From grass to grill: Your supper never has to leave the Upper Peninsula

Shopping local is nothing new to the residents of the Upper Peninsula, who have long done well at supporting small, community-minded stores and businesses.

From clothing to hunting and outdoors supplies to snowplows, many Yoopers have done their best to keep dollars circulating at the local level and with local shop owners.

With summer in full swing and the sun attempting to fend off the rain clouds, thoughts of grilling meals starts to rush to the forefront. Why stay inside over a hot stove when all the cooking can be done right out on the grill? And, better yet, why not grill up something that is Upper Peninsula made, from the farm right to your family's dinner table?

Thanks to the hard work of local businesses and people, getting dinner made locally is no chore at all.

"There's definitely been a trend of people over the past year or more than have been asking about where the meat comes from and if it's local," says Sue Sicotte, co-owner of Rainbow Packing in Escanaba, which is a USDA-approved meat processing facility. "People are more conscious of what they're eating now. It's not about price as much as it's about being smart about what they eat. They want to know where it comes from and if it's local."

Sicotte's answer is relatively uncomplicated when she's asked about where the meat comes from. She can simply explain that some of the beef comes from the farm in Rock, Mich., which she and her husband, Jeff, own. Or she can point across the street from the facility to the cows in those fields, or explain that lamb, pork, cow and more come from the state fair auctions.

"It's pretty much all local," says Sicotte. "We have customers from Calumet to Sault Ste. Marie."

And why not?

From a single cow or pig to consistent production, Rainbow Packing has made it general business practice to be one of the best at what they do. In addition to slaughtering and processing, Rainbow also sells meat right at its Escanaba location.

It's at that facility that one of the up-and-coming names in beef production in the Upper Peninsula has their meat processed. Guindon Farms, known for its grass-fed beef that is raised in Cornell -- north by northwest of Gladstone -- turns to Rainbow when it needs top-quality meat packed and ready to sell.

"They do a great job over there," says Barb Guindon, who operates the farm with her husband, Matt.

Speaking of great jobs -- Guindon Farms is known for doing just that. Their Limousin cattle have landed themselves in two well-respected Marquette-area restaurants as well as the Marquette Food Co-op.

"We really take a lot of pride in what we do here," says Matt Guindon. "When we first started out, we didn't mind using grains for the cows. The more I learned, though, the more it bothered me what was being put into them. So, we made the transition to grass and, now, we're certified organic."

It's that label that has drawn the attention of many consumers in the Upper Peninsula. The faithful have lined up to buy the meat from both the co-op and from the Guindons themselves when they come to the Marquette Farmer's Market every Saturday during the summer weeks.

Cooking grass-fed beef, however, isn't like grabbing any ol' cut and tossing it in the frying pan. Grass-fed beef cooks quicker and at a lower temperature than grain-fed beef, so keeping an eye on it while it's cooking is extremely important.

Some very mindful cooks are those at Doncker's in Marquette, one of the two restaurants serving Guindon meats in the area and the only one serving burgers. The Landmark Inn serves Guindon steaks.

The meat sizzled as it hit the grill in the Doncker's kitchen. A ball of hamburger, about the size of a small fist, spat angrily as the heat began to sear it.

With the push of his spatula, chef Justin Terrian flattened the ball into a familiar patty.

"This is an avocado, right?" he calls over his shoulder as he tended to another order cooking next to the burger.

Within minutes, Terrian was checking the temperature of the meat. With the flick of a wrist, the spatula flashed and the meat continued to cook. A few minutes later, the burger sported an avocado spread, melted cheese and a colorful array of vegetables before it was served piping hot and tasty fresh to the customer who ordered it.

"Every cook has a thermometer with them at all times," says Doncker's executive chef Shane Baker, gesturing to the pocket on the arm of his kitchen uniform, revealing the head of the heat-reading device. "The difference between a burger being done just right and one that's overcooked can be a matter of moments."

Doncker's is proud of the fact that they serve only Upper Peninsula beef and only hamburger from Guindon. Displayed on a sign at their counter is a list of the local products they use: Everything from bread to beef to vegetables.

"We want to serve the best, locally-grown products we can," says Baker. "We seriously believe we serve the best hamburgers in Marquette. A large reason for that is the beef from Guindon Farms, the bread from the Marquette Baking Company and produce from Upper Peninsula farmers. To the best of our abilities, we keep everything we serve as local as possible."

A locally-produced burger or steak -- among so many other options -- doesn't have to be purchased in a restaurant. Small meat markets and co-ops tend to shop locally for the best meats, produce and deals. Bread can be purchased from hometown bakeries, too.

And the locally-grown meal can even be grilled to perfection on a product originally produced in the Upper Peninsula. Kingsford Charcoal was originally created in the 1920s in Kingsford, Mich., when Henry Ford learned of a process of turning wood scraps from the production of Model Ts into charcoal briquets. Upon the discovery, he built a charcoal plant, which was called Kingsford Charcoal in honor of E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford's who brokered the deal for the site of the manufacturing plant.

And while the charcoal isn't produced in Kingsford anymore, the spirit of the hard working people who originally created it is, making it a great choice to round out a completely-Upper-Peninsula-made meal.

Sam Eggleston is the managing editor of the U.P. Second Wave and a full-time freelance writer. He was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached via email.
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