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Yak! It's What's For Dinner

Farmers’ markets allow consumers to meet the people who grow their food, but a Charlottesville woman wanted to take matters further – hosting dinners for those who sold her fresh ingredients.  This month featured a guy from Buckingham who raises yaks.

Robert Ciselle and family with a platter of barbecued yak

Patty Rogers grew up in a big farm family – growing and picking cotton.  They had no indoor plumbing, no running water, but she says, they were generous. 

“My parents had nothing, and they still gave away.  They’d say, ‘Take a cornbread down to the neighbors, or a pot of soup.’”

So when she found herself living a comfortable life in Charlottesville, she wanted to continue that tradition – to thank the farmers who raised her food.

“They’re at the market every Saturday where I go – Charlottesville’s Farmers’ Market, and I said, ‘Would you like to come to dinner?’ and they said, ‘Yes!’  So I said, here’s the principle:  You donate part of it, and I’ll do the cooking for you, and you come and enjoy.”

Each month she lays long tables with bouquets of black-eyed Susans in her lush green yard and fixes a feast of Thanksgiving proportion.

“Tonight we started out with corn fritters.  Then we have barbeque with a Chipotle barbeque sauce.  Then we have seven sides: potatoes, all kinds of beets, watermelon salads, fennel, green beans – everything that’s in season from all the local farmers.”

Yak is high in protein and omega fatty acids.

The farmers include Ben Stowe of Nelson County, Holly Hammond of Scottsville, their spouses and kids – all excited to be part of this culinary adventure.

“I was really happy.  She’s got a great garden, a nice spot.  It’s just been really nice of her.”

”Yeah, I love Patty.  She’s actually been a really good customer.  We’ve been doing this for ten years, farming, my husband and I, and she’s one of our original customers, and when she mentioned wanting to do a dinner I came a little early and helped her prepare some of the stuff.”

Also at the table, Robert Ciselle who raises cattle in Buckingham.  He got into the business after reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Inspired to raise his own meat, he opted for yaks.

“Somebody was selling them on Craig’s List.  I was actually looking for steer calves in Arkansas, just to raise some for myself, and saw a post for yaks.”

Credit RadioIQ
Sour dough break courtesy of Little Hat Creek in Nelson County

As he prepared to launch Appalachian Yaks, he consulted with another farmer who had a herd of the brown, shaggy, big-horned beasts, tasted the meat and found it delicious and nutritious – high in Omega 3 fatty acids. 

“Don’t expect beef!  We’ve had people describe it as a lighter, delicate flavor.  It’s not as gamey like you would expect from bison or elk – the other real lean meats.”

He also likes the animals – finds them smart, friendly and very protective of their young – a fact he regrets discovering when he accidentally got between a cow and her calf.

Dinner courtesy of Patty Rogers

“She, from about 15 yards away, charged me full speed and just hit me head on and worked me over with her horns, and knocked me down, and at that point I was worried, and so I grabbed her horns and then got my feet behind her head and locked them, so I was holding her head in my lap, and then neither of us could do anything.” 

So he called to his son and told the kid to call 911.

“He was seven at the time, managed to impart that I had been run over by a yak. It had big horns, was still on top of me.  I couldn’t let go, because it would probably kill me if I did.”

The Buckingham County Sheriff showed up at Nature’s Bridge Farm about 45 minutes later.

“My back was actually against the fence, and they came to the far side of the fence and said, ‘Hey, if you can get under the fence we can pull it up enough, and then they took her horns, so I could let go, and I just squirmed backwards as quick as I could.”

Since then the yaks have rewarded him richly – selling well to restaurants, grocery stores and customers at farmers’ markets in Charlottesville and Richmond.  They’ve also given him great material to share at dinner parties like the ones hosted by Patty Rogers.  I’m Sandy Hausman.

For more information: http://appyaks.com/

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief
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