Black wave 1920x



Options have grown exponentially since FedEx changed the world.

By Jim Duncan

Gifting is difficult. Giving bad gifts is easy. There are entire industries producing bad gift ideas, from inflatable sex toys to disco balls and offensive T-shirts. Johnny Carson used to say that the worst gift is a fruitcake. “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.” Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David made a TV show about that. Kurt Vonnegut was probably thinking about fruitcakes when he wrote about post-Apocalypse visitors trying to figure out how all the Earthlings died despite their food still being unspoiled.

Milton Berle joked that he took comfort in knowing that this year’s Christmas presents would become next summer’s garage sales. Craig Ferguson teased that “the worst gift I was given is when I got out of rehab: a bottle of wine. It was delicious.”

One friend, who is a doctor, cited fruitcakes and sweets in general as bad food gift ideas. Ferguson said chocolate is the most popular Valentine’s Day gift because 19th-century doctors believed that it cured broken hearts. He added, “They also thought if you’re going to be alone, who cares if you get fat?”

In this year of inflation, monkeypox, unchecked recidivism among felons, saber rattling and malaise of hope, why not give the gift of food, other than fruitcake? Bosses have been endearing themselves to workers for years by giving hams and turkeys for holidays. Food gifts are more popular outside America than within. The great late food writer R.W. “Johnny” Apple thought that was because American children grow up thinking food is their birthright and gifts should be something more extravagant.

It is difficult to imagine American children getting excited about a Christmas orange, like the Swedish kids do in Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny & Alexander,” or the Bengali children do over mangos in Satyajit Ray films. But this is a time that tries American souls. Plus, food options have grown exponentially since FedEx changed the world. So, here are some gift ideas that we think are special.

The new butchers

Greater Des Moines is now blessed with two new options for special meats. One is completely local; one is most worldly. They join B&B Meat Market and Deli as places where very special gifts can be found for special occasions like holiday dinners and beyond. B&B sells nearly triple-digit numbers of dry-aged, prime rib roasts each Christmas Eve. The trick is to remember to order at least two months in advance. Fareway upgraded their luxury meats recently. They now sell wagyu, which is the breed of cattle used in the legendary Kobe beef of Japan. It has ridiculously rich marbling. The Fareway Meat Markets in Ames and Beaverdale have expanded meat sections and choices and sell bargain-priced bundles. Fresh Thyme and Sam’s Club have upped their lamb profiles.

But it is the new kids in town that truly expand meat offerings. Old Station Craft Meats in Waukee is a paean to another time and place. Owner Nick Lenters says, “We are trying to bring back some of the benefits of the way things used to be done.” His place is like a superb farmers market moved into a permanent indoor venue.

He attributes said changes to the demise of butchering in markets. Instead, today, big packing houses cut whole carcass animals into parts for shipping boxes. That originally implied savings, but where have those savings gone?

Old Station sources their beef from top Iowa farmers and ranchers. The Brinkmeyer Family Ranch is a local family business that prides themselves in food security. All the cattle Old Craft sources from the Brinkmeyers were born and raised on their farm. Whole-carcass beef is delivered, and Old Station’s expert butchers cut it to customers’ specifications.

Dave Cochran and his daughter, Amy, manage their herd of cattle together. Amy tends to cows and calves in southwestern Iowa. When the calves are weaned, they are brought to Adel, where Dave feeds them until they are ready for market. Dave feeds his cattle ground ear corn. This revivalist method of feeding uses machinery that picks the whole ear of corn and grinds it up for the cattle to eat. This provides both the grain and roughage (from the cob) that cattle need in their diet. Most cattlemen think that Dave’s method takes too long to fatten cattle.

HCC Angus Farm is a small Iowa family enterprise owned by Scott and Kit Hansen, in partnership with their daughter, Sophie Hansen. They use Angus seedstock from Woodhill Farms in Viroqua, Wisconsin. The HCC Angus cowherd is annually mated to align the two breeding programs utilizing EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences). EPDs help cattlemen predict the genetic potential for multiple quality traits. This science results in a significantly higher percentage of beef that grades upper Choice or Prime, compared to industry standards.

Lenters Cattle Company was started by Nick Lenters and his brother, Adam Lenters. The Lenters’ herd was the inspiration for the creation of Old Station Craft Meats. The two brothers partnered in the acquisition of a herd of Lowline Angus cattle. Lowline Angus are 100% Angus cattle, (most “Angus” are closer to 51%) but are smaller in size than today’s conventional beef. The Lenters brothers chose the breed because of how efficient they are in producing beef on a strictly grass diet. Smaller cows make smaller steaks, and that is not a bad thing at all in the Old Station school of thought.

Upper Iowa Beef is the last supplier of beef at Old Station. They ship specific parts in boxes rather than delivering whole animals.
Berkwood Farms is a coalition of more than 60 independent family farmers. They are the only farmer-owned pork company with national distribution. They produce Berkshire breed pigs, which is a Heritage breed that generally has more back fat and flavor than non-Heritage breeds.

Steve Kerns, owner of Kerns Farms, is a scientist/farmer from Clearfield. He is focused on acquiring and producing the finest genetics of Berkshire and Mangalitsa breed hogs. Mangalitsa is an Iberian breed that is cherished for its hams. Both breeds are known for their bright red meat and rich marbling.

One hundred percent of Old Station’s lamb and goat meat comes from independent central Iowa farmers. Most of the lamb is a result of cross-breeding. This Iowa lamb has a different texture and flavor from the southern hemisphere lamb most Iowans have gotten used to the last 40 years, when the Iowa lamb industry moved west. Lenters says imported lamb does not benefit from the superior feed sources we have in Iowa.

While most lamb producers typically have market-ready lamb available late summer through winter, Brice Hundling has a lambing schedule that allows him to have market-ready lamb available early spring through summer. Since other Iowa sheep farmers follow the traditional lambing schedule, partnership with the Hundlings allows Old Station to provide locally sourced lamb year-round. Goat meat is a very healthy source of protein that was growing its market share 20 years ago when immigrants wanted it. That has changed, though. The Hundlings also provide goat to Old Station.

Maplecrest Family Farm, owned by the Cronk Family, is a second-generation sheep farm. They maintain a closed flock of Suffolk and Montadale breed sheep. The Cronks raise their sheep with a feeding program focused on a careful selection of pasture, grain and hay.

Ellen Bell founded Bell Farm in 2014 when she and her family moved from the city to the country with two beehives. Today, Ellen manages between 50-500 colonies of bees, depending on the time of year. Bell Farms produces chemical-free honey and also offers a variety of other bee-related products and services.

Prairie Natural Meats and Seafood

Prairie Natural Meats and Seafood, just west of the Des Moines Country Club, is an aggressive importer. Because their sources are wide-ranged, they have things like rabbit, duck, veal and mutton besides beef, lamb, goat, pork and seafood. Owner Ale Vidal Soler is Argentine-born and uses her native contacts to bring Iowa the famous, free-ranged beef of the Pampas. Many times in Europe, after enjoying an exceptional steak, I would be told it was Argentine or Uruguayan beef.

This free-ranged beef is considered healthier than industrial-raised American beef. High levels of Vitamin E and Omega 3 fatty acids are chief reasons for that. This beef will cook a bit faster than supermarket beef. Soler supplies cooking tips and recipes on her website. Irina Khartchenko uses Prairie Natural meats and seafood in her Irina’s restaurants.
Prairie Natural’s scallops are from Peru and are perhaps the sweetest I have ever tried. Her mussels are New Zealand green lips, which have been widely praised in TV ads for cosmetic treatments.

Lamb is from Australia, New Zealand and Chile. It is all grass-fed. Veal here is grass-fed and “red” in color, indicating it was humanely raised and not force-fed milk. Rabbit and bison are raised humanely in the U.S. Pork is all raised in Iowa.

Internet-sourced food gift tips 

Wisconsin Cheese ( recently won 27 first-place awards, 33 second-place awards, and 30 third-place awards at the American Cheese Society. Among winners that impressed were: Klondike Odyssey Peppercorn Feta (, which also comes in seven other flavors; Saxony Alpine (, which has a hazelnut and butterscotch tone; Red Barn Vintage Cupola (, which tastes a bit like both Gouda and aged Parmesan; and Uplands Pleasant Ridge (, which is a Wisconsin take on famous French Beaufort.

Established in 1787 and operated on the same rolling green vineyards of Emilia-Romagna ever since, Ponti is the top vinegar in Italy. It is available for you now here in the States (

To craft their balsamic vinegars — Aceto Balsamico di Modena — Ponti follows strict rules set forth by product specification, which maintains the quality of production in vinegar cellars using grapes only from Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana and Montuni. Ponti matures its balsamic in casks of fine wood in cellars at certain temperatures and aeration conditions. The result is a line of vinegars that emulates the product first notably enjoyed by Emperor Henry III in 1046. The standards may be that of royalty, but the product is for everyone looking to invite incredible flavors into their kitchen.