Food Matters: Free Range on Erin’s Acres Farm
IF YOU GO ...
What: Dinner on the Farm Series, presented by Free Range KitchenHow Much: $105, farm tour, hors d’oeuvres, 3 courses, gratuity. Takeout wine available for purchase Where: Erin’s Acres Farm/Rockin’ TT Bar, Carbondale More Info: 970-379-3099, firstname.lastname@example.org
On a hot July evening, the gardens at Erin’s Acres Farm buzz with activity. Birds zoom over leafy plants stretching toward the sun. Insects hopscotch among buds of purple thistle, plumes of greenhouse basil, and a budding fig tree. Rambunctious pigs root, snort, and squeal in a stinky, muddy pen. A parade of human visitors clomps over dusty dirt paths among the foliage, watching wide-eyed as honeybees suck nectar from flower petals. This place in Carbondale is diverse and sprawling, a messy exhibition of life — and food — in progress.
Suddenly, a platter of colorful hors d’ouevres appears in front of me. “Crostini with water buffalo burrata?” a server asks politely through her mask. “The microgreens and tomatoes were picked here this morning!”
Smiling, tanned, and with toddler son on her hip, farmer Erin Cuseo leads a tour through her world. This is where Cuseo coaxes organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit from the earth. In summer she shares the bounty of her labor in weekly CSA boxes, at the Carbondale Farmers’ Market, and in dishes on menus at area restaurants. While Cuseo and her partner, rancher José Miranda, have hosted farm dinners at Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar in Basalt for the past few summers to share their story more intimately with consumers, this year they’re drawing folks straight to the source.
The couple’s new Dinner on the Farm series, which launched on July 6 in collaboration with Free Range, unfolded organically. As capacity restrictions and social distancing regulations pressure restaurants across the valley to accommodate diners with new outdoor seating, Free Range jumped at the chance to take “dining out” to the next level.
“It’s not fancy, it’s dinner on the dirt,” quips Free Range co-owner Robin Humble, as we stroll over grass where red-checkered tablecloths covering tables for two to eight dot pasture adjacent polo fields. Beyond this dining “room,” a sprinkler chuck-chuck-chucks a long plume of water, creating a colorful prism in the setting sun.
“It’s homey and real,” Humble continues. “Erin and José are the real deal, their hands are dirty. They’re working up to the moment they started this event.”
Hair matted but grinning wide, the couple stops by every table out here, as more than 30 diners dig into three courses prepared by Free Range chef Chris Crowicki. Stationed inside a small barn nearby, the chef assembles ingredients simply. He solidified the menu the day before.
First is a plate of handmade pasta: al dente handkerchief-like pieces with zigzag edges, coated in lemon butter and topped with a smattering of fresh peas and shoots, fava beans, mint, basil, and buffalo milk ricotta. (The mild cheese also stuffed puffy tempura squash blossoms, a welcome bouquet offered alongside flutes of Champagne to greet guests.)
Roasted prime rib of buffalo arrives drizzled with creamy chimichurri next to a pile of freshly picked greens, crunchy sweet snow peas, and tender roasted beets. Our table marvels about the pure flavor of the peas — the true essence of a vegetable! — for minutes. To finish the meal: milky, sweet gelato made with just water buffalo milk, melting slowly over Colorado cherry clafoutis — an eggy, baked-custard confection. While eating, we see two of Miranda’s water buffalo roaming wet grass in the distance.
“There has never been a more important time to support local farmers and independent restaurants, the lifeline of our small towns,” Humble notes. She manages the farm dinner logistics with grace, based on 10 years catering and event planning at the Roaring Fork Club before opening Free Range with husband, Steve, in early 2017. (Naturally, she has an adventurous, creative Plan B lined up in case of rain.)
Sommelier Steve handles the wine, ordered and purchased in advance as “takeout,” which eschews the need for an event liquor permit. (One silver lining to new regulations post-corona.) In the spirit of collaboration, the Humbles are working to include family wineries, distilleries, and other area producers at upcoming events.
“I love how you get to see all of it,” Robin muses as waning daylight casts an ethereal glow on a massive butte yonder. “To be in the gardens, walk around, then (dine here) … it’s so important to have space.”
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In the summer of 1957, Aspen welcomed its first summer ice-skating rink complete with two skating professionals on hand for instruction.