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Amuse-bouche: A ranch visit like no other

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

We have a saying at Buck’s T-4 that relationships matter. And because we are the stewards of these relationships, we hold them in high regard. Whether they’re an employee, vendor, guest or community member, they matter to us. But equally fulfilling is forming new relationships.

We met Joel McCafferty, of McCafferty Ranch, and his daughter Megan at a Montana food show in Bozeman back in September. After learning what they do, which sets them apart from any other ranchers in the state, and possibly the country, we decided that we had to see the ranch in person. So, a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine and fellow chef, Eric Stenberg, and I visited them in Belt, Montana.

The ranch is located on a desolate gravel road about 22 miles off Highway 89. As if this wasn’t far enough, and just our luck, they had received several inches of snow the night before, and up to 18 inches in some areas of the ranch.

“This looks like about where Steve Buscemi buried the money and marked it with an ice scraper in Fargo,” I said with a touch of fearful humor.

“Don’t even joke about that,” Eric volleyed back. The unplowed road had a barbed-wire fence on either side that was barely visible in the flat light for reference—let alone any trees or distinguishing landmarks.

We went as far as we could, at which point Joel picked us up in his giant four-wheel drive diesel truck. We sped off at a far greater speed than I expected, given the conditions.

“I really hate this truck. It just isn’t good in snow,” Joel said as he looked over at me, for what seemed like an eternity. “Just watch the road!” I thought, as I looked back at Eric who was clearly thinking the same thing. The fact that he has driven that road his entire life was only slightly comforting. I kept thinking about how fast we’d be going if he had a truck he liked.

We arrived inside the home, which had a warmth that went far beyond the cast iron wood burning stove with hours-old embers.

Eric and I cooked for them while we all enjoyed wine and beer in the kitchen. After a momentary prayer led by the patriarch, we were seated around the family dining table dating back to 1876.

We talked in detail about what it is they do, whether it’s something a chef would want, and how we could make this fledgling idea come to fruition and make financial sense.

We decided that what they have is special, and possibly a wave of the future.

Joel drove us off property to the cabins they put us up in. Fortunately, the next morning’s drive back to the ranch was met with blue sky and plowed roads.

And yes, I haven’t actually said what it is they are doing and why it intrigued us all from the start. You’ll have to wait until the next column for that.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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