Farmer Friday: Farmers Fire up the Grill

One of the many signs of summer’s imminent arrival in New England is not a sight, but a smell: the slightly smoky, often meaty scent of backyard barbecue grills being lit for the first outdoor cooking of the season. It makes our mouths water just thinking about it.

Let the good times roll - because it’s #grilling season. And @cabotcheese has recipes that are good every time Click To Tweet

Like a number of Cabot farm families, Adam and Joanna Lidback of The Farm at Wheeler Mountain in Barton, Vermont raise some beef cows alongside their milking herd to provide their own family and a small circle of customers some of the highest quality hamburger and steak around for grilling season (and the rest of year too, of course). Joanna Lidback is proud of the fact that the farm’s Jersey beef cows enjoy significant time spent out on the rolling green hills of their farm, where they graze from about mid-May to the end of October. “We move them around to new pasture frequently for the health of the animals and the health of the land,” she explains.

Farmer Friday: Farmers Fire up the Grill | Cabot Creamery

The Lidbacks sell most of the resulting beef direct to locals and to summer visitors who flock to the natural beauty and serenity of the lakes and mountains in their neck of the Vermont woods. Some come to the farm where they appreciate seeing how their food is being raised and produced, Joanna says. “They like supporting us, seeing where the beef comes from and knowing their money is going back into the local economy,” she explains. “And they say that it tastes better, too.”

Joanna remembers one beef customer who hailed from New York City saying that he loved being where he could actually see the stars in the night sky, something she recognizes farmers are often too busy to appreciate. She tries to take time now and again to pause and savor the sky herself, as well as the fact that her two young sons are growing up where they take that sky for granted, along with free reign of the farm. “The boys like to be outside all summer,” Joanna says, adding that the family’s two beloved rat terriers, The Tilly Monster and The Buzz Man do, too.

Farmer Friday: Farmers Fire up the Grill | Cabot Creamery

Thomas, 4 ½, and Eli, 3, don’t yet fully appreciate the good food that they have easy access to, including the family’s beef, Cabot dairy and vegetables picked right from the garden. Thomas has come around to vegetables in a big way in the last year or so, his mom says. Previously she often snuck them onto his plate in the form of zucchini “boats” filled with a savory mixture of the farm’s own beef, diced peppers and some Cabot Cheddar. (You’ll find this recipe at the bottom of the post.) But, as all parents know, kid eating preferences can change overnight and now he is all about the vegetables from steamed broccoli to rainbows of peppers. His younger brother will eat a more limited range as long as he can apply ranch dip liberally. We recommend this homemade version made with Greek yogurt from Brianne at Cupcakes and Kale Chips.

Ranch Greek Yogurt - Cupcakes & Kale Chips

During the summer, Adam is often still out in the fields at dinnertime taking advantage of the late-day light and Joanna runs the grilling operation. On Sundays, she’ll often make a big batch of coleslaw or her own version of raw broccoli salad with sunflower seeds, dried sweetened cranberries and a tangy-creamy cider vinegar dressing to enjoy throughout the week.

Broccoli Salad - Cabot Creamery

(Here’s another version we like: Broccoli Salad with Cheddar and Bacon as well as a recipe for Grilled Cheddar Zucchini Boats with Balsamic Leeks, a sophisticated vegetable side that pairs beautifully with anything from grilled salmon to steak.) Then she’ll pat out some burgers according to Adam’s careful instructions [these tips are outlined below] and fire up the grill. I bet you can smell it from wherever you are.

Grilled Cheddar Zucchini Boats - Cabot Creamery

Lidback Family Beef Grilling Tips

  • The Lidbacks keep it simple letting the flavor of really good beef shine through. For steaks, they use a rub of coarse salt, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper applied to both sides. Burgers get just a little salt and they oil the patties (rather than the grill) to prevent sticking.
  • Adam Lidback likes his steaks and burgers rare so as soon as there are visible juices, he flips the meat. His wife leaves the rest of the family’s meat on a bit longer.
  • To ensure burger patties fit the buns perfectly, the Lidbacks shape their patties to be a little wider than the bun knowing they will shrink a bit. Flatter patties will cook more evenly, but don’t handle the burger meat too much as it can get tough. Making a gentle but firm indent with your thumb in the center of each patty will help them grill up evenly.
  • Burgers are topped with thinly sliced Cabot Cheddar for the last few minutes on the grill. In addition to ketchup and mustard, the family is fond of a sweet pickled zucchini relish bought at their local farmers’ market. Sometimes guacamole will make an appearance, too.
  • For the kids, Joanna makes smaller rectangular burgers that fit into half a bun. Cheddar and ketchup is all they need to make them happy.

The Farm at Wheeler Mountain’s Zucchini Beef Boats

Filling her garden-grown zucchini with a mixture including some of the farm’s own Jersey beef and a little Cheddar is just one of the creative ways that busy mom and farmer Joanna Lidback feeds her family their vegetables. This recipe is also featured in the Cabot Creamery Cookbook.

2 medium (12 to 14 oz. each) zucchini

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 small onion, diced

1 cup finely chopped bell pepper, any color

3 Tbsp. ketchup

1Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup (4 oz.) grated mild or sharp Cheddar, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Trim stem ends of the zucchini and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out middle, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell. Place shells in a lightly greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Coarsely chop scooped out zucchini and set aside.

2. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown beef for 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove beef from skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.

3. Drain off all but 1 Tbsp. fat from skillet and set back over medium heat. Add onion, pepper and reserved chopped zucchini to skillet and sauté until tender and golden, about 10 minutes.

4. Remove skillet from heat and stir reserved beef into vegetables along with ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup Cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mixture into zucchini shells.

5. Pour about 1/2 cup water around zucchini. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake covered for 35 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Increase heat to 375°. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Cheddar. Cook, uncovered, another 10 minutes until cheese is browned.

Makes: 4 servings

The Farm at Wheeler Mountain’s Zucchini Beef Boats

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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).

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