Grilling Tips | Queen of the Grill
On a northern Vermont farm, Dawn Boucher has perfected the art of grilling barnyard-to-table cheeses and meats. Here she shares her best grilling tips.
To keep a family farm alive in northern Vermont, innovation is key. As Dan and Dawn Boucher have thought many times: There must be a better way. Necessity being the mother of invention, they’ve found dynamic ways to keep the Boucher Family Farm going in Highgate.
The Bouchers’ dairy farm has been in existence since the 1920s. Dan and his brother Denis run it together, and Dawn has been onboard since she married Dan in 1987. When she met her future husband, she was an insurance agent, but when she moved to the farm, down a long dirt road, “I never looked back,” she says.
Dawn is sitting on a tall upholstered stool in the couple’s modern farmhouse. “To be useful on the farm, I had to find another job for myself,” she says, explaining how she got started making blue cheese from the farm’s milk. She started small, making 100 pounds a month; today, output is 300 pounds a week: Madison Blue, Boucher Blue, Gore Dawn Zola, and Tomme Collins, similar to a Parmesan. After establishing the cheese operation, she went on to make sunflower oil. On Saturdays in summer and fall, Dan and Dawn also sell their products at the Burlington Farmers’ Market (the market itself is a year-round operation).
“It was something to diversify the farm, something Dan and I could do together,” Dawn explains. “We were looking for anything to take the pressure off the farm.” She pauses for a moment. “This is the life we love; this is what we know how to do. To be a farmer, Dan has to be a vet, a mechanic, a welder, and many other things. It’s not too hard to survive on a farm, but to thrive is another thing, and …” She pauses again and smiles: “We do pretty well!”
The farmers’ market led Dawn to yet another venture: “We started selling meat at the market,” she says. “We raise beef, veal, pigs, turkeys, chickens.” And that’s what led to the grilling: “People who were buying the meat were asking me how to grill it. That was one more thing I had to learn.”
So she experimented: hot rubs and spicy marinades for ribs and roasts and two-inch steaks. She used off-the-shelf concoctions such as Habanero Death Dust and Tasty Liks as well as recipes of her own invention. Today Dawn runs three big grills, each with its own specialty, on a deck outside the back door. Every Sunday and Monday, all through the year, Dawn grills–mostly for the high-school kids who do chores and odd jobs on the farm. Then she blogs about her adventures around the grill (boucherfamilyfarm.blogspot.com), another way to advertise the farm’s products and share recipes. And, each month she publishes recipes in the Burlington Free Press.
While we talk, she’s cooking pork ribs on a pink pig-shaped grill–the one with a smiling pig’s face on the end. She goes out on the deck from time to time to peek at the shining, bubbling meat. The air is nice. The blue cheese, the corn, the chickens, the cows, the fields of sunflowers–this is definitely a better way.
Dawn Boucher’s Grilling Tips
1. Use overnight “cheetah” (cheater) marinades to make kebabs tastier and more tender. Any bottled vinaigrette will do.
2. Calibrate your thermometer by boiling water and proving that the probe registers 212°.
3. If you’re grilling chicken, fill a Ziploc bag with a layer of ice cubes and place on the breast meat for 20 minutes before cooking. The breast (160°) and the legs (170°) will be done at the same time without drying out the white meat.