featuring yak and other local flavors.
Rancher Melodee Smith and Chef Steve Hess gave us an inside look at the upcoming event:
What will the event be like?
Melodee: Outstanding in the Field has only one dinner planned in Minnesota and we feel honored and privileged to host the event. It helps market our wonderful yak meat and wool they produce. Plus, we love sharing our beautiful farm with guests.
Steve: Outstanding in the Field travels across the country and picks chefs from each state to do an event relating to a farm, vineyard, whatever is best for the area. This year they picked yak because Minnesota has one of the largest yak herds. Clear Spring butchers one yak each year, but they are mainly used for their fur. They have an incredibly soft under-fur. They are big furry looking animals with prehistoric looking horns. I wanted to do the event because serving dinner to 150 people in the middle of nowhere is a challenge. And I love working with local farmers and driving all over the place to find our produce—we’ve gone from everywhere from Red Wing to Alexandria.
How did you get involved working with yak?
Melodee: We started raising yak in 2012. We wanted an animal that was unique, beautiful, easily trained, profitable, and most importantly…edible! Yak fit the bill on every level. They produce exotic fiber that is processed into luxurious yarn. Their meat is incredibly healthy with less bad fat and cholesterol than traditional beef. Also, it’s higher in protein and has fewer calories. The flavor would best be described as comparable to high quality grass fed beef, delicate with no gaminess.
Steve: Over at Libertine we like to use whole animals, with more of a butcher style cut. We use unusual types of meat. I am not a master at yak cookery, but I don’t think anyone is.
How do you prepare yak, compared to other meats?
Melodee: One can prepare yak in a variety of ways. Because of the leanness, less is more with seasonings. Steaks are best prepared with just salt and pepper and grilled to rare or medium rare. Ground yak is delightful to use for grilled burgers, meatballs, taco meat, and spaghetti sauce. Roasts are bursting with juicy flavor. One can use a crock-pot, pressure cooker or conventional oven to produce mouth watering, tender meat that melts in your mouth.
Steve: It has a rich flavor similar to bison or beef. We are doing a Mexican style dinner with sausage, crema, and queso fresco. The goal is to use as many local ingredients as possible. We are also doing a smoked chicken from a farm down in Red Wing and we are getting a lot of vegetables from Tangletown Farms in Minneapolis.
What drinks pair well with yak?
Melodee: Probably a red wine that pairs well with grass fed beef would work wonderfully.
Steve: I am not much of a mixologist, but the wine is going to be from one of Outstanding in the Field’s partnering vineyards, and we are also doing a beer based Bloody Mary. Adam Gorski of La Belle Vie will be bartending the event.
What: Outstanding in the Field Dinner
When: Sunday, August 2
Where: Clear Spring Farm, 331139 County 7 Blvd, Welch MN 55089