A culinary adventure: Blue Ribbon Farms carves out specialty niche with rabbits

Rabbit farmers. Rabbit farming. Free range rabbits.   

These aren’t necessarily the first things that come to mind when looking for the new agricultural businesses in the area. However, sometimes it is the unexpected ideas that can turn into something very special.

Blue Ribbon Farms is owned and operated by Chris Pabst and Jason Courtade. It was established in 2014 and is located on 8th Ave. in Marne, Michigan.

Jason Courtade says the inspiration behind Blue Ribbon Farms is not all about about rabbits; it is about creating awareness of alternative, healthy food sources and production systems.  “We want to change the way food is produced by making it healthier, flavorful and more sustainable.  Rabbits are just the first step in our long term goals.”  

The fact that rabbit is not readily available at local butcher shops or a staple at local restaurants is a big part of the business opportunity for Courtade. “Rabbit is, and has been, popular in many other countries for a very long time. Rabbit has been tested to be extremely lean, low in calories, and high in protein,” and it contains a high moisture content, he explains. “It really is as versatile as chicken.”
 
As Blue Ribbon Farms ramp up production and marketing efforts, there are a few early adopters where you can purchase their product. “Currently, customers can find our meat at Sobie Meats on Remembrance and A Gemmen & sons (The Meat Market) in Allendale. We are also currently looking to expand in West Michigan.”

As far restaurants go, Courtade is anticipating several local restaurants to feature their rabbits. “Spring is a popular time to put rabbit on the menu and we are currently working on finalizing the restaurants that we’ll be partnering with,” he says.

Beyond supplying local butchers and restaurants with their product, Courtade says Blue Ribbon Farms has a multifaceted business model.  “Supplying, fresh, local rabbit is our first priority,” he says. “It is not just about growth, but providing the freshest and highest quality rabbit meat with great service to our customers. We have aspirations to expand through sustainable means as well as teaching others how to raise their own meat rabbits. Additionally, rabbits provide some of the best manure available. Marketing it to the home gardener will be one of our next projects this spring. We have used it in our own gardens and have seen incredible yields from our plants that we hadn’t seen in previous years without manure. It’s a natural, proven way to encourage growth.”

Ultimately, where the rubber hits the road when it comes to rabbit farming comes down to consumers being open to try something new. When it comes adding rabbit to your home menu, Chris Pabst says there really is nothing fear, especially with their meat. “The taste of the ‘domesticated’ meat rabbit can be described as a mix between chicken and pork,” Pabst says. “There is no ‘gamey’ taste in the domesticated meat rabbit that we produce. Several times a year we sample rabbit meat at Sobie Meats for people to try. Feedback has always been excellent.  We encourage people to give rabbit meat a try; typically people are very surprised as to how excellent it tastes and the moistness of the meat.”

For those still a bit squeamish about rabbit, Pabst has shared a few recipes. “We have experimented with many different recipes that have been proven to be winners at our houses and with some of our customers.”

1. Ground rabbit meat – just like ground beef, but rabbit.  We use this for taco meat, burger patties, spaghetti meat sauce, etc.
2. Rabbit Chicken Sweet Italian Sausage – Available at Sobie Meats; a fantastic lower fat sausage option
3. Smoked Rabbit – Whole rabbit with Tim’s Blend Dry Rub (available at Sobie Meats). Smoke in smoker using maple or cherry wood.  Meat pulls off bone effortlessly.
4. Rabbit Loin Medallions – Bite size rabbit meat cubes wrapped cross grain with Sobie’s Homemade Thick Cut Bacon held with a toothpick. Cook on a smoky grill.
 5. Deep Fried Rabbit – Start with a fully broken down rabbit and dredge in egg, then roll pieces in Skeeter’s Lemon Mustard Light Batter Frying Mix (available at Sobie Meats). Fry in peanut or grapeseed oil at temperature between 350-375 degrees fahrenheit for about five minutes or until golden brown.
6. Grilled with dry rub.

To learn more about Blue Ribbon Farms, you can visit their Facebook page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
 
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