Testing for Taste

Early on, in the experimentation which ultimately resulted in Spike's Chicken Salad, I started testing a little bit of each incoming batch of meat on The Usual Crowd. Or rather, with Spike, his mother Sally, Mais Ouí and Annie, who were all here in 2003. Spike turned his nose up at more than one box of chicken, and though he took an extremely dim view of lamb or beef, he never rejected any pork.  At first, I was simply aiming at finding the best ingredients to keep him healthy, so really catering to his taste, but when word got out that there were samples, I had to offer some to everyone. Soon, it became a useful habit, since it's a really fast way to find out if any of the meat isn't quite right. The first slice, the first spoonful from each ingredient as it comes through the grinder, the first taste of each mixed batch - all go first to the attending felines, second to the nearest dog.

Fletcher is usually first on the scene when I start getting things ready to handle any meat, and Mais Ouí is a close second. Poof and Chauncey prefer to perform saunter-by's, casually showing up at critical moments, such as the moment the grinder starts or when the big mixing tub needs cleaning. Annie's also very conveniently located whenever there is chicken, lamb or pork, but tends to avoid beef and is leery of squishy-icky organ meats. Fletcher has a belly of steel, will eat almost anything, but prefers things in chunks, so rarely gets excited about ground meat. And then there is Josef. Ahh, Josef, my problem cat. Josef is willing to try anything, always hungry, and extremely persnickety, so he's the ultimate critic when it comes to fresh meat here in DogTown.

Cats are far more finicky than dogs, but then, they have a fairly narrow and specific set of nutritional requirements, and a discriminating palette to support it. While cats are obligate carnivores (must eat meat to live), dogs are opportunistic omnivores (does best on meat but can eke nutrition from almost anything) uniquely suited to survive on berries, twigs and the occasional mouse, and to thrive on carrion. This is a helpful distinction if you're lost in the woods and need to find food - a dog will find all manner of things s/he considers edible, and a cat will reject the meat that is unsafe for you to eat - so do always keep your pets close to you. :)

Today's project was to get everything ground up and ready for mixing, including a few batches of organ meats; Faith Farms pastured pork, fresh lamb from Simply Abundant and Deblyn Natural Lean Beef, a family farm group based in Dinwiddie. The lamb was as expected: bright red colored and buttery when ground; the pork dense, darker and sweet-smelling. The beef is a new arrival, and hopefully will become part of a beef edition of Charley Chow. This is the first batch from Deblyn, and it all must have smelled very good, because as soon as it was opened,  Josef was perched on the very edge of his counter, feet tightly pressed together, leaning forward and staring.

The counter is across the room from the work surface, easily accessible by cats, and dotted with little bowls into which various samples are dropped during the production process. Josef loves most organ meat enough to walk away from his usual Spike's if there is something interesting in the grinder, or to see what's excitingly next, and had already turned up his nose at some pork liver - sliced not ground. He'd had 2 oz of Spike's for breakfast and a slice of beef liver for lunch, then enjoyed sampling the ground chicken giblets and lamb organ mix for dinner, so it's possible he was getting full by the time the pork arrived, but the beef certainly got his attention. I've been leery of adding beef to the lineup because the large size of the parts makes it harder to handle them, so this was a bit of a trial run. A firm grip on a sharp knife revealed liver dark as dusk, soft brown kidneys fluffy and plump, and the heart a deep, dense purple with very fine grain. The Deblyn family farms raise Piedmontese, a breed from Northern Italy praised as the leanest of all cattle, and those organs certainly verified that claim.

Josef impatiently meowed as the samples were spooned into the bowls - elbowed past Mais Ouí for a nibble of kidney, dispatched a few slivers of liver, and then settled down with a small chunk of heart and started gnawing with determination. There's a funny sound cats make, when they're really serious about gnawing, sort of an "aye...aye... aye... aye" vocalization, usually accompanied by contentedly half-closed eyes and a high level of concentration. Josef was in that zone the moment that heart hit the bowl; devoured the first piece and demanded another. He's usually not interested in Charley Chow, so it'll be interesting to see his reaction to the beef edition. Annie very solemnly studied her samples of liver, kidney and heart for a moment, then settled down with a paw on each side and calmly, carefully, polished the bowl. She takes her role as an Official DogTown Taste Testing Canine very seriously, and she approves of this beef.