Wisconsin producer: Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats

(Warning: gushing ahead. Also crockpot besmirching.)

I know you all have been waiting to hear about my chuck roast.

W. and I dropped in on Paoli Local Foods (“pay-oh-lee”), just south of Madison, for its locavore-friendly signage. “Grass-fed beef,” it said. “Smoothies.” We had been biking and foraging for a few hours; I was exhausted, and W. was starving. I was thinking smoothie or salad, as I’ve been eating less meat these days. And then we got some samples of the daily crockpot beef.

Now, I am perhaps unfairly biased. But crockpots always seems like they appear at the sort of potluck where the salads are largely dressed in mayo, and like they’re keeping some mystery meatballs at an optimum bacterial-growth temp. My newsroom pal Jeremy, an excellent eater who had lived in the South (an area with which I am little acquainted), was always putting some piece of meat in the oven, cooking it for a day and deciding it needed another 20 or 30 hours. He swore by crockpots, and sorely missed having one. I say, slow cooking is all well and good. But does it have to happen in a plastic pot with brown flowers on it?

But this beef was the best I’d ever had. It had been cooked in its own juices and nothing else.

“Aha!” I thought. “So this is what beef tastes like!”

I began to notice the walls lined with freezers full of beef, pork, duck, pheasant, ostrich, bison, lamb, veal, eggs.

Ruegsegger Farms Natural Meats owns the store, raises the animals, and supplements with wares from smoked trout to soap from about 80 local producers. Ruegsegger’s website says all the right things about sustainability, free-ranging, dry-aging and whatnot; they sound like an enlightened bunch. The meat, however, speaks the loudest on its own behalf.

Now, what to do with my very own chuck roast?

Paoli Local Foods: on County Highway PB in downtown Paoli. It’s open 10-6 Mon-Fri, 8-4 Sat. Ruegsegger Farms: in Blanchardville, WI. Offers CSAs, home delivery, tours. Owned by Ken and Sherrie Ruegsegger.

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